Italy is famous for so many things that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them.
From ancient Roman ruins to some of the world’s finest wines and breathtaking scenery, it’s no wonder Italy is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
For the foodies among us though, few things are more special than Italian cuisine. Of course, we’re all familiar with the wonderful pasta dishes, decadent desserts and flavorful coffees that are native to the country, but what’s less well known is the country’s reputation for producing some of the world’s finest nuts.
That’s right, almonds aren’t just from California! Even though the level of production doesn’t rival that of the United States, nuts are grown throughout the country.
In fact, there are many types of Italian nuts used in foods you likely already know and love. For example, Torrone is a creamy, crunchy nougat confection made with almonds and pistachios while the always popular Biscotti cookie is made with almonds, walnuts or pistachios.
No matter the nut, if it’s from Italy, we’ve got it for you!
What Nuts Are Grown in Italy?
Italy is home to many nuts you already enjoy including almonds, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts.
The growing regions boasting the largest almond crops in Italy can be found in Sicily and Puglia and come in both bitter and sweet varieties.
As you might expect, sweet almonds are used in desserts and confectionary products, while bitter almonds are featured in liqueurs and liquor.
Almonds from Puglia include:
- Fillippo Ceo
Almonds from Sicily include:
The chestnut has a long and important history in Italy, especially in times of crop failure or other hardships. It was relied on heavily for its versatility – chestnuts can be consumed when fresh, dried or when pulverized into powder form. In fact, it’s historically been referred to as the “bread tree” or “bread of the poor” because of its importance.
Today, chestnuts are grown in many regions throughout Italy and like almonds, are named for the area in which they originate. The formally recognized types include Castagna di Cuneo, Castagna del Monte Amiata, Castagna di Montella and Castagna di Vallerano.
Chestnuts are used in a myriad of preparations, like:
- Slow roasted and eaten
- Making bread, pasta or polenta
- In desserts like cakes, jams, tarts and pastries
- Glazed or pureed for serving as a side dish
- Boiled or mashed for souffles
DId you know that despite its relatively small size, the country of Italy is responsible for 12% of all hazelnuts produced globally?
For those who love Italian sweets, this probably won’t come as a big surprise since so much of what makes them delicious is related to the hazelnut.
Hazelnuts are widely cultivated and beloved throughout Italy. Some of the major varieties of hazelnuts grown in Italy are:
- Tonda Gentile Romana (Nocciola Romana) – This hazelnut is almost a perfect sphere and is loved for its crunch and aroma. It’s one of the earliest known hazelnuts to be cultivated, as far back as the 1500s. They are used heavily in a variety of biscotti recipes and other local Italian desserts.
- Tonda Gentile Trilobata (Nocciola del Piemonte) – A favorite of chocolatiers, these hazelnuts are sometimes referred to as round and gentle. They have a rich, aromatic flavor which is enhanced by roasting and a long shelf life. Aside from chocolates, Trilobata is also used in liqueurs, pastry and ice cream.
- Tonda di Giffoni – These hazelnuts are prized for their earthy flavor and fleshly white pulp, making them ideally suited for roasting. The rich flavor makes it perfect to include in both savory and sweet dishes or as a snack covered in chocolate or other coatings like nougat.
Pine nuts are likely the one you’ll be least familiar with on the list. This is because of their unique and strong pine like flavor and also the fact that it is one of the most expensive types of Italian nuts to process.
Pine nuts are derived from the seeds of stone pine tree, which is slow to produce them. The average stone pine tree takes 15 years or more to produce edible seeds. Stone pines grow throughout Italy, but most often in coastal regions. Some of these include Sicily, Sardinia and Tuscany, among others.
Although the flavor is not for everyone, for those that love them, pine nuts can be used a variety of ways. The most popular method use for them in desserts like cookies or tarts but just as many enjoy the taste of toasted pine nuts with a hint of salt.
The Bronte pistachio (Pistacchio Verde di Bronte) is known around the world as “green gold” thanks to its bright green appearance and the value it holds to its producers.
They’re grown in the mountain village of Bronte that hugs the slopes of Mt. Etna. Home to fewer than 20,000 residents in Catania, Bronte depends heavily on the income from this precious crop.
These delectable pistachios are widely used in dessert preparation in Italy, especially cannolis.
The trees that produce these pistachios are not fertilized and pruned every other year. This alternating allows for sustainable crop rotation and gives the Bronte pistachio the distinction of belonging to the Slow Food Presidium.
Bronte pistachios are harvested between August and September.
One of the most well-known walnuts grown in Italy, the Sorrento walnut (Noce Sorrento), has a history that stretches back through the ages. Walnut trees flourish thanks to the region where they grow, the Campania region of Italy, specifically on the Sorrentine Peninsula.
As the third most populated region in Italy, Campania is well known for its favorable Mediterranean climate along its coast. Summers are typically warm and rain free, whereas winter is mild and rainy. In the interior portions of the region, winters are colder and summer warm but not as sultry as the coast.
The region produces more than half of all nuts in Italy as well as fruits and vegetables, making it one of the leading agricultural regions in the country.
Sorrento walnuts can be small and round or oblong-shaped and are harvested from trees before they’re ripe from June until September.