Hazelnuts, Not Just Your Nutella
The creamy, buttery, crunchy, sweet hazelnut inspires our earthborn senses. Charred shells found in ancient middens from Scotland to the Pacific Northwest, dated at 9,000 years old, share a story of our collective ancestors cultivating and consuming hazelnuts since the Stone Age. They nourished the ancestors for thousands of years, providing protein and healthy fats in rough winters; tiny packages dense with minerals and vitamins.
Latin name—Corylus avellana, Corylus maxima
Common names—Hazelnut, Cobnut, Filbert, Spanish Nut, Pontic Nut, Lombardy Nut
Much of the world knows hazelnuts as the second ingredient to chocolate in the 800 million pounds of Nutella consumed each year. For Indigenous communities, they are more than snack food, they are medicine. Traditional preparations include pounding and soaking the hazelnuts to treat an upset stomach. Soothe a cough and other cold symptoms by mixing powdered hazelnuts in honey. Topically, apply hazelnut oil to lighten dark spots on the skin and use small amounts on the scalp to encourage hair growth. Hazelnut has astringent and antibacterial properties that are used to soothe eczema outbreaks.
Harvest in late summer
Native varieties and introduced European species are successfully cultivated in the Pacific Northwest to this day. In fact, Oregon hazelnut farmers are the world’s third-largest producers. You can still find native varieties growing here and there. In spring, look for hazel trees’ incandescent pink female flowers. Once pollinated, the tiny scarlet flower begins to transform in to a hazelnut. Squirrels and birds excitedly signal to us when the harvest is ready, as they vigorously shake the hazel trees hungrily searching for clusters of these honeyed kernels. A mid- to late-summer treat, hazelnuts are best harvested from July to August, depending on elevation. Be sure to wear gloves because the outer sheath is armed with bristly hairs that easily irritate human fingers. Peel off the fuzzy husks to find the hazelnuts inside or store them in a burlap sack in a cool, dark place for several months until the sheath peels itself off.
Peel and roast
Roasting enhances their sweet flavor, caramelizing and amplifying their aromatic compounds. Place the shelled nuts on a baking sheet. Roast at 300 degrees for up to 10 minutes, or toast them in a pan on low to medium heat until they show the slightest hint of brown. Quickly remove them from the heat, as they will continue to gently cook. Cool and store in a jar. Add to salads, oatmeal, or as a trailside snack.
Combine one cup of raw hazelnuts with two cups of water in a blender and mix for two minutes. Let the mixture sit overnight, about eight hours, and then strain the nut sludge from the liquid. You’ve created hazelnut milk, an elixir rich in magnesium, manganese, and vitamin E. Add a splash of maple syrup or vanilla and use as an alternative to milk. Or think of it as a hazelnut tea.
Use the mush from this process in baked goods, pesto, smoothies, or even soups! Hazelnuts’ buttery flavor amplifies smoked salmon chowders and turns turnip or squash soup into dense protein-rich porridge.