Most people are familiar with hazelnuts by way of Nutella, the chocolate–hazelnut–palm oil spread in the “squat, oddly shaped jar” that’s been around since 1951 (and which apparently calls for a quarter of the world’s hazelnut supply). Nutella is based on gianduja, the Italian paste (70 percent chocolate, 30 percent hazelnut) that was invented around 1800, during Napoleon’s regency in Turin, and which is exceedingly tasty.
Even though a new study on the benefits of eating straight hazelnuts is small and was partially funded by the Oregon Hazelnut Industry, it is also totally pleasant and compelling. Published in the Journal of Nutrition, the study found that older adults who ate hazelnuts (also known as filberts) for 16 weeks raised their magnesium and vitamin E levels — both of which are apparently “shortfall nutrients,” or nutrients “with a high prevalence of inadequate intake” among average Americans, per the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines. According to earlier reports, which the study references, more than 90 percent of Americans over 50 don’t get enough vitamin E (an antioxidant that boosts the immune system), and more than 60 percent don’t get enough magnesium (which helps regulate muscle and nerve function, among other things). A serving of hazelnuts (¼ cup) provides more than 20 percent of the recommended daily intake for both.
Almonds and peanuts are also good sources of these micronutrients, but the study provides a nice excuse to look for hazelnuts at lunch — although I’m now more inclined to try making hazelnut butter, maybe mixed with shredded coconut, at home. (If you want, you can also “easily remove skins from roasted hazelnuts by rubbing them down with a dishtowel,” although you don’t have to.)
The hazelnut is one of Oregon’s three state foods, alongside pears and chanterelles, which in my limited understanding is a very Oregonian trifecta.