Family-Fagaceae (includes oaks and beeches)
A glossy mahogany coloured edible nut which develops within a bristly case called a burr. The burr splits open (dehisces) when the nuts are ripe. The nut is usually roasted or boiled in its shell, split open and eaten. The kernel or seed can be dried and ground into Chestnut flour (also known as Chestnut meal).
Chestnut trees (Castanea spp.) are native to Northern temperate regions. They are cultivated or harvested in the wild. The wild chestnuts are smaller in size. The largest producer is China, followed by Turkey, Italy, South Korea and Bolivia (WIKI)
The Chestnut is produced by several species in the genus Castanea. The European species (sweet chestnut) is called Castanea sativa and it’s nuts are exported to the Canada-US market.
The nut is enclosed inside the glossy shell. If you cut the shell open, you will find an edible nut enclosed inside an inner skin called the seed coat (testa). The seed coat encloses the starchy, edible endosperm (Kernel) which looks like the brain.
Freshly picked chestnuts are starchy but after a few days of curing, some of the starch is broken down into sugar. The nuts are large and soft. They are almost always cooked in their shell. Once cooked they have a consistency of potato.
Chestnuts are mostly sold in their shells. The shells are soft and can be peeled off easily once the nuts are cooked. Dried chestnuts need soaking or steaming before use.
Culinary Use of Chestnuts
Cooked chestnuts can be served as a side dish or used in poultry stuffing especially turkey, during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Chestnuts can be cooked with Brussel Sprouts, used to make French Chestnut Soup, Chestnut soufflé or Chestnut ice cream.
They can also be used to make Italian Castagnaccio and Australian Nesselrode Pudding.
The nuts can be made into a purée for serving meat or game.
Chestnut products include Jars of peeled chestnuts in syrup (marrons glacés) and cans of sweetened chestnut puree for making desserts.
Chestnut Flour (Chestnut Meal)
Chestnut flour is gluten-free and can be used in baking.
The flour is also used in making Italian flatbread called necci.
In Italy the flour is called Farina dolce (sweet flour) and is used as a thickener in Italian dishes. (The Penguin Companion to Food)
Nutrition of Chestnut
Chestnuts are high in carbohydrate and low in fat or protein. 100g (3.5oz) raw chestnuts provides 200 calories and the following:
- Fat: 1.3g;
- Carbohydrate 44g (sugar 11g);
- Recommended Daily Allowance, vitamins (RDA): vitamin C 48% and vitaminB6 (27%)
- Recommended Daily Allowance. minerals (RDA): Potassium 10% and Magnesium (8%)
Here is a quick video on how to roast chestnuts
The Species that produce Chestnut
- European Chestnut, Sweet Chestnut, Spanish Chestnut: Castanea sativa. The nuts are sold in Europe and exported to US-Canada market.
- American Chestnut: C. dentata. The species used to be abundant but was almost wiped out by Chestnut Blight. The nuts richer in oil compared to the other species.
- Chinese Chestnut: C. mollisima.
- Japanese Chestnut or Korean Chestnut: C. crenata has a large starchy nut that is good for boiling.
- Dwarf Chestnut: C. purling. Has small nuts and is not commercially important but the nuts have a good flavour
If you remove the outer shell you will find the nut inside. The nut is enclosed in an inner skin (seed coat/ testa). If you remove the inner skin (seed coat) then you end up with a cream coloured endosperm that sort of looks like the brain.
Here are two seeds, the left one is enclosed in the inner skin (seed coat/testa) and the cream coloured one on the right has the inner skin (seed coat) removed.