When it comes the heart health benefits of nuts, hazelnuts are often overlooked. Almonds and walnuts usually steal the spotlight, but it turns out the humble hazelnut also deserves a place in your heart healthy diet.
Like many other nuts, hazelnuts are rich in unsaturated fat and they're a good source of protein, fibre and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Perhaps most notable is hazelnut's high monounsaturated fat content - the same type of fat found in olive oil. In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim linking nut consumption to heart health. The claim states that eating as little as 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of nuts per day, including hazelnuts, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A 1/4-cup (50 ml) serving of hazelnuts contains 18 grams of total fat and 15 of them are heart healthy monounsaturated fat.
Studies have consistently shown that adding nuts, including hazelnuts, to one's diet can lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol in the bloodstream and lower elevated blood pressure.
The health benefits of hazelnuts aren't limited to your heart. Regular nut consumption has also been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. One study that followed over 80,000 women for 16 years found that those who ate a 30 gram of serving of nuts at least five times per week were almost 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to women who seldom ate nuts.
Due to their high fat content hazelnuts are calorie-dense food, so a little goes a long way. A Canada Food Guide serving of hazelnuts is 1/4-cup (30 grams) and contains 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fibre - making just a handful an excellent choice for a healthy snack. Hazelnuts are an excellent source of copper, manganese and vitamin E.
Nutrient information per 1/4-cup (30 g) serving of dried, blanched hazelnuts:
|Saturated Fat||1.4 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||15 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||1.6 g|
|Vitamin E||5 mg|
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007 b
There are more than 100 varieties of hazelnuts, most of which are grown in Turkey. Closer to home, hazelnuts are grown in Oregon and British Columbia. Varieties often differ slightly in shell shape, colour and texture.
Hazelnuts are sometimes referred to as filberts, although the origin of the name remains unclear. It's thought that the latter name may have originated from the fact that hazelnuts usually mature around St. Philbert's day at the end of August. Other theories suggest that filberts are the German word "vollbart" which means full beard in reference to the appearance of the rough, outer shell of the hazelnut.
Hazelnuts are available in most grocery stores across Canada throughout the year and they tend to be most popular around the holidays in December. They're available in the shell or out of the shell raw, roasted or blanched.
When buying hazelnuts in the shell choose ones that are slightly heavy and have an intact shell that's glossy with a dark reddish-brown colour. Avoid hazelnuts that have signs of cracks or holes on the shell. An easy way to gauge the freshness of hazelnuts in the shell is to shake them - if you hear rattling, it's an indication the nut has lost moisture and may not be fresh.
As for shelled hazelnuts, be mindful that their natural oils make them prone to going rancid. Look for hazelnuts in a sealed container for maximum freshness. If you're buying hazelnuts in bulk, purchase them from a store with a high turnover of products, and avoid any nuts that smell rancid, are discoloured or have signs of mould or moisture.
Hazelnut oil is also widely available in stores. It has a strong flavour, so a little goes a long way. Hazelnut oil can go rancid fairly quickly, so opt for containers that are sealed tightly and made of coloured glass or tin to prevent exposure to light.
A hazelnut in the shell will stay fresh for months on end even out of the refrigerator. That's because the shell naturally keeps out moisture and light - two things that can cause the natural oils to become rancid.
Keep shelled hazelnuts fresh by storing them in the fridge, or a cool, dark place such as a cellar. Hazelnuts will stay fresh in the fridge for up to six months. If you want to store them longer, put them in the freezer where they'll retain their freshness for up to one year.
If you're buying hazelnuts in the shell, you'll need a good quality nutcracker to break the shell and remove the nut. When you remove the soft nut from the shell, it will be covered in a bitter, dark brown paper-thin skin. Gently remove the skin before eating or preparing (also see blanching directions).
Hazelnuts can be eaten right out of the shell, although a quick toasting of the nut brings out a rich, more intense flavour.
To dry roast: Preheat the oven to 350 F and spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a thin layer. When the oven is heated, place the baking sheet in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the nuts are slightly brown and fragrant. Be careful not to burn them.
To blanch: This method is a quick and easy way to remove the paper-like skin from the nut. Preheat the oven to 250F, place the nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes. As soon as the nuts are heated, remove and cool. Place the nuts between two clean dish clothes and rub together - the skin should easily peel away from the nuts.
Traditionally used as an ingredient in decadent desserts, hazelnuts are a delicious addition to savoury dishes. Their mild, nutty flavour pairs well with a variety of ingredients, including fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat and, of course, chocolate.
Healthy ways to enjoy
- Top up a bowl of freshly sliced peaches and low fat yogurt with toasted hazelnuts.
- Add ¼ cup (50 ml) of crushed or chopped hazelnuts to pancake or muffin batter.
- For a healthy mid-day meal, combine baby spinach leaves, sliced red onion, shredded carrot, chickpeas, slices of red pepper and top with toasted hazelnuts. Alternatively, skip the toasted nuts and make a delicious vinaigrette using mild vinegar and hazelnut oil with a splash of lemon juice. (Try 3 parts olive or canola oil with 1 part hazelnut oil.)
- Enjoy a hot bowl of soup topped with crushed, toasted hazelnuts.
- Add crushed hazelnuts to your favourite stuffing recipe for a heart healthy holiday meal.
- Make your own pesto with hazelnuts, instead of pine nuts.
- Serve with whole grain pasta tossed with extra virgin olive oil, roasted vegetables and toasted hazelnuts.
- Enjoy the sweet flavour of fresh hazelnuts on their own, right out of the shell.
- Add crushed hazelnuts to your favourite cookie recipe for a boost of heart healthy monounsaturated fat.
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazelnut
The Hazelnut Council - http://www.hazelnutcouncil.org/
Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board - http://www.oregonhazelnuts.org/
Did you know?
- Once upon a time, crushed hazelnuts were regarded as a remedy to cure baldness.
- Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world.
- It's believed that hazelnuts have been cultivated in China for more than 5000 years.