Twenty years of research with hazelnuts and chestnuts at Badgersett Research Farm lead us to strongly believe that the potential for developing many kinds of woody plants for food production is much greater than commonly believed.
Hazelnuts are a commodity in international trade, with approximately 70% of the world crop being produced by Turkey. The nuts are about 70% oil—most of which is monounsaturated—and 20% protein. Most of the crop is used in chocolate confections, and a smaller portion is consumed in roasted nut mixes.
Potential uses of the crop extend far beyond present traditions. Some hazelnut oil is marketed for human consumption and brings extremely high prices for its lightness and flavor. The oil market presents a prime possibility for expansion. In fact, hazelnuts appear to be an excellent basic raw material, comparable to soybeans.
Chestnuts likewise have a strong existing market, some 14 million pounds being consumed in the USA annually, nearly all of it imported from Italy. Consumption in Europe and the Orient is very much greater. Chestnuts more closely resemble wheat or maize than soybeans in that they have a low oil content and are high in complex starches. Chestnut flour has been used to make baked goods in Europe and the Orient for millenia, but production from the wild and near-wild plantings has never equalled the demand.