Can you eat raw hazelnuts?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Can you eat raw hazelnuts?” and will discuss the health benefits of hazelnuts.

Can you eat raw hazelnuts?

Yes, you can eat raw hazelnuts. The flavor of raw hazelnuts is pleasant, but roasting them brings out a softer, sweeter side of the nuts. Roasting leads to the formation of compounds responsible for the typical roasted nut flavor, mainly due to Maillard reactions (1).

Hazelnuts and their varieties

They may not be as well-known in the United States as almonds, pistachio nuts, or walnut hulls, but their nutritional value is just as high. After removing the smooth brown shells of the delicious cream-colored nuts, you may eat them as-is, roast them, slice them and use them in recipes, grind them into butter or flour, or process them into butter. However, research on hazelnut kernel and skin composition has revealed a much higher content of phenolic compounds in hazelnuts, when skin was not removed and a 2-fold decrease in antioxidant activity when skin was removed (2).

Fresh Hazelnuts

Of the nearly one million tons of hazelnuts harvested annually, only a small part (up to 10%) of the hazelnut production is consumed raw (2). If you have a tool to crack them open, you can eat hazelnuts right from the tree. When the outer husk of hazelnut cracks apart, revealing the nut’s hard shell, the nut is considered ripe. Papery skin that covers the kernel makes it taste a little bitter. Just about 180 calories may be found in a 1-ounce serving of raw hazelnuts, or approximately 21 kernels, according to the USDA. These calories are made up of 17.2 grams of mainly unsaturated fat, 4.2 grams of high-quality protein, and 2 grams of sugar. Hazelnuts are also a good source of dietary fiber, with roughly 3 grams per serving.

Today there exists a variety of almost 400 hazelnut cultivars, but only about 20 of them represent the basis of world production. Turkey is the major producer, producing more than 70% of the world´s production, followed by Italy (3).

Roasted vs. Raw

Roasting process of hazelnut kernels leads to a number of physical alterations such as dehydration, microstructural changes of the nut surface, and color modifications. Biochemical changes, including lipid structure modification and decrease or increase in secondary metabolites content, are also consequential to the roasting process (2).

Even though hazelnuts may be purchased in their shells, most are shelled for convenience. Raw hazelnuts are almost similar to roasted hazelnuts except for their somewhat lighter hue. Unless they’ve been blanched, both varieties retain part or all of their skin. During the roasting process, the inherent sweetness of the nut is enhanced. In terms of vitamin C and folate, roasted hazelnuts are somewhat more nutritious than raw hazelnuts, according to the USDA. However, the nutritional value of raw and roasted hazelnuts is almost the same.

Depending on the roasting condition and extension, the antioxidants of roasted hazelnuts are lower or higher than raw nuts. In studies, it was observed a decline of the antioxidant capacity in several types of nuts by roasting at 150°C for 10–30 min and an enhanced activity after 60 min. This effect can be explained by the loss of antioxidant-active compounds like polyphenols due to thermal treatment which is counteracted by prolonging the roasting process leading to the formation of antioxidant-active compounds due to Maillard reactions (1).

Health benefits of hazelnuts

Hazelnuts, like other nuts, are high in protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals, as well as other nutrients. Here are seven health advantages of hazelnuts based on scientific research.

 Contains a Variety of Nutrients

Hazelnuts are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Despite their high-calorie content, nuts are packed with nutrients and lipids that are good for you. There is also a fair quantity of vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and zinc found in hazelnuts.

They are also a strong source of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, such as oleic acid, as well as mono- and polyunsaturated fats. The 2.7 grams of fiber in a one-ounce serving offers roughly 11 percent of the daily value for dietary fiber. Iron and zinc absorption has been demonstrated to be impaired by the presence of phytic acid in hazelnuts.

The fatty acid composition of hazelnut is very similar in composition to fatty acids of olive oil and generally recommended for a healthy diet. Moreover, due to the high level of mono-unsaturated fatty acids and tocopherols/tocotrienols content, hazelnut oils have an oxidative stability similar to the value of olive oil (3).

Antioxidants are found in large quantities in hazelnuts.

Dietary antioxidants help to keep the body’s cells healthy by counteracting free radical damage that accelerates the effects of aging, cancer, and heart disease.

The phenolic chemicals found in the highest concentrations in hazelnuts are the most potent antioxidants. Their anti-inflammatory and anti-cholesterol properties have been well-documented. They may also have health benefits for heart and cancer prevention.

Compared to not eating hazelnuts, which had no impact, 8-week research found that eating hazelnuts dramatically reduced oxidative stress. The surface of the nut contains the bulk of the antioxidants. However, after roasting, its antioxidant concentration may be reduced. So it is best to eat entire, unroasted kernels with the skin rather than roasted or unroasted kernels (3).

On the other hand, roasting may also favor the formation of antioxidants. Roasting has a negative effect on individual phenolics but not on the total phenolic content of hazelnuts (4). A study showed that the content of gallic acid was significantly increased in roasted kernels under the roasting conditions of 15 min in an electrical oven at 140°C; and it has been suggested that gallic acid is one of the most important bioactive compounds influencing the antioxidative activity in plant tissue. The conclusion was that from a health-promoting phytochemical composition of hazelnuts the consumption of whole unroasted kernels with skins should be preferential to peeled kernels either roasted or unroasted (2).

Cardiovascular Benefits

Eating nuts may help keep your heart healthy, according to research. High quantities of antioxidants and heart-healthy fats in hazelnuts may boost the body’s antioxidant capacity and reduce cholesterol levels. Recent and persuasive evidence confirmed that high dietary fiber intake promotes overall health and associates with lower mortality through preventing and mitigating cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes mellitus (3).

Hazelnuts accounted for 18–20% of the daily caloric intake of 21 persons with elevated cholesterol in a one-month study. Cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were all shown to be decreased (3,4).

Blood vessel health and inflammatory indicators improved as well for the participants. There were also decreases in bad LDL and total cholesterol levels, while the good HDL cholesterol and triglycerides were constant in individuals who ate hazelnuts.

With reduced blood fat levels and greater vitamin E levels, other studies have demonstrated comparable heart health benefits. The high fatty acid, fiber, antioxidants, potassium, and magnesium content of hazelnuts seem to help regulate blood pressure. Studies show that daily consumption of 29 to 69 grams of hazelnuts may benefit heart health in many different ways (3).

Associated with a Lower Risk of Contracting Cancer

Hazelnuts may have some anti-cancer benefits due to their high concentration of antioxidant chemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Proanthocyanidins, a class of antioxidants found in hazelnuts and other nuts like pecans and pistachios, are particularly abundant in the nut. The phytosterols of hazelnut promotes a decrease in various cancers including colon, breast and prostate cancer by slowing cell cycle progression, inducing apoptosis, and inhibiting tumor metastasis (3).

Proanthocyanidins have been linked to cancer prevention and treatment in test tubes and animals. Oxidative stress is supposed to be protected by them. Hazelnuts are also a good source of vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that may protect cells from damage that might lead to cancer (3,4).

Hazelnut extract may be useful in the treatment of cervical, liver, breast, and colon cancers, according to several laboratory studies. Colon cancer risk was reduced in animals following an eight-week experiment using a product produced from hazelnut skin extract. Currently, the majority of research on hazelnuts’ cancer-fighting properties has been conducted on animals and in test tubes (3,4).

Reduces the possibility of inflammatory response

Hazelnuts’ high levels of beneficial fats have been related to a reduction in inflammatory markers. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (HsCRP) levels were shown to be reduced in 21 patients with elevated cholesterol levels who ate hazelnuts for six months (3,4).

After four weeks on a diet high in hazelnuts (around 18–20 percent of total calories), the individuals saw substantial decreases in inflammation. In addition, a 12-week study found that consuming 60 grams of hazelnuts daily reduced inflammatory markers in obese and overweight persons (3,4).

Hazelnut consumption was tested in another research to see whether it altered inflammation. It was shown that persons who ate 40 grams of hazelnuts a day had a reduced inflammatory response. Persons with metabolic syndrome who ate 30 grams of raw nuts for 12 weeks had an improvement in their inflammatory levels, compared to a control group of 50 people who didn’t eat any nuts at all.

Studies show that consuming hazelnuts alone is insufficient. A calorie-controlled diet is also necessary to minimize inflammation. Consuming either 30 or 60 g/d of hazelnuts has no effect on body composition, although consuming both doses of hazelnuts significantly improved blood lipid profiles and cell adhesion molecules compared with baseline (5).

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Can you eat raw hazelnuts?” and discussed the health benefits of hazelnuts.

References

  1. Schlörmann, W., et al. Influence of roasting conditions on health-related compounds in different nuts. Food chem, 2015, 180, 77-85.
  2. Schmitzer, Valentina, et al. Roasting affects phenolic composition and antioxidative activity of hazelnuts (Corylus avellana L.). J food sci, 2011, 76, S14-S19.
  3. Di Nunzio, Mattia. Hazelnuts as source of bioactive compounds and health value underestimated food. Curr Res Nutr Food Sci J, 2019, 7, 17-28.
  4. Bolling, Bradley W., et al. Tree nut phytochemicals: composition, antioxidant capacity, bioactivity, impact factors. A systematic review of almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Nutr res rev, 2011, 24, 244-275.
  5. Tey, Siew Ling, et al. The dose of hazelnuts influences acceptance and diet quality but not inflammatory markers and body composition in overweight and obese individuals. J nutr, 2013, 143, 1254-1262.

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Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.