Hazelnut varieties, commonly known as cultivars, play a pivotal role in the attributes of the nuts we consume. These cultivars differ significantly, from size and flavor to disease resistance. These differences are often tailored to meet specific needs, be it farming conditions, climate adaptability, or market demand.
In this blog post, we will look closely at some of the most common hazelnut cultivars. We’ll examine how human techniques contribute to their development. We will also look at the factors leading to the emergence of new, specialized varieties.
Understanding Cultivars in Hazelnut Farming
Cultivars are specialized plant types developed intentionally by humans. Methods like selective breeding and grafting help achieve unique traits. These traits are then maintained through asexual propagation, ensuring consistency across generations.
In the context of hazelnuts, cultivars represent distinct varieties bred or cultivated for specific traits like size, flavor, or disease resistance.
A single hazelnut species can have many varieties
The Corylus avellana species, known as the common hazelnut, is a prime example of variability within the same species. Through selective breeding, multiple unique varieties have emerged from Corylus avellana. Although these varieties belong to the same hazelnut species, each cultivar has its own distinct traits.
Some varieties are notable for their large nut size or enhanced flavor. Others are valued for their strong resistance to disease or adaptability to varying climates.
Hazelnut varieties can also be hybrid
Some hazelnut varieties are hybrids. They result from the fusion of different species, such as Corylus avellana and Corylus maxima. These hybrid cultivars aim to combine the best traits from each parent species.
The Role of Human Intervention in Cultivar Development
Human intervention is a crucial factor in the development of hazelnut cultivars. Traditional farming relied on natural selection, letting plants adapt over time to their environment. Our understanding of botany and genetics has advanced over time. This progress has enhanced our methods for creating specialized plant varieties, including hazelnuts.
Methods of cultivar development
One common technique is selective breeding, where plants with desirable traits are chosen to produce the next generation. This approach accentuates features valued by growers, such as larger nut size and improved flavor.
Hybridization also plays a role as a breeding technique that merges specific traits from different hazelnut species or cultivars. By cross-pollinating carefully selected plants, new and unique hazelnut varieties can be created. These offspring often possess a combination of beneficial traits inherited from their parent plants. These traits include enhanced pest resistance, superior flavor profiles, or improved yield consistency. This practice broadens the pool of available cultivars, fueling ongoing innovation in the hazelnut industry.
Another important method is clonal propagation, often conducted through grafting. In this approach, a piece of a plant with desired traits is attached to a rootstock. It ensures that the resulting plant retains those specific characteristics. This is especially useful in maintaining consistency across multiple generations.
Historical overview of human intervention in hazelnut cultivation
Initiatives to create superior hazelnut cultivars have not been a recent phenomenon. In fact, the 1960s marked a milestone period when formal breeding programs were initiated in countries like France, Italy, and the United States. The main goal was enhancements in kernel quality and yield.
Additional efforts emerged in Turkey, Romania, and China. Yet, as time passed, several of these programs diminished or even ceased in some cases. The United States is a notable exception, where breeding activities have not only continued but expanded.
Factors Influencing the Development of Cultivars
Developing new hazelnut cultivars is a multifaceted endeavor influenced by various factors. These driving forces span from agricultural needs, such as soil conditions and disease resistance, to long-term environmental trends like climate change. Additionally, shifts in market demand and consumer preferences play a vital role.
Together, these elements shape the criteria for new cultivars, influencing what is grown and how it will meet future challenges and opportunities.
New hazelnut cultivars often emerge in response to specific, localized agricultural challenges. These include soil type, susceptibility to regional pests, and resistance to local diseases.
New varieties can offer improved resilience and productivity tailored to these specific needs. Such improvements play a significant role in the overall success of hazelnut cultivation.
Long-term environmental trends, such as climate change, are also driving forces in creating new hazelnut cultivars. Shifting climate patterns and extreme weather events are becoming more common. As a result, developing cultivars adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions is critical. This focus aims to ensure the long-term sustainability of hazelnut farming and secure a stable supply for future generations.
For instance, developing drought-resistant hazelnut varieties can be crucial for long-term sustainability. This becomes increasingly vital as climate patterns become more unpredictable.
Market demands and consumer preferences
Market demands and consumer preferences significantly influence the development of new hazelnut cultivars. Consumers are becoming more discerning and seek out specific flavors, textures, or other qualities in hazelnuts. Therefore, there’s a heightened need to develop cultivars that cater to these preferences.
For example, some consumers may prefer hazelnuts with a milder flavor, while others might seek varieties with a more pronounced taste.
Also, specialized market segments like confectionery or baked goods often have unique requirements. In the following image, you can see the type of hazelnuts that are usually used in dark chocolate.
Cultivators often turn to market research and industry trend analysis to make data-driven decisions. This research helps them identify gaps in the market that new hazelnut cultivars could fill. It also allows cultivators to anticipate future market needs.
Popular Hazelnut Varieties
There are over three hundred hazelnut varieties, each with its own set of unique characteristics. While it would be impossible to cover them all, the following are some of the most popular and sought-after hazelnut cultivars. These varieties have gained favor for their distinct traits, making them top choices among farmers, producers, and consumers alike.
It’s worth noting that some once-popular varieties like Willamette, Lewis, and Clark have been discontinued. They’ve been replaced by newer cultivars with a higher resistance to Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB). Because of that, we are not covering them here.
Originating from Spain but flourishing in the Pacific Northwest, the Barcelona hazelnut cultivar is a staple in many orchards. It accounts for over 60% of Oregon’s hazelnut growing land. Its nuts are large and round, offering a rich, buttery flavor complemented by a smooth texture.
Farmers appreciate Barcelona for its high productivity and adaptability to a range of soil conditions. The moderately thick shell guards against pests while still being easy to crack open. An added benefit is that its nuts mature in a consistent timeframe, easing the harvest process.
Tonda di Giffoni
Hailing from Southern Italy, Tonda di Giffoni is a standout cultivar revered for its premium kernels and exceptional taste. Its almost spherical nuts are a feast for the eyes and a top pick for luxury items like high-end chocolates and pastries. The cultivar offers kernels with a delicate sweetness and a satisfying crunch, elevating its status in gourmet applications.
Growers also value Tonda di Giffoni for its high productivity and resistance to certain common diseases afflicting hazelnuts. This cultivar combines quality with reliability, and that makes it a favorite.
The Ennis hazelnut variety has its origins in Oregon, USA. It is known for its plump kernels with a buttery and sweet flavor profile. The nuts are encased in a relatively thick shell, providing a good balance between protection from pests and ease of cracking. This cultivar boasts an attractive appearance, with the kernels exhibiting a light golden color and a smooth texture. It’s an excellent choice for a wide array of food preparations. Ennis hazelnuts are also valued for their high yields.
The Jefferson hazelnut cultivar is a product of rigorous research at Oregon State University. It’s highly resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight, a common scourge in hazelnut farming. This characteristic alone makes it a favorite among growers. The nuts are medium to large, with a unique elongated shape. Their shells are thin, simplifying the cracking process.
While its disease resistance is remarkable, the Jefferson variety also impresses with its culinary versatility. Its kernels have a mild and pleasant flavor. Finally, it has bountiful harvests and thrives in diverse climates, further solidifying its appeal to farmers.
The Yamhill hazelnut cultivar is another notable creation from Oregon State University. It ripens early in the season and boasts strong resistance to Eastern Filbert Blight. Farmers value this variety for its reliable production levels and ability to cope with different environmental conditions. The nuts are medium-sized, rounded, and encased in a delicate shell.
In terms of flavor and texture, Yamhill hazelnuts offer a mild, nutty taste coupled with a firm yet creamy consistency. These characteristics make the Yamhill variety an ideal choice for culinary preparations. This cultivar is well-liked among both large and small-scale growers.
The Large Cobnut is a traditional British hazelnut variety. It’s known for its distinctive, elongated shape and generous size. The nuts are encased in a medium-thick shell that offers resilience to pest issues while being reasonably easy to crack. The kernels of Large Cobnuts have a rich flavor with slight hints of sweetness and earthiness. That makes them a favorite for snacking.
Aside from their unique shape and taste, Large Cobnuts are admired for their compatibility with multiple soil types and climates. It’s a popular hazelnut variety among growers in the United Kingdom and beyond.
Lambert’s Filbert, emerging from the Pacific Northwest, is particularly noted for its large, oval-shaped nuts. These nuts are encased in a shell of average thickness. The kernels stand out for their robust flavor, making them desirable for those who favor intense nutty tastes. These qualities make Lambert’s Filbert another snaking favorite. From a grower’s perspective, it offers the advantages of consistent yields and tolerance for different soil types.
Tombul is the primary cultivar in Turkey, the world’s largest hazelnut producer. Tombul hazelnuts are characterized by their medium to large size, round shape, and thin shell. The kernels exhibit a delicate and sweet flavor, with a smooth texture. These traits are highly valued in diverse gastronomic contexts.
This cultivar has earned its reputation due to the exceptional quality of its nuts. The popularity of Tombul among growers can also be attributed to its high yields and resilience to different growing conditions. This solidifies its status as the top choice in Turkish hazelnut cultivation.
Originating in Italy’s Piedmont region, the Tonda Gentile hazelnut variety is a top-tier choice. It’s famous for its small to medium-sized, impeccably round nuts. These nuts come in a shell that’s easy to crack, unveiling kernels with a sweet and intense nutty flavor, and velvety texture.
This variety holds a special place in the gourmet sector. It’s frequently featured in premium confections like gianduja chocolate.
It earns recognition from growers due to its adaptability across various climates and resilience against certain hazelnut diseases.
A standout among Spain’s hazelnut varieties, Negret features medium-sized, oval-shaped nuts with shells of regular thickness. When cracked open, the kernels reveal a rich and full-bodied flavor with the right amount of crunch.
Negret is also prized for its ability to adapt to a variety of soils and climates. On top of that, its reliable harvests have cemented Negret’s popularity among hazelnut growers.
The Segorbe hazelnut variety, native to Spain, sets itself apart with its large nuts and slightly flattened shape. The kernels are cherished for their distinctively sweet flavor and firm texture. Segorbe hazelnuts are a go-to for chefs and bakers. They are popular in confections, baked goods, and savory dishes.
Like others we discussed before, it’s not very demanding when it comes to soil, and farmers can expect regular yields.
Originating in Oregon, United States, Daviana is a hazelnut variety that produces medium-sized, oval-shaped nuts enclosed in a fairly thick shell. The kernels of Daviana hazelnuts are known for their pleasant, mild flavor and solid texture.
Daviana was traditionally used to pollinate the widely cultivated Barcelona variety. This was due to its compatible pollen shed timing.
Recently, experts have started recommending alternatives with similar timing but better pest resistance. The York variety is gaining popularity for this reason. It offers the desired pollination traits and improved resistance to common pests.
Butler hazelnuts, native to the United States, are celebrated for their generous size and easily crackable shells. The kernels provide a mild, sweet taste and velvety texture, making them versatile in the kitchen. It’s ideal for sweets, baked goods, and beyond.
One notable characteristic of Butler is its delayed bud break. This characteristic is often considered an advantage in regions that are prone to late frosts. It reduces the risk of frost damage to the developing buds.
The Casina variety, which traces its roots to Italy, stands out for its well-rounded attributes. The nuts are of medium size and sport an oval shape, shielded by a shell of moderate thickness. Casina kernels impress with their full-bodied, slightly sweet flavor. Its texture delivers an enjoyable crunch.
It is undemanding in its environmental needs, and it has profitable outputs.
Created in the United States, the York hazelnut variety brings a distinct profile to the hazelnut world. Encased in a relatively thick shell, the medium-sized, round nuts boast a rich flavor that has become a favorite among hazelnut connoisseurs.
York’s adaptability sets it apart from many cultivars. It thrives in a range of climates and soils. Its late bud break is a defense against late frost damage, adding another layer of reliability for growers. As we mentioned before, it also serves as an effective pollinizer for other popular varieties like Barcelona. This further solidifies its importance in modern hazelnut farming.
The Kent Cob hazelnut variety holds a special place in the United Kingdom and Ireland, where hazelnuts are often referred to as cobnuts. The nuts this cultivar produces are medium-sized with an elongated and oval shape. Encased in a thicker shell than the average, the kernels offer a rich, full-bodied flavor that appeals to both traditionalists and modern palates.
Growers and consumers alike appreciate the Kent Cob for its reliable yields and the fact that it flourishes in different soil types of the British Isles. Its historical importance and ongoing popularity make the Kent Cob a cultivar of exceptional value.
Tonda Romana is a hazelnut variety native to the Rome region, in Italy. It’s notable for its medium-sized, perfectly round nuts. The quality of these hazelnuts is usually outstanding. Protected by a delicate shell, the kernels are prized for their unique balance of sweet and nutty tastes.
Tonda Romana is recognized for its hardiness and capacity to flourish in various conditions, including temperatures as low as -22°F (-30°C). These attributes make it a reliable option for growers focused on yield consistency and premium-quality nuts.
In conclusion, hazelnut cultivars are vital to this industry. Each one offers unique features like flavor, size, shape, and adaptability. Developing new cultivars is a continuous effort. It’s shaped by changing market demands and environmental challenges.
This vast range of existing cultivars highlights human ingenuity. It allows the industry to flourish in response to different needs and conditions.
As a consumer, you can appreciate this diversity by paying attention to the variety of hazelnuts you consume. Next time you buy hazelnuts, take a moment to check if the cultivar is written on the package, or online. And the time after that, try to buy a different one, to observe the variations in flavor and texture yourself.