Monday, January 14, 2013

What’s in a name? Hazelnut vs. Filbert vs. Cobnut

Hazelnuts... one of my favorite nuts!

What is the difference between a Hazelnut and a Filbert and a Cobnut? This is a convoluted issue with a lot of history, but here is my best attempt to piece it all together:

To begin with, there are between 14-18 species in the Corylus genus, depending on the botanist. All of the Corylus species are technically in the Corylaceae Family which many modern botanists are calling the Hazel family. Therefore all Corylus species produce “hazelnuts” in a general term.

Shelled Hazelnuts.

The name “hazel” likely comes from the Anglo-Saxon word haesel which means bonnet or head-dress. This describes the shape of the shell surrounding the nut. It is unlikely describing the color of the nut.

Many hundreds of years ago, the hazel species in Britain were given the common name “filbert”. Species that were discovered by British botanists in later years were often given the common name filbert if they were a shrub and hazel if they were a tree.

So where did the name “filbert” come from? There are two possible reasons for this name. The first is that the nuts mature around 22 August, a.k.a. St. Philibert’s Day (Saint Philibert of Jumieges was a French monk). The second reason is that the husked shell of a hazelnut resembles a beard, and the German word for “full beard” is vollbart. Over time, with English influences, this word may have became “filbert”. However, no one is really sure which the real origin of the name is.

With all that said, any Corylus species that have the common name “filbert” (i.e. European Filberts, Common Filbert, etc.) produce filberts, but they technically are all hazelnuts.

Kentish Cobnuts... fresh and ready to eat.
http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1192/1349145989_e09bbfcd0f.jpg

Now to further confuse the issue, some varieties of hazels grown in Britain are called “cobnuts”. This was based on a game kids used to play with the nuts where the winning nut was called the cob. Most cobnuts are cultivars of a variety named Kentish Cob. Cobnuts are also unique in that they are typically sold fresh, not dried. This gives the nuts a seasonal market and unique culinary uses.

To be complete in my explanation, some will say that filberts are longer and thinner, and non-filberts are shorter and more round. This is sometimes true, but is often based on species and varieties/cultivars.

A selection of nuts from an unspecified and unnamed group of British trees.
Note the variation on sizes and shapes... 

Finally, what really throws this whole naming scheme off is that people have regional preferences for what they call the nut from Corylus species. If you are in eastern North America, they may be called either filberts or hazelnuts depending on your family history. If you are in the Pacific Northwest, they are filberts to the older generation; the younger generation knows them as hazelnuts thanks to marketing starting in 1981. If you are in England or Europe, you probably call then filberts unless you specifically are speaking about cobnuts. If you are in Turkey, you probably call them hazelnuts. Of course, in Asia the local names are completely different.

So there you have it. In the end, I don't really care what they are called. These are just one of my favorite nuts!

Stay tuned for more information about growing Hazels.

13 comments:

  1. Have you been trackinging with the recent release of Mark Shepherd's book http://www.forestag.com/ restoration agriculture?

    Sounds like his operation is intensive on the use of hazelnuts.

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  2. What makes you think these nuts are called "hazelnuts" in Turkey? They are not.

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  3. Wow, you've really . . . cleared things up . . .

    I use both terms, and love both nuts! (Never heard the term "cobnut" before)

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  4. German is Haselnuss so it is likely more Saxon than Anglo. BTW French call it noisette or aveline.

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    1. Both the Angles and Saxons were north German speaking tribes, it could have come from either.

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  5. Growing up in the hills of W.V., if you were fortunate enough to find a hazelnut tree in the wild and could keep the location a secret, it was certainly a treat for the Christmas Holiday Season. A bit larger than a big pea or gooseberry, Mom used them to dress up the taste of just about everything from turkey stuffing to sprinkles on a cake. Just fun to remember those days.




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  6. We call them Hazelnuts and Cobnuts in the UK, certainly not Filberts. I'd never even heard the word before I came across your page and certainly never heard anyone call hazels that.

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    1. We always called them cobnuts in the wild and hazelnuts if they were bought. In fact, as kids, most of us were unaware they were the same nut as they have a completely different taste when eaten fresh from the tree as opposed to the dried shop bought variety.

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  7. We do call them filberts where I'm from in the UK (London/Essex area) - possibly a regional thing? - or generational? (I'm in my mid-40s) My friend Hazel's nickname at school was Filbert. It's more common here to call them Hazelnuts though and only occasionally have I heard the term Cobnuts.

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  8. Football nuts will know that Leicester City's former home was Filbert Street, close to Walnut Street, Brazil Street, Chestnut Street, Almond Road and even Hazel Street - so the builders of these Victorian terraces certainly recognised a difference.
    Just a matter of taste, but I like Kentish Cobs better than the skinnier Filberts.

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  9. Just want to add to your information base about hazelnut naming. We had three trees in our backyard in Portland, Oregon USA when we moved there in 1958. Mom and Dad always called these hazelnut trees. I never heard the name filbert until I was much older.
    Our Wilamette Valley hazelnuts are a major crop...very large nuts... prized in China at this time. Because we have a native hazel, Corylus cornuta var. californica...the beaked hazel....we grow them easily as bird cover and as a forest crop.

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  10. I've lived in Oregon my entire life and always called these nuts Filberts...only in recent years have I heard the term Hazelnuts...I still call them Filberts...

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