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May 24, 2004 04:05 AM

Why are Americans afraid of hazelnuts?

  • m

As anyone who has traveled to Europe knows, hazelnuts turn up in every kind of dessert. Chocolate bars, ice cream, breakfast spread (Nutella). They really are quite fantastic, and when I tell my European friends that hazelnuts just don't show up in everyday life here in the US, they just don't understand.

I guess I don't either-- does anyone know why hazelnuts (or hazelnut flavor) is MIA in the USA?

Mr. Taster

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  1. This is just a guess, but maybe it's the U.S. fear of nut allergies?

    1. I think it has to do with the fact that so many hazelnuts sold here are rancid by the time the consumer gets them. Plus, people are just not familiar with the flavor. It's much the same as a French consumer avoiding peanut butter because he prefers the flavor of Nutella.

      1. I've often wondered about this, because Oregon is one of the biggest growing areas for hazelnuts, too.

        There are two things that come to mind:

        1) Hazelnuts are a pain in the neck. You have to get the bloody skins off, which you don't with walnuts and pecans. You might need to skin peanuts, but it's a cinch. Pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds generally require skinning, and Americans don't bake much with any of them. Americans may be lazy bakers.

        On a related note, Americans don't have the tradition of buying fancy desserts the way that Europeans do. Most of the desserts we think of as very American are homey things - drop cookies, pies, crumbles, simple layer cakes. A lot of the things we think of as European (tortes, napoleons and other flaky pastries, and so on) are really pastry-shop desserts, ill-suited
        for making at home. So it makes sense that low-prep nuts are more popular here.

        2)I don't know how well hazelnuts grow in the Eastern part of the country. I know I've never seen one in New England. Since our culinary traditions were filtered through the East and MidWest, if hazelnuts don't grow there, they may have dropped out of the mainstream as a result.

        Yummy, though.

        6 Replies
        1. re: curiousbaker

          I agree with your assessment that hazelnuts are hard to skin, but would add that before you skin them you have to harvest them. Harvesting would be much easier if the squirrels didn't do it first.

          I live in the upper Midwest and have over 20 of them planted in a hedge. Dreaming of the wonderful things I could make I watched them grow. They are starting to produce nice crops. The squirrel has left me less then a dozen. Despite the fact he/she has a nice oak and black walnut to harvest from on the neighbor's property.

          1. re: muD

            Should be a real tasty squirrel after feasting on all of those hazelnuts. . .

            1. re: BeaN

              ...and your being in the upper Midwest, it's probably a BIG squirrel, too!

              Lord, how I miss those big, delicious squirrels. The ones in California are just useless...

            2. re: muD

              Oh, the mention of black walnuts makes me wish I had mentioned them in my reply on "hard to shell whole." I love them and love them in appropriate foods, but they are tough little suckas' to get out of the shell.


            3. re: curiousbaker

              to easily skin hazelnuts:
              place shelled hazelnuts in a pan and cover with water, add 1T baking soda and bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes. strain in a sieve and rinse under cool water. that should dissolve the skins completely (you may need to rub them between your palms a little bit) and you may then roast to optimize flavor.

              1. re: curiousbaker

                Though they probably came from OR, we had them, since forever, in Mississippi. Though I do not recall any being used in any food item, we ate them constantly from about October until February.

                Now, if you want trouble, think Brazil nuts! At least with hazelnuts, you can get a whole one without robotic surgery.


              2. I don't think they're afraid, just unfamiliar. Walnuts and pecans are so much more common.

                My Kansas-born husband had had neither hazelnuts nor lamb before he met me (I was born in Austria). He now loves them both.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Liz K

                  I grew up on the east coast but went to school in the Midwest (Missouri) and my roommate, a native Missourian, also had never tasted lamb before. I cooked some for her one day and she couldn't eat it-- said it tasted too "gamey". Oh well!

                2. I don't think we're afraid of them, in fact I think that imported chocolate with hazlenut and hazelnut flavored coffees are very popular. My Mom used to put a big bowl of mixed nuts (in shell) out in the autumn, and I remember that hazelnuts (aka filberts) were a favorite. HOWEVER, you are right, we don't cook with them.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: shrimpbird

                    Just wanted to add that "hazelnut-flavored" coffee has nothing to do with hazelnuts. Personally I find it disgusting, not out of snobbery as you may think but because the smell is nauseating to me. Real hazelnuts, on the other hand, I like quite a bit.

                    1. re: Sir Gawain
                      quiz wrangler

                      I find the aroma and taste of hazelnut and vanilla flavored coffee distasteful as well, though I love hazelnuts and use them frequently in baking.