Consumers like to reward themselves with small indulgences and affordable luxuries that often include specialty foods and edible treats, according to futurist Faith Popcorn. So it's no surprise that bakery and snacks are the fastest-growing new product categories in the food industry. Nor is it a surprise that consumers seeking indulgent foods and culinary adventures are more often choosing products with filberts or hazelnuts.
Along with their sweet and nutty flavor, hazelnuts add a crunchy texture to bakery products -- breads, muffins, cookies, brownies, cakes and biscotti. They also add richness to confections, salads, dressings and sauces, and are a tasty and nutritious addition to snack foods.
No one is certain how filberts got their moniker, but speculation is that the term originated because the nut's long husk was considered a "full beard" in Old English. Others speculate that early harvests coincided with the French feast of St. Philibert of Burgundy. An ancient Chinese manuscript claims this nut as one of the five sacred foods bestowed by God on mankind, and there are many fascinating old wives' tales about hazelnuts, as well. Pounded with honey, hazelnuts are believed to cure chronic coughing. If mixed with pepper, they are thought to be a cure for the common cold. Even more intriguing, if burned and mashed with suet and smeared on the head, hazelnuts are considered an effective cure for baldness.
Grown on trees, hazelnuts are harvested primarily in Turkey, where they've been consumed for 5,000 years. Today, about 70 percent of the world crop comes from the Black Sea coast and agricultural areas outside of Istanbul. They also thrive in the U.S. in Oregon's Willamette Valley outside of Portland.
Distinctive and versatile
In the convenience and indulgence segments, more nuts are being incorporated into cookies and specialty breads with a hearty rustic quality. The distinctive, exotic, sweet flavor and crunchy texture of hazelnuts also adds value to foods ranging from chocolate bars and truffles to ice cream and candies. Dry roasted hazelnuts are a premium snacking nut, widely consumed around the world as bar nuts, airline nuts and in many mixed nut products. An increasingly diverse U.S. population coupled with American interest in new culinary sensations make hazelnuts an excellent fit for a variety of foodservice products, as well.
Nut experts use many words to describe the flavor, aroma and texture of hazelnuts, including "sweet," "buttery" and "crunchy." Hazelnut's flavor has an advantage over other nuts because of its ability to stand up in recipes with many high-taste ingredients, especially those utilizing chocolate. This is one of the chief reasons that hazelnuts are so popular in the confectionery industry.
Focus groups queried by the Seattle, Wash.-based Hazelnut Council found that the typical hazelnut consumer: is married and aged 35 or older; has completed some college; has no children at home; and has an annual income of $50,000 to $75,000. Aficionados describe hazelnuts as indulgent, distinctive, decadent, exotic, European, nostalgic and special.
Roasting hazelnuts increases their flavor and improves their crunchy texture. Food professionals can either purchase hazelnuts in "natural" or "roasted" varieties. Some customers choose natural kernels because they have the longest shelf life. Refrigerated, they can be stored for up to one year, and frozen hazelnuts can be stored for up to two years. Others prefer already roasted varieties for convenience.
"Hazelnuts are versatile nuts that can be substituted for any other nut in a food product," says food scientist Bonnie Gorder-Hinchey. "They add an exotic, sweet, nutty flavor and crunchy texture to products."
Other hazelnut ideas from Gorder-Hinchey include stirring hazelnut butter into soups and sauces for richness, thickness and fuller flavor; mixing hazelnut butter into baked goods and confections for a sweet, roasted, nutty flavor; adding unscreened hazelnuts (nut pieces and meal) to bakery products for added texture, crunch and rich, nutty flavor; garnishing baked goods and confections with chopped hazelnuts for an attractive finish; coating meats, fish and poultry with chopped hazelnuts for crunch, richness and flavor; finishing baked goods with hazelnut streusel for crunch and an attractive top; and sprinkling chopped hazelnuts over salads and vegetables for a crunchy texture and fuller, nutty flavor.
"Hazelnut oil has a strong, rich, roasted nut flavor," says Gorder-Hinchey. "When formulating with the oil, it may be blended with other vegetable oils if a subtler nut flavor is desired." There are many possibilities for hazelnut oil including: adding it to sauces, sautes and stir-frys for a rich, roasted nut flavor; blending it in salad dressings for increased richness and flavor; mixing it into baked goods for richness and roasted, nutty flavor; stirring it into marinades for full flavor and richness; sprinkling it over vegetables for a rich, nutty flavor; tossing it with pasta and vegetables for rich, roasted nut flavor; and enhancing chocolate mousse with hazelnut oil for a special nutty, flavor.
Aside from the distinct flavor characteristics, consumers are increasingly recognizing the connection between nutrition and health. Hazelnuts, as part of the popular and healthy Mediterranean diet, are a nutritious alternative to other nuts, which have received a lot of attention in recent years due to their healthy levels of "good" fats and their potential to reduce the risk of heart disease.In fact, coverage of the healthful properties of nuts increased 25 percent in 2002. Hazelnuts are an excellent source of healthy, unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants and are cholesterol free.
As the upscale, European perception of hazelnuts continues to boost their popularity, consumers will seek out products containing this versatile and flavorful nut. And because of their healthy profile, hazelnuts are an indulgence consumers can feel good about , they're nutritious as well as delicious!
Contact www.hazelnutcouncil.org for more information.
Hazelnuts for health
Numerous studies have shown unsaturated fats can lower blood cholesterol and help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition to beneficial unsaturated fats, hazelnuts also provide a high-quality source of protein, fiber, and vitamins E and C, important antioxidants. Compared to other nuts, hazelnuts provide the most heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) per serving and are one of the lowest in saturated fat content. And because they originate from a plant source, hazelnuts are cholesterol free.
In addition to being an excellent source of dietary MUFAs, hazelnuts are also a rich source of other beneficial nutrients such as arginine, an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels, folate and vitamin B-6, heart healthy B vitamins, and the blood pressure-lowering minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. For women of childbearing age, folate is also important in preventing infant neural tube defects. Other fats in nuts known as phytosterols can inhibit fatty acid absorption in the arteries and may also suppress the growth of certain cancerous tumors. Additional research linking nuts to reduced cancer risk has also shown that the amino acid arginine may inhibit tumor growth and boost immunity.