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Once considered a gift from the gods, hazelnuts offer a taste of heaven

Cultivated for thousands of years, the hazelnut is known to offer numerous health benefits. Even more popular for its taste, this universal ingredient is consumed all over the world in a huge variety of dishes, from starters and salads to mouthwatering cakes.

Picture a small, remote island off the west coast of Scotland, population not much over 100. Now travel back in your imagination to a remote time, some 9000 years ago. In this unlikely setting, there lives a Mesolithic community thriving on the large-scale processing of hazelnuts, probably for trade with other island and mainland communities.

The island is called Colonsay, and the evidence for this activity was only discovered in 1995, in the form of a shallow pit containing tons of burnt hazelnut shells. So we know that these nuts have been part of the diet of many populations for many thousands of years.

Believed to be native to Asia Minor, hazelnuts have been cultivated in China for at least five millennia and, according to a Chinese manuscript from the year 2838 BC, were considered one of the five sacred foods given to man from heaven.

The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides wrote about using them to treat colds and even baldness, while ancient Romans used torches of hazelnut branches during wedding ceremonies, believing the plant would ensure a long and happy marriage.

Whatever we may think about such beliefs, the health benefits of the hazelnut are well documented: rich in protein, vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, it is a rich source of many other essential nutrients.

These days, the bulk of global supply comes from Turkey, with Italy in second place. Hazelnuts are exported all around the world and used in savoury dishes and traditional desserts, from Ukrainian Kiev cake and German Linzer Torte to French Dacquoise and Italian Zuccotto.

Marchesi 1824 uses only Piemonte I.G.P. hazelnuts designated Tonda Gentile Trilobata, which are grown exclusively in the Alta Langa area of Piedmont and considered the best in the world. These delicious nuts are purchased raw and fully processed in-house for use in the pralines, gianduiotti and other heavenly creations for which Marchesi 1824 is renowned.