Science & Technology

Move Over, Cheese

Hazelnuts could be Wisconsin's crop of the future.



Wisconsin could someday have a reputation for producing nuts as well as cheeseheads, thanks to an effort to introduce a new cash crop to the northern part of the state.

That crop is hazelnuts — the crucial ingredient in Nutella spread and other decadent treats. The American hazelnut, which grows wild in northern Wisconsin, is more winter-hardy than the traditional European hazelnut. Jason Fischbach, an agricultural agent with UW Extension, says that the university helped found and has worked with the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative (UMHDI) to cross the wild nut with European hazelnuts and has identified several promising hybrids for commercial production.

Hazelnuts are “a high-value specialty crop,” says Fischbach. “We don’t have many options in our region, and this is one of them. The crop of the future,” he adds, “has got to generate money as well as being good for the environment,” and hazelnut trees fit the bill. They provide good ground cover that helps prevent erosion and flooding, as well as providing habitat for wildlife.

Fischbach says that introducing hazelnuts as an established crop brings potential for value-added industries producing nut oils, gluten-free flour, nut butters, baked goods, and even hazelnut-flavored beer. “Now is an exciting time [for UMHDI]. When consumers try hazelnuts, they want to buy them.”

Published in the Winter 2019 issue


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