Hazelnuts, sometimes mistakenly referred to as filberts, are sweet, acorn-shaped nuts that are rich in phosphorous, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium, selenium, dietary fiber, folate, and vitamin E. Hazelnuts are also an excellent source of plant sterols that are believed to play a role in the prevention of certain diseases, including colon cancer and heart disease. Although the names are often used interchangeably, filberts are actually a cultivated variety of European hazelnut and are slightly larger than other hazelnuts. While the principal hazelnut-producing countries are Turkey, Spain, Italy, and France, they are also grown in the U.S. on hazelnut farms in Oregon and Washington. Wild hazelnuts (also sometimes referred to as cobnuts) grow in temperate regions around the world. The hazelnut has a long, fuzzy outer husk that opens as the nut ripens, revealing a hard, smooth shell. Believed to have originated in Asia, the hazelnut is one of the oldest agricultural food crops, providing a high-quality protein to humans for thousands of years. Ancient Chinese manuscripts dating back 5,000 years refer to the hazelnut as a sacred food bestowed directly on us by the heavens; and the ancient Greeks and Romans prized hazelnuts for their medicinal properties. Hazelnuts are a nutrient-dense food that provide excellent nourishment as well as culinary diversity. While ancient lore has it that hazelnuts held the cure for everything from baldness to gastrointestinal illnesses, modern research is informing us that nuts, in general, if consumed in moderation, may confer heart healthy benefits. The monounsaturated fats in nuts are believed to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. When compared with other nuts, hazelnuts have a high vitamin E profile; and current research indicates that the antioxidant power of vitamin E may play a significant role in preventing coronary heart disease as well as certain kinds of cancer. Varieties Available in-shell and shelled forms, chopped, ground, whole, and roasted or natural, hazelnuts are often used in the baking and confectionery industries. Hazelnuts impart sweet, rich flavor and texture to numerous foods, and are added to many products including cookies, candies, ice cream, breakfast cereals, biscotti, tortes, chocolates, coffee, bread, liqueurs, and spreads. Some other forms of hazelnut include the following: Hazelnut butter is a creamy, smooth spread (like peanut butter) made from roasted hazelnuts that offers a full, sweet flavor to recipes. Hazelnut meal & flour is made from hazelnuts that have been processed into fine particles, and adds texture and flavor to many dishes, and may be added to cake batters, breads, fillings. Hazelnut oil is a delicacy derived mainly from Italian hazelnuts and is pressed from hazelnuts that have not been roasted. Full of flavor, hazelnut oil is excellent for seasoning desserts as well as salads, sauteed foods, and crepes. Make sure to store hazelnut oil in the refrigerator as it easily turns rancid if exposed to heat and light. Hazelnut paste, with added natural sweeteners, is used as a confectionery paste in hazelnut marzipan, icings, bakery fillings, ice cream, and cookies.