Hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) are the fruit of the hazel tree – native to Asia Minor, and one of the oldest plants cultivated by man. Manuscripts dating back to 5000 years ago speak of this plant. Both Greeks and Romans used them for their medicinal qualities.

After almonds, they are the richest fruit in vitamin E and are a source of phytosterols, a group of substances considered important for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Hazelnuts also contain monounsaturated fats capable of lowering the level of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

The most valuable cultivated varieties, with round fruit or elongated fruit, are the white nocella, the red nocella and the tonda gentile delle Langhe, which in 1993 was recognised with a Protected Geographical Indication quality label with the name Nocciola Piemonte IGP. This latter variety is particularly appreciated for patisserie and cooking.

They can be eaten fresh or dried, and are delicious in both sweet and savoury dishes.  In fact, you can make an entire meal based on hazelnuts:  hazelnut pesto, on spaghetti, goats cheese salad with Nocciola Piemonte IGP, chives, and hazelnut oil; risotto with hazelnuts, terrine of meat and hazelnuts, lean pork or lamb rolled around spinach and hazelnuts, chicken breasts with hazelnuts, sea bream fillets with Nocciola Piemonte IGP, or guinea fowl with hazelnuts. For dessert, we have an almost endless choice, as they are processed for confectionery, cakes, ice cream, chocolates, and other sweet treats. France’s famous pastry, Paris-Brest, is a huge choux paste puff filled with hazelnut praline cream; simply divine.  An ice cream based on nectarine peaches, with toasted, caramelized hazelnuts, is wonderful.

Although the nuts are high in calories due to their fat content, their oils are extremely healthy fats. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidant compounds, and may have health benefits, including helping decrease blood fat levels, regulating blood pressure, reducing inflammation and improving blood sugar levels, among others.