The benefits of hazelnuts are many but as with anything in life moderation is key – hence the advice of a handful of nuts. Turkey, as the world’s biggest hazelnut supplier, even used to have advertisements promoting the little wonder back in the day. Rightfully so, as hazelnuts are truly a superfood.
For one, hazelnut oil is high in oleic acid, a naturally occurring fat in animals and vegetables that is said to help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, it has as much oleic acid as olive oil, the building block of the heart-friendly Mediterranean diet.
Eating a handful of hazelnuts a day can help lower cholesterol. A study conducted by the Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK) showed that oleic acid in nuts prevents high cholesterol in healthy individuals, with regular consumption of hazelnuts and its oil reducing blood cholesterol levels by 28% per month on average.
Hazelnuts are a good source of protein as well, helping fight off damage by free radicals and preserving bone density. With their rich nutrient content, hazelnuts can also help boost the immune system, lowering your risk of cancer.
Especially in these stressful days with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, eating nuts instead of processed snacks could not only help preserve mental health but also lower stress, thanks to its high vitamin B content. Packed with magnesium, the amino acid tryptophan and antioxidants, hazelnuts help keep blood vessels open and relaxed during highly stressful situations and help the body secrete serotonin, the hormone of happiness.
Hazelnuts are also one of the richest foods in the antioxidant vitamin E, positively impacting heart, muscle and reproduction system health. They are also high in fiber at 2.7 grams, making you feel fuller for longer.
As much as the list of benefits of hazelnuts can be discussed in much more detail, make sure you do not overdo it. A handful of nuts is equal to about 30 grams, which makes it about 20 hazelnuts per serving.
How to enjoy them
The most obvious answer would be to just crack the nut open and eat it raw. Or you could buy them already shelled, but there are nuances that need to be considered.
The first one is fresh hazelnuts. These are hard to come by if you don’t have your own hazelnut tree or the opportunity to buy them freshly picked from your local bazaar. If you have a tree nearby, it is especially fun to eat the juicy nuts while picking them. Though one should be careful not to overeat fresh hazelnuts as they may cause diarrhea. Also, beware of allergies.
The second variety is the way we most likely know them: with their thin brown skin still attached and ready to pop into your mouth. These can also be problematic for people with allergies so be careful. The most deceiving ones, however, are the very lightly roasted ones. These are lightly roasted so the thin brown skin is shed off, but the nut is not cooked through. They just look "cleaner," but the taste stays the same.
The third and most yummy one, in my opinion, are roasted hazelnuts. Be it in the oven or on a pan on low heat, when you roast the hazelnuts and get that smell, you know you are in for a treat. The best thing about roasted nuts is that people with allergies are more likely to be ok with consuming them roasted than raw. But a word of caution: once roasted, nuts should only be used for direct consumption. Baking them after already being roasted will most definitely ruin whatever you are baking, be it a cake or baklava.
In cakes or cookies
Speaking of baking, hazelnuts make great decorative pieces for sweet treats or as an ingredient. Placing them on all kinds of pastries is a treat both for the eyes and the stomach. But there are some very skilled bakers out there who combine the nuts with caramel and make stunning art pieces that they are almost too beautiful to eat!
As a spread
As much as all those nuts as a whole are great, there is one thing that should be glaringly obvious: hazelnut spread. While Nutella gets most of their nuts from Turkey, I’d say get your hands on some true “fındık ezmesi,” or hazelnut butter. The ratio of hazelnuts is much higher and does not include cacao, and depending on the brand, you will have a chunky option of crushed nut pieces in there as well! Or if you don't feel like buying and would like to avoid high amounts of sugar, you can crush the nuts after roasting them as finely as possible, blending them as you add your desired amount of sugar.
As much as hazelnuts are represented in a variety of Turkish desserts, I want you to indulge in one cake that will make heads turn and coffee-haters change their mind (yes, I am one).
Here is the recipe for an amazing hazelnut coffee cake.
First, make the coffee and let it cool. I like to use Turkish coffee but regular old filter coffee would work. In a separate bowl mix the butter or margarine with the sugar until it gets smooth and fluffy.
Add the four eggs individually to the butter-sugar combo and mix thoroughly after each egg until it is completely incorporated – or else the dough will start to curdle. In case it does curdle, don’t worry about it too much. Usually, when you add the flour, the dough goes back to the way it needs to be.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and hazelnuts. Add the vanilla sugar as well – but if you are using vanilla extract add that to the egg mixture. Gradually add the flour mix to your coffee and continue mixing. When fully incorporated, pour into a baking tin of choice.
Bake at 170 degrees Celsius (335 degrees Fahrenheit) for a minimum of 20 minutes. Your baking time will change depending on how deep your tray, dish or tin is, so if your tin is quite deep it may take up to 45 minutes.
Once it has cooled off, you are ready to enjoy this beautiful treat. But the longer you let this rest, the better it tastes. My advice would be to wait at least 12 hours before you cut into it. And as always, you can add some crushed nuts on top for extra crunch.
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