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Chestnuts

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Glossy-shelled and mahogany-colored, chestnuts develop inside prickly burrs that break open when the nuts are ripe. Low in fat and calories, chestnuts provide carbohydrates and small amounts of potassium and protein. About six roasted chestnuts will provide 10% of the RDA for thiamin and 15% for vitamins B6 and C. When first picked, chestnuts are starchy, but after a few days, some of the starch turns to sugar, which brings out their sweetness. Their flavor is rich and "meaty," and since they are a starchy food, they can be served as a vegetable.

Chestnut trees were abundant in China and Japan in ancient times long before the Roman armies brought them into Europe. In Europe, for hundreds of years, chestnuts have served as a dependable food source, and during Roman times, the chestnut was utilized as the basis of a thriving economy. Roasted chestnuts were sold on the streets of Rome in the sixteenth century much as they still are sold today on the streets of European towns in the winter.

The entire eastern half of the United States was once covered with the majestic, wild chestnut trees. In 1904, when a deadly fungus took hold, the American chestnut tree was destroyed, and by 1950, virtually all of the American chestnut trees vanished. While efforts are underway to re-establish a disease resistant variety of the original American chestnut tree, currently, the majority of the chestnuts we eat are imported from Europe.

Varieties

Chestnuts are usually cooked. Roasted or boiled chestnuts have the consistency of potatoes, and are often served as a vegetable side dish or used in poultry stuffing; they’re especially popular at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Chestnuts are most commonly sold in their shells; these shells are rather soft and can be peeled off easily once the nuts are cooked. In gourmet food shops and some supermarkets, you’ll also find jars of peeled chestnuts in syrup (the French marrons glacés), cans of sweetened chestnut purée for making desserts, and bags of chestnut flour for baking.

Availability

Chestnuts are most available in the fall, though you can get canned chestnuts year round.

Shopping

Look for hard glossy shells. Press the shell with your fingers to make sure that the shell is full and the nut inside has not withered. Look for signs of mold on the shell.

Storage

Store the chesnuts in the refrigerator.

Preparation

There are two basic ways to get the chesnut's hard shell off: baking and boiling. In both cases, you should first cut an "X" into the flat side of each chestnut. Then, as the chestnuts bake, the shell will open up at that spot. Once they are cooked, you can peel off the shell at the X. You may also want to pull off the thin membranous coating underneath the shell.

Nutrition Chart

Chestnuts, cooked/4 ounces

149
Total fat (g)
1.6
Saturated fat (g)
0.3
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.5
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.6
Dietary fiber (g)
5.7
2
Carbohydrate (g)
32
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
31
Vitamin C (mg)
30
Potassium (mg)
811
Magnesium (mg)
61



Date Published: 04/20/2005
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