Background: Early French settlers in the French Prairie area, north of Salem, are credited with introducing filbert trees and the name filbert to Oregon.
It is believed by some that the name of filbert may have originated from a French saint, as the feast of St. Philibert took place during the peak harvest season in Europe. Others suggest that the name may have been inspired by the appearance of the husked shell, which resembles a beard. Interestingly, the German word for “full beard” is vollbart, which bears a striking resemblance to filbert.
More than 1,800 years ago, a Greek physician described the nut as a sacred food used worldwide as a medicine and tonic. In ancient Chinese culture, the nut was highly regarded for its numerous benefits.
Eating pounded filbert with honey can effectively cure chronic coughing, while mixing cooked filbert with black pepper can help alleviate the symptoms of a cold. For those experiencing baldness or hair loss due to a disease, applying an ointment made from mashed burnt filbert shells and suet onto the affected area can stimulate hair growth.
The nut has become an integral part of Christmas traditions and holiday delicacies, especially cookies, pastries, and chocolate confections in contemporary times.
Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, are primarily produced in Turkey, accounting for over 70% of the world’s supply. However, in the United States, Oregon is responsible for a significant 99% of the crop, despite contributing only 6-7% to the global production. This can be attributed to the state’s climate and soil conditions, which provide the ideal environment for hazelnut cultivation.
In 1919, The Oregon Statesman referred to Salem as “the filbert center of the United States” during the rise of the industry, highlighting its significant role.
In order to keep up with the rapid growth, it became necessary to establish industry standards and conduct research. As a result, the Filbert Marketing Board was established in 1949. Additionally, in 1951, the Oregon Filbert Commission was created by legislative action and placed under the Department of Agriculture.
In the 1980s, both individuals decided to change their names. Presently, they can be found at the Oregon Hazelnut Industry Office located in Wilsonville.
We sought guidance from that office to gain insight into the ongoing debate of filbert versus hazelnut.
Why does Oregon’s state nut have two names?
According to the archives of the Statesman Journal, the term “filberts” was commonly used to refer to nuts in this region until the 1980s.
In 1975, the food page of the newspaper made the first mention of using the term hazelnut. A recipe was provided that recommended using chopped filberts, which were then being sold as hazelnuts.
According to the Capital Journal, the commission decided to use the term “hazelnuts” for the kernel trade on the East Coast the following year. However, they anticipated that those involved in the in-shell nut market, including growers and buyers, would continue to refer to them as filberts.
As demand for hazelnut exports grew in Europe, Oregon processors began using the terms “hazelnuts” and “filberts” interchangeably on their packaging. This shift in language was part of a larger plan by growers and the marketing board to expand their reach in the market.
In Europe, the nut we commonly call hazelnut is referred to as such, not as filbert. It’s said that some customers abroad were left perplexed by the use of the term filbert and even went as far as returning shipments labeled as such.
The Oregon Hazelnut Commission decided in 1981 to give more importance to the name hazelnuts. As a result, they eventually changed their name to reflect this emphasis.
Marketing hazelnuts instead of filberts was a logical choice since the majority of the world recognized the former name more readily.
In 1989, the hazelnut was declared as Oregon’s official state nut. However, there are still some locals who use the term filbert to refer to this nut.
These terms, “both” and “interchangeably,” hold equal validity and are often used in place of one another.
According to a seasoned filbert farmer, their profession involves cultivating filberts and marketing them as hazelnuts.
Oh, by the way
In the middle of winter, when most trees are dormant, Oregon’s 93,000 acres of trees stand out for their unique blooming and pollination.
These commonly consumed nuts are known by more than just two names, just to keep things interesting.
Cobnuts are referred to as a particular type by the British.
The Pacific Northwest is home to Indigenous people who have a deep connection to the trees in the region. Their ancestors relied on trees for various purposes such as using them as a source of food and for making basketry and arrow shafts. The term “Tukwila” is used by these people to refer to areas that are known for hazelnut cultivation. Interestingly, both Washington State and Woodburn have regions that are referred to as Tukwila, which translates to “land of the hazelnut.”
The Woodburn neighborhood of Tukwila used to be an orchard for either filberts or hazelnuts, depending on your preferred terminology.