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Chocolate Ingredients: Everything You Need to Know About Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts – they’re one of the chocolate industry’s favorite ingredients. Today, we dive into the basics of hazelnut production, exploring where and how they are produced.

We look at the social challenges involved and how the UTZ program is working to tackle these within the industry. So basically, everything you could ever want to know about hazelnuts!

The process: from plant to product

Before hazelnuts have the chance to end up in chocolates, cakes, spreads or even liquor, they go through a long and time-intensive production process.

It all starts in August during the harvest. For about four weeks, workers and farmers collect the nut from the trees.

Once out of the orchards, the hazelnuts, still in their husks, are spread out to dry. Then the dehusking begins. With the help of a dehusking machine called a ‘patoz’, the nut is completely cleaned. It now has the form we typically think of when we picture a hazelnut.

At this point the nut usually gets packed up in jute bags and stored or transported to either the Manav (a local independent trader), the cracker/processor or the exporter.

After being cracked and removed from their shells, some of these nuts will be vacuum wrapped and sold fresh. Others will be roasted, and some will be ground. The exporter is then ready to send the hazelnuts to manufacturers all over the world.

Where it all happens

Turkey produces about 60% of the world’s hazelnuts, mostly in the Black Sea region. From east to west, this region offers the perfect climate and soil conditions.

Although the farms themselves are relatively small, averaging 1,5 hectares per farm, there are around 650-700 thousand hectares of hazelnut plantations across the country. Zooming in within the region, the area around the city of Ordu produces the most, accounting for over 25% of the country’s hazelnut production.

Map of hazelnut producing areas in Turkey
UTZ certified farmer groups can be found across the east and west black sea areas.

Productivity: it depends on the weather

As with any crop, hazelnut production is dependent on the weather. Poor weather conditions such as frost or drought can often result in low yield or quality of the crop. Pests, diseases, humidity and soil quality are also important factors that contribute to both the quantity and quality.  Since the hazelnut industry in Turkey is based on a free market system, this fluctuation often contributes to price changes from year to year.

The people behind the nut

Hazelnut production is an important source of income for many rural households in the Black Sea region, although many farmers also have other jobs or sources of income

The hazelnut harvest takes place in a span of roughly four weeks starting around August of each year. With such a short amount of time and a large amount of ground to cover, many workers travel from across the region and from the southeast of Turkey to help with the harvest.

Female farmer during hazelnut harvest

Many of the workers, especially those coming from the southeastern part of the country, are poor families forced to move north in search of extra income. They travel from farm to farm, working their way slowly up the hills. If necessary, they will stay at a farm for about 10 to 12 days to finish the job.

Sustainable needs in changing times

Children often travel along with their family. And although some of the workers need all the extra hands the family can provide, Turkish law does not allow children younger than 16 to work. The Turkish Ministry of Labor and organizations, such as the ILO, work to offer schooling while the parents are out in the orchards. However, this is still a sensitive and challenging topic.

The small scale of many of the farms makes many farmers reluctant to invest in the orchards.  Many farmers prefer to stick to traditional farming practices rather than trying new techniques, and high, steep slopes make mechanization a difficult task. These factors inhibit the growth of farms and future generations of hazelnut farmers.

Another issue is finding ways to make hazelnut farming attractive for these future generations. Increasingly, most of the children themselves are not that interested in hazelnut production, but rather, in the opportunities the big cities can offer.

Through the UTZ program we are striving to make a difference on all of these challenges. With good agricultural practices, better farm management and extra attention to climate change strategies, farmers’ productivity and income can increase. And with further attention to schools and childcare, as well as better salaries and living conditions for workers, future generations can gain opportunities to move themselves, and the hazelnut sector, ahead.

Now that you know all about hazelnuts, read about our hazelnut certification program and why we are committed to growth within this industry.

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