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The Unassuming Hazelnut

October 14, 2019

Ah, the hazelnut. My favorite of all nuts.

Its small, mostly-spherical shape is easy to overlook in a handful of mixed nuts, lacking the wrinkly texture of the pecan and walnut, the distinctive pointy shape of the almond, the meaty heft of the Brazil nut or the chunky curvature of the cashew. But its flavor and texture enhance fancy chocolates around the world.

The familiar edible hazelnut is native to Eurasia, usually some variety of Corylus avellanaMy fellow hazelnut lovers/native plant aficionados will delighted to know we have our own native hazelnut here, Corylus americana…though its nuts are quite a bit smaller and less meaty than the commercial variety.

The American Hazelnut is a large shrub that is not terribly spectacular in appearance, though its nuts are enclosed in a pair of attractive, feathery-looking bracts. Many nut-loving birds and mammals enjoy hazelnuts: blue jays and woodpeckers, squirrels and mice…and the occasional human.

The victim, pre-smashing.

Seeing the smooth brown nuts peeking out from their protective bracts, I could not resist taking one to sample. It looked much like a standard hazelnut in the shell that can be found in bulk bins around the holidays, but much smaller in stature. Alas, the lack of a nutcracker in the house led to an ill-advised attempt using a tool not suited to the job, and as a result the little nut exploded spectacularly, shattering into fragments of shell and a tiny morsel of nut that was nearly too small to taste.

Although I can’t be certain the bulk of the nut didn’t fly off in the shattering and land unseen in a corner of the room, the meager reward has convinced me that these little nuts are best left to those creatures adapted to eat them. I shall continue to take my fancy hazelnuts comfortably ensconced in chocolate, and enjoy the American Hazelnut from afar for its value to our wild neighbors.

Originally published in Sycamore Greenway Friends.

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Melissa Serenda

A transplant from the suburbs of Chicago to the south side of Iowa City. I enjoy spending time on the Sycamore Greenway, picking up trash around my neighborhood, and the occasional game of cribbage.

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4 responses to “The Unassuming Hazelnut”

  1. Alan Nagel says:

    Or in as prolific a year of fruiting as this one, it may have been worthwhile some weeks ago to harvest the several hundred nuts from our 7 x 7 foot shrub, easily freed from the husks/bracts and readily cracked with a decent nut cracker. Toasted in the over for 10-15 minutes they are as flavorsome as the good European varieties, and yield well to many a recipe.

  2. Fawn Bowden says:

    I agree, they’re delicious with a little effort. Not a very encouraging blog post about a great plant/nut.

  3. Melissa says:

    I didn’t mean to offend our lovely native hazelnut! If anything it should be taken as a criticism of my nut-selecting and nut-cracking abilities, and an admission that the assorted birds and mammals need its sustenance far more than I do.

  4. Melissa says:

    Alan, that sounds lovely! Perhaps the lesson here is that I need to invest in a decent nut cracker.

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