Avellana, or Chilean hazel (Gevuina avellana), is a nut-bearing tree in the family Proteaceae from southern Chile and neighboring areas of Argentina. The Mapuche people, who call avellana gevuín or gneufén, have consumed the nuts since precolonial times. Avellana grows from Chile’s temperate coast up the Pacific slope of the Andes to 700 meters above sea level. It is an evergreen that grows up to 20 meters in height. When mature, the tree is frost resistant to at least −12 °C. Avellana wood, which is cream colored with dark brown streaks, is easy to work and is used to make musical instruments and furniture. The tree has bright green composite, toothed leaves and small white flowers that bloom between July and November. The fruits mature between January and April.
Avellana nuts are green to reddish when young, darkening to black as they mature. They are consumed raw, boiled, or toasted. Traditionally, avellana nuts are roasted in a wood stove or callana (a Mapuche vessel used to roast grain) to impart a light sweet and slightly spicy flavor. Roasted avellana is added to chocolates, cookies, biscuits, and alcoholic beverages. The nuts can also be candied or turned into nut butter or flour. Ground avellana is brewed to make a local drink similar to coffee.
Avellana is rich in protein, monounsaturated oils, vitamin E, and β-carotene. Abundant in omega 7 fatty acids, avellana oil is used as an ingredient in cosmetics and sunscreens. The tannins in the nuts’ shells are used for tanning leather. Avellana flowers produce large amounts of nectar, making the tree an excellent food source for bees.
Commercial forest plantations and the indiscriminate felling of Chile’s native Valdivian forests threaten avellana, and the traditional methods of collecting and roasting avellana nuts is at risk because the Mapuche people’s right to control their native lands is under threat. Some communities have planted avellana orchards to preserve the production of the nut and to protect the traditional harvesting and processing methods.