Hazelnuts, or filberts as they are also called, are a sweet-flavored nut found predominantly in Europe and also on a much smaller scale in the United States. They have been enjoyed in dessert recipes, snacks and even main meals by many different cultures. These little nuts pack a lot of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein and fiber into their diminutive shell. They impart a richness to chocolate and a round nutty flavor to cookies and pies. Salads are especially wonderful when sprinkled with hazelnuts and, of course, coffee flavored with hazelnuts is exquisite.
The history of hazelnuts and their nutritional benefits goes back thousands of years. Apparently the Chinese people claimed that it was one of the five sacred foods given by God. The Greeks used it as a tonic or medicine for a host of ailments, from balding to colds. In Germany, they were called filberts because they were harvested on August 22, which is St. Philbert's Day. The Turks made hazelnut-growing their business, and today they are the world's largest supplier of hazelnuts.
Hazelnuts are up there on the list of so-called super foods when you look at their antioxidant properties. They contain high levels of PACs, or proanthocyanidins, which studies have shown are much more powerful than vitamin C and E in their ability to fight free radicals. Hazelnuts are even more beneficial when their skins are intact. One ounce of hazelnuts is 178 calories, 4 g of protein, 17 g fat, 2.7 g fiber, 1.2 g carbohydrates, 32 mg calcium and plenty of mineral and trace elements.
Since heart disease is such a huge problem in the United States, the use of hazelnuts in the diet can have a beneficial effect ,with their healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. It is a simple plant to grow and will produce nuts within just three or four years of planting, and is hardy in most climates. The general public likes hazelnuts and is very concerned about eating healthy foods, so there is a great market for the sale of them without additional advertising.
The benefits of eating hazelnuts beyond the simple enjoyment of their flavor are still being discovered. According to the June 24, 2002 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who ate 1.5 ounces of hazelnuts per day, which is about 15 nuts, lowered their chances of sudden cardiac arrest by 47 percent compared to people who did not eat the nuts. It also found that these same people had a 30 percent less chance of dying from coronary heart disease.
Hazelnuts can be used in every aspect of cooking, from desserts to snacks to dinners to drinks. Some of the most well-known uses for hazelnuts are the German hazelnut torte, hazelnut gelato, hazelnut biscotti and hazelnut butter. Of course, they can be eaten just as they are, without any processing, except for maybe a little roasting.