Chestnuts
Resources > Food > True Nuts > Chestnuts

Are you a Smart Kitchen™ Chef?

Try it FREE or take a TOUR to explore Smart Kitchen!
+ -

 

The earliest Chestnuts were likely cultivated by man around 2000 B.C. It has been a staple food and the main source of carbohydrates for thousands of years in regions which then had no milled grain Flour.

Native Americans on the East Coast of North America, for example, included Chestnuts (mainly Castanea dentata) in their diet long before the Europeans arrived. If you can imagine it, the Appalachian Mountains were, at one time, covered by hardwood trees, 25% of which were Chestnut trees. For hundreds of years of our early history, most barns and homes east of the Mississippi were made from Chestnut wood.

The Sweet Chestnut was brought to Europe from Sardis (known as the Sardinian Nut) and Alexander the Great and the Romans planted Chestnuts on their military campaigns. Ancient Greek authors such as like Dioscorides and Galen commented in writing about the medicinal properties of Chestnuts and their tendency to create flatulence if consumed to heavily.  Early Christians, perhaps considering the flatulence, felt that Chestnuts symbolized chastity.

Before the introduction of the Potato, Chestnuts were once a widely consumed nutritional staple but their popularity has dropped significantly in modern times. This can be explained by their reputation as a poor-man’s food and because dough made with Chestnut Flour does not rise. When better options came along, people took advantage.

In addition, the Chestnut Blight disease killed significant numbers of Chestnut trees (billions of trees), around 1904, reducing supply. Today rare instances of American Chestnut trees can be found in Michigan, California, Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest. Asiatic Chestnut trees are immune to the Chestnut Blight. Re-population efforts, first begun in the 1930’s are still underway in Massachusetts and other states.

Availability

Chestnuts are available year round.

Production

Today, the United States Chestnut industry is still getting on its feet. We produce about 1% of the world crop of Chestnuts and The United States is a net importer of Chestnuts, mostly the Sicilian Chestnut variety, from Europe but also Chestnuts from Portugal, France, Korea and China.

Most domestic producers are small operators (3-10 acres) who have only planted their Chestnut trees within the last 10 years. Chestnut trees do not typically pay off until they are 13 years old when an average tree might yield 22 lbs (10 kg) of Chestnuts. With Chestnuts selling for prices ranging from $1.50 to $5 a pound, the most an average farmer might make is $110 per tree per year, though some superior Chestnut trees have yielded 220 pounds (100 kg) in a year.

Purchasing

Fresh Chestnuts are harvested from October through March. December is their prime month. When selecting fresh, unpeeled Chestnuts, choose blemish free, smooth, glossy ones that feel heavy for their size. Any that are shriveled, cracked or rattle around in their shell should be avoided.

Chestnuts are available fresh, dried, ground or canned (whole or in puree). Very young Chestnuts (just fallen from the tree) have a fruit that is mostly Starch with a high water content. The un-ripened fruit will be very firm when pinched between the thumb and index finger. We prefer ripened Chestnuts where the Starch has had a chance to convert to Sugar as the moisture evaporates from the fruit.  Ripe Chestnuts will have a slight “give” to them when pinched between the thumb and forefinger.

Storage

Fresh Chestnuts are about 52% water, which will evaporate quickly during storage. Chestnuts can lose 1% of their weight in a single day at just 68° F (20°C) so optimal storage is important for this delicate food item.

Freshly purchased (or picked), unpeeled Chestnuts are best stored at room temperature in a dry, well-ventilated place, for up to one week only. They can also be stored (cleaned and dried) in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with a few ventilation holes poked into it. The bag of Chestnuts can also be placed into the vegetable crisper drawer. Stored properly in the refrigerator, unpeeled Chestnuts should last about 2 to 3 weeks.

Peeling Chestnuts and cooking them, dramatically decreases their Shelf Life. Peeled and/or cooked Chestnuts will only last a few days before going bad, even in the refrigerator. If you have an abundance of peeled and cooked Chestnuts, wrapping them to Avoid Freezer Burn, and freezing them might be a better option. Properly wrapped, Chestnuts should hold for a few months in the freezer.

Dried Chestnuts are sweeter (though less flavorful) and have a less “floury” texture than fresh roasted Chestnuts. Dried Chestnuts will need to be soaked to reconstitute them before use as if they were fresh Chestnuts. To reconstitute dried Chestnuts, soak them for about an hour as you would dried Beans.

Dried Chestnuts should also be stored like dried beans and legumes, free of moisture and in an airtight container. Stored properly, dried Chestnuts’ Shelf Life can be as long as 2 months, or up to 6 months frozen.

Culinary Uses

Though the Chestnut is a true “Nut” in the biological sense of the word, it is better to think of Chestnuts as Vegetables in the kitchen because of their high Starch content. Chestnuts are the only nuts which should be thought of in this way.

The flavor of Chestnuts varies slightly from nut to nut, but in general Chestnuts are somewhat nutty and sweet tasting. 

Chestnuts can be peeled and eaten Raw, Roasted, peeled and Deep Fried, dried and Milled into Flour, Candied, Boiled, Steamed and Grilled in sweet or savory recipes. In Italy, Chestnut-based recipes are becoming popular again as part of a trend of rehabilitating traditional foods.Additionally, Chestnuts can be used to Stuff Vegetables, Poultry and other dishes, used to make a Chestnut Sugar (from the fermented juice) even a Chestnut Beer.

Raw Chestnuts have high levels of Tannic Acid and can be somewhat astringent tasting, especially if the pellicle is retained on the fruit when eating it. Some diners can experience digestive discomfort if eating Raw Chestnuts, so cooked may be the highest and best use.

Sweet Chestnuts are not easy to peel when cold. It is much easier to peel them if they are Blanched first.

The yield from whole to shelled Chestnuts is about 1.5 lbs (700 g) of raw fruit from 2.2 pounds (1 Kg) of whole, shell-on product.

Roasting Chestnuts does not require peeling them, though it is best to score the fruit before Roasting so that no “explosions” occur.  If you have walked the streets of New York in the fall and tried to figure out where all of the vanilla waffles were being made, you were likely smelling roasting Chestnuts which have a consistency similar to Baked Potatoes and a sweet, nutty, delicate taste.

Chestnuts can also be peeled and Deep Fried (using a Fry-Basket) until the Chestnuts are just starting to float on the Oil. When the Chestnuts are surfacing, lift the basket out of the Deep-Fryer and carefully shake it with a circular motion to free up the Chestnuts. Dry the Chestnuts on a paper towel, newspaper or Kitchen Towel to remove any excess grease. Working with peeled Chestnuts has the advantage of being able to sort out any rotten nuts before you begin.

Milled Chestnut flour (ranging from light beige to dark beige) was a staple of many early forest-dwelling peoples. Chestnut Flour can be used to make Breads, Cakes, Pancakes, Pastas, Polenta (known in Corsica as pulenda), or used as a Thickener for Sauces, Soups, and Stews. In Corsica, Chestnut flour is fried into doughnut-like fritters called “fritelli” and also made into “necci,” “pattoni,” “castagnacci,” and “cialdi.”Chestnut Flour is a good native solution for longer term storage of carbohydrates. For example, Chestnut Bread can remain palatable for up to two weeks.

Candied Chestnuts are also a popular use for Chestnuts. Whole Chestnuts candied in sugar syrup, then iced have been marketed as a specialty gourmet food (and a Christmas treat) under the French name “Marrons Glacés” since the 1500’s.

Portion Size

Allow 3-6 Chestnuts per person.

Substitutes

Hazelnuts, Pecans

Nutritional Value USDA
CHESTNUTS,CHINESE,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 224
%Daily Value*
 
1%
Total Fat 1g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 3mg
9%
Potassium 447mg
16%
Total Carbohydrate 49g
0%
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 0g
Protein 4g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Fresh Chestnut fruits are about 52% water and have about 180 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 g) of meaty Chestnut, which is much lower than the amount of Calories found in Walnuts, Almonds, or other Nuts. Chestnuts contain no cholesterol, very little Fat, most of which is Unsaturated Fat and no Gluten at all.

Chestnut, similar to Rice and Wheat, are mostly Carbohydrate and they have twice as much Starch as a Potato. Additionally, Chestnuts are about 8% Sugar (Sucrose, Glucose, Fructose and some Stachyose and Raffinose). Chestnuts are the only Nuts that contain Vitamin C (about 40 mg per 100 g) though heating can damage the Vitamin C content by 40%.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No