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Winter is hazelnut time

Even people who completely ignore hazelnuts for most of the year, will use them in the run-up to Christmas. People with gardens rush to harvest their nuts before the squirrels eat them all, while retailers – from healthfood shops to supermarkets – sell mountains of them, shelled and unshelled.


There are two schools of thought on cracking hazelnuts: some people really enjoy the job, other people see it as an boring task that stops them getting on with the next job. The shell and the brown, fibrous outer skin can be removed with a good nutcracker. Stubborn nuts that won't be cracked can be put in the freezer for an hour or so. This makes the shell more brittle and easier to crack.

Ground nuts have many uses

Hazelnuts are often eaten whole – as snacks, in muesli and salads, or pressed onto biscuits and cakes. But recipes often call for chopped or ground nuts. You can grind your own or buy bags of ready-ground nuts for Christmas biscuits like cinnamon stars, Lebkuchen, macaroons and fruit bread. But they can also be used in recipes for anything from roast venison to muffins. Chopped hazelnuts can be sprinkled on muesli, mixed into rice salad with grapes or pasta salad with broccoli, spread as a crust on venison medallions or roasted and mixed into pasta dough.

Health benefits – but also a high fat content

Whatever form you eat them in, hazelnuts have a lot of health benefits. "Above all thanks to their content of vitamin E, various B vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, secondary phytochemicals, they're an important constituent of a healthy diet," Harald Seitz, nutritionist at aid infodienst. It is nonetheless not advisable to eat too many hazelnuts, because they contain a lot of fat (61.9%) and that means a lot of calories. "At 644 kilocalories per 100 g, hazelnuts cannot be considered a diet food," says Seitz. Most of the fat content in hazelnuts is in the form of unsaturated fatty acids with high nutritional value.

Buying, quality and storage

There are two main types of hazelnut – the round Zeller nuts and the slightly larger, longer Lambert nuts – and they taste slightly different too. Lambert nuts are more aromatic and slightly sweeter. There are also some mixed forms. This information isn't much use when you're out shopping, because you will rarely be offered a choice between different sorts.
The vast majority of hazelnuts on sale in Germany will come from Turkey. If you're buying whole nuts in their shells, it pays to look closely and even to shake a nut or two. "Old nuts dry out and shrink," says Harald Seitz, "so you'll hear them rattling in their shells." Once you get them home, fill small portions of nuts into cloth or hessian bags and hang them up in a well-ventilated, dry, warm place, where no mice can get at them. Stored this way they will keep for months. But bear in mind that the mild aromatic flavour is at its best directly after the nut matures.

Source: Eva Neumann, www.aid.de