The hazelnut is the fruit of the hazelnut tree cultivated since ancient times. The hazelnuts that are grown in Italy, and that are the most valuable, are of different types: the Tonda Gentile Trilobata hazelnut, the Tonda hazel of Giffoni, the Roman round tonda, the Mortarella and the late tonda. The plant is cultivated throughout the Mediterranean basin due to favorable climatic conditions.
The major producers of hazelnuts, in addition to Italy, in particular in Campania, Lazio, Piedmont and Sicily, are also Turkey, Spain and the USA. The hazelnut is counted as “dried fruit”. It initially has a greenish color which then becomes brown with maturation. Its pericarp is covered with a sort of wrapper of leaves with an irregular margin. The seed is inside, crunchy and edible.
It is consumed both fresh and dry. The hazelnut is mainly used for industrial confectionery, as it is a fruit that marries chocolate, dark and milk. Nougats, creams and sweets are produced industrially and in pastry shops. For many uses it is first roasted.
It is currently the province of Cuneo that holds the record in Piedmont for the area that is cultivated as a main crop: it is about 7,000 hectares, of which over 2350 concentrated mainly in the Langhe area. The production area of the hazel in the Piedmontese Langhe covers almost 90% of the regional one which is destined to corilicotura providing about 85% of all the production of Piedmont. These surfaces are gradually increasing, due to the contraction of those registered instead, in other provinces of southern Piedmont.
In 1993 the Protected Geographical Indication was recognized for hazelnuts, with ministerial decree, under the name “Nocciola Piemonte”, attributed to the cultivar called “Tonda Gentile Trilobata” which has valuable qualitative characteristics. Today the production in Piedmont, with the aptitude for an industrial transformation that makes the hazelnut economically interesting, is around 150,000 quintals, or between 8 and 9% of national production.
The hazelnut, in addition to significant contents of essential amino acids and vitamin E, is particularly rich in lipids: it gives a caloric intake of 700 Kcal per 100 grams. It seems, from recent studies, that regular consumption of hazelnuts has positive effects on our health. It is confirmed that with hazelnuts it is possible to keep the so-called “bad cholesterol” at low levels, and the levels of the so-called “good cholesterol” are raised: the latter, thanks to its protective action of cell membranes, is an important defense for vascular diseases.
In addition, the high content, in hazelnut, of Tocopherols, including vitamin E, provides an antioxidant supply that slows the aging of our tissues. The composition of its oil, similar to that of olive oil, confirms the beneficial properties of hazelnut. The “Piedmont hazelnut”, in particular, stands out from the Italian and foreign varieties for its high oil content, about 70%. Therefore the hazelnut is a prized food, capable of satisfying not only the taste but also the nutritional and health needs that consumers are attentive to today.
Hazelnuts are the fruit of the Hazel, very appreciated for their flavor and their properties: they are rich in vitamins and mineral salts, phytosterols and mono-unsaturated fats suitable for lowering the cholesterol level. They have a notable use in the kitchen and in the confectionery industry, for the production of sugared almonds, chocolate, nougat and much more, and this has led to the realization of remarkable industrial crops widespread above all in Piedmont, where the Tonda Gentile del Piemonte IGP variety is cultivated , in Campania, where Nocciola di Giffoni PGI is grown, in Sicily and Lazio, where the Nocciola Romana PGI is found. The oil obtained from hazelnuts, which are composed of 80% fat, is used in the cosmetic industry but also as a substitute for olive oil.
The Hazelnut is a plant native to Asia belonging to the Betulaceae family. Widespread in Mediterranean areas, it is also widespread in Turkey and Spain. It is a very resistant shrub that has been exploited since ancient times, known before the olive tree. It is cultivated with classic methods, keeping the plants distant from each other and in classic parallel rows with a minimum distance of 5 meters. Depending on the type of cultivation the plants can be kept and bush or with a single trunk. Before planting, the soil must be plowed and prepared with nitrogen products. Once a year a pruning is performed which has the task of eliminating dead and damaged branches and leaving young branches of at least twenty / twenty-five cm in length. A characteristic of the hazel tree is that it is one of the plants preferred by the white truffle and the black truffle of Norcia.
The collection of hazelnuts can be done by hand or mechanized. In industrial cultivation only the mechanical one is now used, which also considerably reduces costs, affecting only less than 20% of the total value while the manual one still accounts for a third of the final price. Manual harvesting is still practiced only on small farms. Hazelnuts are harvested in autumn, when the fruit is fully cured, its wrapping becomes shriveled and comes off easily. In the manual harvest the plants are shaken to make the fruits detach and fall, which are subsequently collected from the ground, also with the aid of a special tool that allows to collect large quantities, some tens of kg per hour, without much effort. Of course this type of collection is now used only by small farms. Mechanized harvesting has become widespread due to the countless advantages it offers.
Hazelnut harvesting takes place today mainly in a mechanized way, through mechanical or suction machines, that is, able to separate the hazelnuts sucked from the leaves and twigs. The machines used for mechanical harvesting are the trailed and the self-propelled pneumatic harvesters. In some cases the mechanical harvest is combined with chemical treatments that facilitate the ripening of fruits at the same time as they fall. Once the hazelnuts have been harvested they must be cleaned and dried for at least a week, exposed to the sun or with the use of special dryers, to allow them to be preserved for longer and longer. If the nuts are sold shelled they must be roasted to maintain their organic characteristics, and packed in well-sealed containers.