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HISTORY - Hazelnuts through the Ages

Hazelnuts grow on deciduous trees (Corylus avellana) that are native to many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Australia is free of many of the major hazelnut pests and diseases found overseas.

The family Betulacae, or Birches, were dominant at the end of the last Ice Age and hazel trees have many adaptations for surviving in cold climates. They require adequate winter chill and a period of warming to initiate flowering which occurs while the tree is leafless in winter. Trees bear male and female flowers, but flowers on the same tree and of the same variety are not compatible (ie. incapable of self pollination).

Hazels were coppiced for the production of wood for hundreds of thousands of years. Modern propagation by stooling (or mound layering) is a form of coppicing. Hazel wood was valued as a pliable material for thatching, constructing wattle and daub houses, weaving wattle fencing – for enclosing stock, and it is still regarded as making the best charcoal.

As nuts could be freely gathered from woods, growing for Nut Production did not become an ‘industry’ until industrialisation required quantities to supply towns. Development of varieties, selected for a defined standard of flavour, nut size, shape and blanching took place in regions that were often very different in terms of climate or soil. For instance: the long oval Kentish Cobb grows well on the misty chalk downs of Kent, UK. Round highly flavoured TGDL prefers high weathered volcanic valleys in the Piedmont region of Italy. Neither variety performs well in the harsh climates and old soils of Australia.
Huge food industries around the world rely on the type of hazelnut they use being consistent in size, shape, flavour, oil content, blanching ability, and so on. Hazelnuts are traded as a commodity and described by specifications.

Hazelnuts were brought to Australia by the early settlers, and returning soldiers and sailors as nuts – some were planted for nut production. However, seedlings produce nuts that are different from either parent. (Truffle spore is inoculated into seedlings grown from germinated hazelnuts.) Seedling trees will produce nuts, but of every shape and size imaginable, and commercially quite unsuitable.

Commercial hazelnut growers grow nuts from known hazelnut cultivars that have been propagated by vegetative methods and will always produce the same quality or specification of hazelnut. Many of the cultivars available to hazelnut growers in Australia were imported from hazelnut regions overseas, such as Oregon USA, France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Most of these imported varieties demonstrate a proclivity climate or soil similar to that of their region of origin.

Tokolyi Brownfield Cosford, the Australian cultivar, selected by Imre Tokoli, was the only variety that performed well at all five trial sites in the Evaluation of Hazelnut Varieties for South-eastern Australia. Two of its pollinizers are also selections bred for Australian conditions.

World Supply today
World demand for hazelnut is increasing rapidly as health benefits are recognized, and new consumers develop in former third world countries, due to rapidly increasing population and levels of disposable income.

World hazelnut supply is falling. Ninety per cent of world hazelnut production is produced by Turkey and Italy, typically small confectionery type nuts. Turkey currently produces about 75% of world production. The Turkish government has ceased subsidizing hazelnut producers (8 million people are involved in its industry). Turkey’s marginally productive hazelnut areas will come out of production, forcing world hazelnut prices up.
In recent years the snack food sector has seen the most rapid growth, where discerning consumers choose large attractive kernels and eat hazelnuts for health benefits.

Australian Gourmet Hazelnut’s main crop variety, Tokolyi Brownfield Cosford (TBC), is an Australian cultivar. Its point of difference is its high content of beneficial nutrients, Vitamin E and monounsaturated oils, lack of kernel fault and a unique flavor which is greatly appreciated by our customers. TBC is the perfect snack hazelnut.

The AGH supplies growers with main-crop trees and compatible pollinizer cultivars, planting grids. Their performance in the hazelnut orchard, in the processing shed and on the plate have been developed and proven over 10 years.

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