Flavor Investigator: Hazelnut

The hazelnut has never quite found a place in the heart of North Americans unless you count Nutella, a spread made from hazelnuts and cocoa powder. Hazelnuts however, are quite prevalent in are across the world in Italy and Turkey. Hazelnuts are nut of the hazel which derive from the species of genus Corylus. Hazelnuts are also known as cobnut or filbert nut based on the plant species and nut shape. Cobnuts are a cultivated hazelnut and are generally rounder in shape. Filbert nuts on the other hand are much smaller and harder than regular hazelnuts. The leading producer of hazelnuts is Turkey as it produces 70% world annual supply with other major producers being Italy and the United States. Overall, the characteristic flavour of hazelnuts is nutty, toasted, earthy with slight notes of musty and earthy.

Nutella Conquered America

Nutella as mentioned before is a brand of sweetened hazelnut cocoa spread manufactured by the Italian company Ferrero. It is believed that Nutella first entered the shelves of America in 1983. Over the decades it slowly built a loyal fan base but nothing like the cult following it has received today.  During the mid-2000s Nutella went on an extensive marketing campaign which began to raise the awareness of the brand. Not only did this include samples being sent to homes but television advertising. Today, Nutella has become so common it has even become a temporary flavour of donut in Tim Hortons. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in the future or becomes a distant memory.

Flavour Compounds in Hazelnuts

One of the major flavour compounds found in hazelnuts is filbertone. Filbertone is naturally occurring ketone found in hazelnut oil. It has a roasted, fatty, sweet and long-lasting character. What is unique about this compound is that it can be used to test for the authenticity of olive oil. In order to adulterate olive oil some individuals add small amounts of cheap hazelnut oil to the olive oil. Therefore, if a sample is counterfeit one can use gas chromatography coupled with mass spectroscopy to test if filbertone. If the compound is present than the oil has been compromised.

Another important molecule responsible for the smell of hazelnuts is 2-methoxy-3-isopropylpyrazine also known as the bean pyrazine. This compound has an odor described as being pea-like, earthy, beany, chocolaty and nutty. This is why bean pyrazine can also be found in coffee.  2-methoxy-3,5-dimethylpyrazine us another compound in hazelnuts and is described as smelling like almond, roasted almonds or the characteristic smell we know as hazelnuts.

Possible Unique Flavour Combinations For Hazelnut

  • Hazelnut and Dill– Dill overall has a pungent, green, lemony and herbal flavour despite this vegetal combination it has the potential to blend with hazelnuts. Hazelnuts have a subtle earthy tone to them which is able to compliment the green and herbal flavour found in dill.
  • Hazelnut and Avacado– Both of these ingredient are naturally fatty. Avocados have subtle notes of hazelnut and anise and because of this they are able to play off the true flavour of hazelnuts.
  • Hazelnut and Garlic- When roasted garlic can take on a caramelized sweet flavour which is enhanced by the roasted nutty flavour of hazelnuts. The two are further complimented when lemon is added to add a dimension of acidity and freshness. Try combining these ingredients for a sauce over chicken!


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