Chestnuts are the edible nuts of the Chestnut tree. Chestnuts has nine different species of deciduous trees and shrubs. These trees are native to the Northern Hemisphere. The name was from “chesten nut,” which came from the French word Chastain, which in turn came from the Latin word Castanea. Castanea’s possibly named after the town of Kastanea in Greece.
Chestnuts have been in existence for over 4,000 years. They offer a slightly sweet flavor and tender meat. They taste more like sweet potatoes, rather than any other type of nut. These nuts have been a staple ingredient and food in southern Europe, Turkey, and Asia. In these areas, chestnuts are not only used largely as a cereal replacement, but they’re also commonly roasted for eating purposes. Meanwhile, chestnuts are the food of the poor in Japan, Italy, and France. Despite that, these nuts represent mastery and strength in Japan. Here, they’re even greatly served on New Year’s Day.
Genus: Castanea Mill.
Species: Castanea alnifolia, C. crenata, C. dentata, C. henryi, C. mollissima, C. ozarkensis, C. pumila, C. sativa, and C. seguinii
Binomial Name: Varied
- Chestnuts symbolize chastity for the early Christians.
- Kuri, which is the Japanese word for chestnut, is Japan’s most ancient fruit that was cultivated even before they grew rice.
- The region of Sicily in Italy is home to the Hundred-Horse Chestnut Tree. It’s the largest and oldest chestnut tree in the world that is between 2,000 and 4,000 years of age.
- The chestnut tree, although depending on the species, has a lifespan of 200 to 800 years.
Chestnut Buying Guide
As mentioned, chestnuts come from nine different species of chestnut trees. However, only four of them are commonly known around the world.
- American chestnuts – They are brown in color and hairless. They’re lighter than the regular black-striped European chestnut, but they’re darker than the Chinese chestnut. Compared to the European chestnuts, they have a higher fat content (10% in American vs 4% in European). Thus, this variety is richer in taste and texture.
- European chestnuts – Compared to the American chestnuts, they are darker in color and have a lower fat content. Thus, this variety is milder in taste and texture.
- Japanese chestnuts – These seeds are covered in a thin, brown skin and they have a yellow, soft, and dense flesh. This variety has a slightly bitter flavor along with a tender, starchy, and firm consistency.
- Chinese chestnuts – Commonly sold on the West Coast, this variety is gray-brown in color and it’s covered with fine fuzz, especially near the tip. They tend to have a starchier texture than the regular American chestnuts.
These varieties don’t necessarily mean that they’re grown only in their perspective countries. All of these can be easily found in supermarkets, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas season. They’re also available at most of the Italian, Chinese, and Korean grocery stores, as well as at late-season farmers’ markets. Thus, here are some buying tips when you found one:
- Choose chestnuts that are heavy for their size.
- Check out their skin. The skin should be shiny and firm. Thus, avoid the ones that have mold on their surface or wrinkled in their shell as these are indications that the chestnuts are old.
- Lastly, buy from sources that are trusted, reputable, and have a good turnover to assure the freshness of the product.
Chestnut Production & Farming in Texas
Chestnut trees are best grown in cold temperatures to produce better seeds during the dormant period. Thus, frost and snowfalls are more beneficial to the trees. They’re hardy to USDA zone 5 through 8. So, the great swaths of Texas such as Winkler, Ward, Reeves, and Pecos, along with some areas in the northern part of the state, can be home to successful chestnut trees. The south of San Antonio and Houston, however, belong to the USDA zone 9. Thus, it’s highly unlikely that chestnut trees will thrive best here.
But, if you’re in Texas and you’re lucky enough to be living in zones 5 through 8, all you’ve gotta do is plant chestnuts accordingly. If you’re growing a young tree, install shelters around the trees during their first year to protect them from rodents, lawnmowers, and edgers. Then, fertilize the chestnut after the last frost, which will be around February and March. Irrigate the tree weekly with an inch of water, considering the amount of rain you’re getting. If you’re in the more arid part of the state, be prepared to irrigate the tree for the entire growing season.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Miracid is the only pesticide that we’re aware of to be used in growing chestnut trees. Not only that it protects the crop from rodents and pests, but it also helps in controlling the pH level in soils to avoid any damage that is caused by iron deficiency or chlorosis.
Nevertheless, unless they’re turned into products like chestnut butter or chestnut jam, chestnuts don’t contain additives and chemicals.
China is the world’s leading producer of Chestnuts, accounting for around 1.8 million tonnes in annual production. It produces more than twice as many chestnuts as its closest rival, Turkey. The United States, on the other hand, only produces 1% of the world supply. This comes mainly from Maine and southern Ontario, to Missipi and the Atlantic coast, to the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio Valley. However, to meet the consumer’s demand, chestnuts are being imported from Southern Italy, with Sicilian chestnuts being the most highly prized.
Chestnuts can be purchased as fresh, dried, ground, or canned, either as a whole or in purée form. They usually come in either resealable or non-resealable bags, plastic jars, mason jars, and foil-lined cans.
Chestnuts are not only flavorful, but they’re also versatile. They’re traditionally peeled and eaten raw; but, roasted chestnuts, which do not require peeling, are just as popular.
Perhaps, one of the oldest recipes is the candied chestnuts. These are whole chestnuts that are candied in sugar syrup then iced. Such chestnuts are harvested in fall and candied from summer to be released to the market and served during the Christmas season. It first appeared in France in the 16th century when Clément Faugier was looking for a way to revitalize the regional economy.
Just like most nuts, chestnuts are also highly perishable and must be refrigerated. At room temperature, they will only last for a few days. Refrigerated, they will remain fresh for up to 2 months. Still, it’s best to keep them in ventilated plastic bags or containers.
Although chestnuts are commonly enjoyed steamed or roasted, they can also be used in many different culinary applications. They can be deep-fried or grilled too! Besides the candied chestnuts in sugar syrup, they can also be dried and milled into flour, which can then be used in preparing treats such as breads, pies, cakes, polenta, and pasta. Since these nuts are high in starch, they’re also perfect to be used as a thickener for soups, sauces, and stews.
Chestnuts are 60% water, 44% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and 1% fat. Unlike the other nuts, chestnuts do not contain a lot of fat. Instead, they contain high amounts of carbohydrates, which is mostly sugar rather than fiber. Due to this, they’re not as dense in nutrients as other nuts. They contain moderate amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B, zinc, iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, sodium, and calcium.
However, the best part about chestnuts is that they’re the only nuts that contain vitamin C. In fact, an ounce of boiled or steamed chestnut provides between 9.5 mg and 26.7 mg of this vitamin.
Nevertheless, chestnuts can help reduce cholesterol levels, while stabilizing the blood sugar levels. They also reduce the risk of gastrointestinal complications like constipation and diverticulosis. In addition, the B vitamins in chestnuts can increase the brain’s function, promote healthy skin, and produce red blood cells. They’re also linked to increasing our energy levels since they contain high amounts of carbohydrates. And just like most nuts, it helps build stronger bones, while fighting off the free radicals in our body, which can then help in reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Lastly, just like other nuts, chestnuts are gluten-free.
When Are Chestnuts in Season in Texas?
To find out when Chestnuts are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.