This delicious autumn nut is a great snack or cooking ingredient for those trying to keep healthy.
What You Should Know About Chestnuts
Horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts are not botanically related in any way, even though they both have the word 'chestnut' in their names. Apart from the genus and family, the two have a decisive difference: only sweet chestnuts are edible. They grow everywhere wine is cultivated.
Sweet chestnuts were already growing in Central Asia some 2,000 years ago and from there spread throughout the Mediterranean region. Today, the trees thrive wherever there is a warm, mild climate. Most chestnuts come from Italy.
Fresh chestnuts are available from October to December. Outside the season, however, you can also use canned, jarred or vacuum packed chestnuts that are already cooked.
Raw chestnuts have a slightly nutty but very subtle in taste. Only when roasted or cooked does the abundant starch form from sugar, which gives the chestnuts their typical, pleasantly sweet aroma.
In fact, edible chestnuts are divided into two groups: the common chestnuts and the real chestnuts. The latter are considered the finer variety and can be recognised by their heart-shaped shape with a triangular underside and by their reddish-brown skin with dark stripes. Plain chestnuts are larger overall and have a roundish shape, flattened on one side.
One of the traditions in southern Germany and in many Mediterranean countries is to eat fresh chestnuts still hot on the first cool days of autumn. The chestnut can be roasted in mobile ovens and sold in paper bags by weight, fresh from the fire. For our ancestors, however, the sweet chestnut was much more than just a delicious autumnal snack: it used to play a major role as a cheap or even free, highly nutritious food. Because of its high starch content, the sweet chestnut was also called "potato for the poor."
There are almost 1,000 different varieties of sweet chestnut. In France alone, more than 700 are registered.
How Healthy Are Chestnuts?
Chestnuts have a lot of minerals and nutrients under their skin. In addition to iron, phosphate and potassium, the starch-rich nut fruit also contains vitamins B, C and E as well as beta-carotene.
The fruits of the beech tree are brimming with complex carbohydrates. They not only fill us up, but also ensure that blood sugar levels only rise slowly. And that's why we don't fall into a physical and mental slump after eating, but stay fresh and alert.
For some people, sweet chestnuts have fallen into disrepute as fatteners, but in reality they are among those nibbles that even figure-conscious people can enjoy without any regrets. It is true that sweet chestnuts contain over 40 percent carbohydrates and almost 200 calories per 100 g. But in return, they contain just under 2 percent fat and almost a third of the daily target of healthy fiber. Also on board are considerable quantities of important nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, vitamin B1, B2, B6, C, E and folic acid.
This could cause some confusion: The slightly poisonous and widespread horse chestnut must not be eaten. Its distinguishing feature is that the green to brownish capsules of the edible fruit have considerably more fine bristles.
|Chesnut Nutritional Info (100 g)|
Shopping and Cooking Tips
When shopping, make sure that chestnuts are firm and free of worms. If the fruits sink to the ground in a bowl of lukewarm water, they are fresh. If they float on top, it is better not to eat them.
Don't be fooled by the robust shell: Although sweet chestnuts look as if they could be stored for a long time, their delicious interior loses a lot of flavor after just a few days and becomes tough. Therefore, consume chestnuts soon after purchase and store them for a maximum of one to two weeks in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator.
If you would like to build up a stock of chestnuts, they are great for freezing: Simply scratch the skin, cook the chestnuts for about 20 minutes and then let them cool. Finally, remove the skin, pack the chestnuts in bags or tins and put them in the freezer where they will keep for about six months.
With their high starch content and mild nutty taste, chestnuts are often popular with children and even babies. Try for example a puree of potatoes and cooked chestnuts!
What To Make With Chestnuts
For many chestnut fans, the best way to prepare them is by roasting. All you have to do is cut the skin crosswise (it is soft enough for that). Cutting into the skin is not only important for cooking, but this also prevents the tasty fruit from exploding when roasted in the oven at the highest level for about 20 minutes. They are ready when the shells come off the fruit and it starts to smell pleasant in the kitchen. Extra tip: Place a fireproof container with water in the oven during roasting, so that the chestnuts remain nice and juicy.
Smaller quantities can also be prepared in a heavy cast-iron pan. If the shell has burst open, it can be easily removed. Now all you have to do is peel the brown fluff off the fruit and you can eat it warm, pure or with a little butter and salt.
Of course you can also cook chestnuts, but then you won't have the typical spicy roasted taste. This method is particularly suitable if you want to make a soup, puree, cream, etc. from the chestnuts, or if you want to serve them together with Brussels sprouts or red cabbage. To cook, carve the chestnuts, put them in boiling water and cook for about 15 minutes. When the skin comes off, drain and peel the chestnuts and remove the inner skin.
Many people love the wonderful smell of roasted chestnuts. To make them yourself, slit the nuts in their shells crosswise, spread them on a baking tray and put them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Delicious!