American Hazelnut Company

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Southwestern Wisconsin (Third District) Congressman Ron Kind got his first peek recently during a meeting at the Hungry House Restaurant in Prairie du Chien at three products launched in January by the American Hazelnut Company of Gays Mills. Kind (left) was briefed by Brad Niemcek of Gays Mills on how the grower-owned company is introducing its nuts, oil and gluten-free flour to chefs, bakers and candy makers throughout the region.

 

American Hazelnut 

Company launches three products

By Ted Pennekamp

 

The American Hazelnut Company continues to crack right along with the launching of three products in January. The products include nuts, oil and gluten-free flour.

The American Hazelnut Company is a collaborative effort for growers in Crawford and Vernon counties and got on the drawing board in March of 2014 after several interested persons, one of whom was Brad Niemcek, director of the Kickapoo Culinary Kitchen in Gays Mills, attended the 2014 Upper Midwest Hazelnut Growers Conference in Gays Mills on March 7-8 of that year.

The American Hazelnut Company was officially launched in November of 2014, and the Kickapoo Culinary Center is a “stage two” facility in which nuts, oil and flour can be produced.

Hazelnuts grown in Minnesota and Wisconsin are hybrids between wild hazelnuts and European varieties which can withstand Upper Midwest winters. They are heartier but smaller. Hazelnut kernels can be salted, roasted covered in chocolate, or processed in a variety of other ways and sold. Hazelnut oil, butter and flour are all gluten free.

The market for hazelnut products from the Upper Midwest has good potential. According to the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative, monounsaturated oils, for example, are a heart healthy oil and considered an essential component of a healthy diet.  American hazelnut is 81 percent oleic acid, making it one of the healthiest oils available. Researchers are just beginning to explore the diversity of American hazelnut populations and it is likely there will be as many variations in flavor and color as there is with wine. As such, there is great potential for growers in the Upper Midwest to create a source-identified differentiated product that can expand the palette of American consumers, improve heart health, and put money in the pockets of growers.

The Kickapoo Culinary Center currently purchases in-shell hazelnuts from the grower-members of the American Hazelnut Company and processes them into a range of products including whole kernels, cold-pressed unfiltered oil and hazelnut flour/meal.

The American Hazelnut Company website states, “We are grower-owned with 11 grower-owners working together to process and market our hazelnuts to customers, customers that value quality, superb flavor, and a chance to participate in something bigger. We are growing hazelnuts, but we are also helping change the way we farm in the Upper Midwest. Instead of miles of nothing but corn and soybeans, we envision perennial polycultures of woody plants modeled after the oak savannah ecosystem that once thrived in the Upper Midwest. Great food, clean water, healthy soil. That’s what we stand for.”

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