Hazelnut’s hazy future

Hazelnut’s hazy future

AYLİN ÖNEY TAN - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Hazelnut’s hazy future There is a term in Turkish, very much repeated every mid-summer in Istanbul that can be translated as “to go nuts;” not in the sense of losing one’s mind, but leaving for the countryside for the hazelnut harvest. Many hazelnut growers have links with Istanbul, as most have jobs in the service sector, but when it is the season for hazelnut picking, it is hard to keep them in the city. Even if there is cheaper labor coming from the southeast, many natives go back to their Black Sea homeland to work in the hazelnut orchards. It is almost like a religious pilgrimage. Hazelnut harvest is a very important part of their cultural identity, but now there is a haze over the future of the hazelnut industry.

Turkey, or the Black Sea region to be precise, grows 75 percent of the hazelnuts consumed in the world. If Turkey refuses to sell hazelnuts to Europe, the European chocolate industry would be in deep trouble. However, Turkey never had the upper hand in fixing the base prices for the world hazelnut market. A very frequently repeated phrase is: “Hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, but its price is determined in Hamburg.” It seems that Turkey will never ever have the chance to determine the fate of hazelnuts again. Italy’s Ferrero recently bought the biggest Turkish export company, Oltan Export-Import, which used to sell 50 percent of Turkish hazelnuts to Europe. This means that Ferrero (also owner of Nutella and Kinder) will now control one third of world’s hazelnut trade. How this will affect hazelnut growers is a big question of the future.

The season for hazelnuts already had a bitter start this year. At the end of March a heavy snowfall and frost had hit the hazelnut orchards with an estimated 25 percent increase in prices. Just a year ago, people of the region had other dreams. They were having fantasies of valleys flowing with chocolate rivers, with the announcement by the Eastern Black Sea Development Agency (DOKA) that grants would be given to enterprises to manufacture praline-based chocolates. DOKA announced in 2013 that they planned to create a chocolate valley, worth 5.5 million euros in the first phase, aiming the production high-value-added hazelnut products. The initiative intended to increase the added value of the hazelnut and the main goal of the project was to develop new products through research and development activities on chocolate, hazelnuts and similar products. Obviously they did not foresee an Italian chocolate firm coming over and buying the biggest local export company.

When I’m guiding my culinary tours, and if there are children and young people among the group, I always ask whether they like Nutella. The response is always a loud yes, when I further ask them whether they know about the much better Turkish version, Sarelle, there is always a blank face, and of course they also never know that the Italian nut spread is primarily made of Turkish hazelnuts. Nutella has a new factory built in Manisa, close to the port of İzmir, so practically it will be almost all Turkish, that is apart from its formula of course. 

The chocolate valley project seems to be just a remote dream now, but an actual chocolate route is surely created; all the way from the mountains of the Black Sea, to the shores of the Aegean, making its way to Italy.

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: Hazelnut parsley pesto is an amazingly flavorsome sauce for summer pastas. The rich nutty hazelnut flavor combined with the freshness of parsley with an added bite of garlic is so good on boiled potatoes, or shredded cooked chicken breast, or with grilled octopus and fried calamari. Make it in advance and keep a jar in the fridge, use whenever necessary. Whizz in a blender two cups of hazelnuts, one bunch of flat-leaf parsley and two cloves garlic with half a cup of extra virgin olive oil, or even better hazelnut oil. If you want to have it smoother, add half a cup of water or more. Salt to taste. Drizzle over whatever you wish, toss with salad or pasta, or use as a dip.

Fork of the Week: Go local and try local hazelnut spreads. If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to taste Sarelle, as it is close to Nutella in flavor, but way nuttier. My favorite is bitter, the plain one without cacao is a revelation, and the diabetes one is without sugar. Fiskobirlik is another brand, owned by the cooperative of hazelnut growers, which is a bit coarse in texture, but very very nutty.

Cork of the Week: Organic wine industry is relatively small, especially in Turkey, yet we have some recent exciting developments. Two small boutique wineries from Turkey won several medals in the 5th International Organic Wine Awards 2014 in Germany. Barbare and LA wines have won 15 gold and silver medals in total. Barbare Rose Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 almost made it to the Grand Gold category with its smashing 95 points, and followed in the whites by LA Idol Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay 2013 with an amazing 94 points and LA Mon Rêve Chardonnay Chenin Blanc 2013 with 93 points. There were also 9 red wines from both companies that received silver and gold medals.

Check the winning Turkish wines here: http://www.bioweinpreis.de/en/results-2014.html