Hazelnuts are typically associated with the rich, nutty flavor found in Italy’s Nutella—which is why the Turkish origin of their nuts may come as a surprise to many. The history of hazelnut production in Turkey can be traced back over 2,000 years to the Black Sea coast, and today Turkey prides itself on being the world’s top hazelnut producer and exporter.

Fındık, as the nut is called in Turkish, appears in delicious varieties in restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops all over Turkey, and the country now accounts for approximately 80 percent of the world’s hazelnut exports, according to United Nations data.

The province of Giresun is considered the heart of hazelnut production, where the small nut’s great influence can be seen in all ways of life, from the economic (hazelnut production is the city’s main source of income), to the cultural (a Giresun folk song says, “I will not eat a single hazelnut unless you are by my side.”)

The nut’s unique flavor is commonly found in Turkish sweets and dishes; some cities in the Black Sea region even use hazelnuts in place of pistachios or walnuts in their baklava fillings, and make their own version of helva with hazelnuts and cornmeal, whereas in other areas it is typically made with tahini and pistachios.

But hazelnut’s talents extend beyond its taste. Although high in calories and oils, the nut is associated with weight loss, most likely because it stimulates the metabolism. Other health benefits include its ability to improve cardiovascular health, due to its natural fats, and its impressive stock of vitamin E and minerals help reduce blood pressure and protect against cancer and other diseases. These health benefits allow for semi-guilt-free indulgence in fındık ezmesi (hazelnut butter).

The best ways to eat hazelnuts

Hazelnut baklava

Baklava is just as celebrated today as it was by the Janissaries (the sultan’s guards) who would receive trays of the dessert from the sultan on the 15th day of Ramadan. Baklava is sometimes made with hazelnuts instead of pistachios, but for a truly-special treat, try sütlü nuriye, a type of baklava made with milk and hazelnuts. This is especially good at Kafadaroğlu Baklava & Börek; Ortabahçe Caddesi No.21/G, Beşiktaş; (0212) 258 07 59

Hazelnut chocolate

The concept of hazelnut chocolate is a familiar one, but instead of infusing chocolate bars with the nutty flavor, as most typically do, some Turkish chocolate makers prefer adding whole hazelnuts into their chocolate bars. This adds a delightful crunch to the chocolate bars and does justice to the hazelnut flavor. To munch on this dessert, we suggest visiting Meşhur Beyoğlu Çikolatacısı, where you can sample the famous tin-foil-wrapped chocolate bars with their healthy portion of hazelnuts. İstiklal Caddesi No.69; Taksim, T: (0212) 249 53 64

Cezerye

Cezerye is a semi-gelatinous traditional Turkish confectionery made from caramelized carrots, shredded coconut, and roasted walnuts, hazelnuts, or pistachios. While in Istanbul, get yours from Hacı Şerif, a Turkish bakery that has been around since 1938. Yeni Cami Caddesi No.19, Eminönü; T: (0212) 511 81 66

Kup Griye

Being another one of Istanbul’s oldest patisseries, Baylan has been serving a plethora of unforgettable desserts since their opening. One of their most popular hazelnut desserts is the Kup Griye, a potpourri of ice cream, caramel sauce, finely ground pistachio, coarsely chopped hazelnuts, and crunchy bits of toffee. Muvakkıthane Caddesi No.19, Kadıköy; T: (0216) 346 63 50