Most hazelnuts are imported from Turkey, the US, Italy and Spain. The sweet-tasting, cream-coloured kernel is small and round with a pointed tip and encased in a papery brown skin. Delicious eaten raw with cheese, they’re also widely used in cooking and either sold whole, blanched (skinned) or chopped and toasted.
Kentish cobnuts, or filberts – a variety of hazelnut – grow wild in hedgerows in the UK and can be sold in their fresh, just picked, state when the nuts are greenish brown and the kernels are sweet and juicy.
Dried hazelnuts are available all year round. Fresh Kentish cobnuts are available late August to early September.
Select fresh or whole dried nuts that are heavy and don’t rattle when shaken, as this indicates the nut has dried out.
You will need a nut cracker to open whole nuts. The skins are edible but can be bitter. To remove the skins from shelled nuts, heat them in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, taking care that they do not scorch. Place the nuts in a clean tea towel and rub together until the skin flakes off easily. The nuts can then be toasted in the oven, under the grill or in a dry pan for extra nuttiness. Add to cakes and cookies, crumbles and muffin recipes . Also try them savoury, in a salad dressing over a chicken salad.
Unopened packs of nuts will keep for 3-4 months but, like most nuts, hazelnuts have a high fat content and will go rancid if left in opened packets. Once opened, seal the packet tightly and keep them in the fridge. If stored in the freezer, they’ll stay fresh for up to 6 months.