Hazelnuts exhibit functional properties due to their content in fatty acids and phenolic compounds that could positively affect human health. The food industry requires precise traits for morphological, chemical, and physical kernel features so that some cultivars could be more suitable for specific industrial processing. In this study, agronomical and morphological features of 29 hazelnut cultivars were evaluated and a detailed structural characterization of kernel polyphenols was performed, confirming the presence of protocatechuic acid, flavan-3-ols such as catechin, procyanidin B2, six procyanidin oligomers, flavonols, and one dihydrochalcone in all the analyzed cultivars. In addition, an innovative methodology based on the MALDI-TOF mass spectrometric analysis of peptide/protein components extracted from kernels was developed for the authentication of the most valuable cultivars. The proposed method is rapid, simple, and reliable and holds the potential to be applied in quality control processes. These results could be useful in hazelnut cultivar evaluation and choice for growers, breeders, and food industry.
Keywords: European hazelnut; MALDI-TOF-MS; bioagronomical characterization; cultivar authentication; polyphenols.