Hazelnut and Filbert HistoryHazelnuts, a member of the Corylus botanical family, have been cultivated in China for more than 5,000 years. The hazel part of its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word haesel meaning a headdress or bonnet, referring to the shape of outer shell covering. Hazelnuts are reputed to be native to Asia Minor, from whence they spread to Italy, Spain, France, and Germany via Greece. Prior to the 1940s, hazelnuts were imported to the States. Today they are grown commercially in the Northwest US.
Hazelnuts are about the size of a small marble. The nutmeat is encased in a hard shell that resembles an acorn without its cap. The rich, sweet nutmeat has a bitter brown paper-thin skin that is usually removed before eating.
These nuts contain a wealth of oil, 88 percent unsaturated, which is pressed for use as the aromatic and delicately flavored hazelnut oil. Although it cannot be heated to high temperatures, this oil is favored by gourmets worldwide and is relatively expensive. Luckily, a little goes a long way.
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Hazelnuts Photo © 2006 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.