Why are Americans afraid of hazelnuts?
- Mr. Taster May 24, 2004 04:05 AM
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.