It's difficult to imagine a winter without the sweet smell of roasted chestnuts! Easy to grow and resistant to all climates and reliefs, the fruit of the Casteana Sativa tree, which is known as either sweet chestnut or chestnut, has long been regarded as an essential food in the isolated mountainous regions of Europe and is eaten as is or used as livestock feed for example. Traditionally, this treenut has always been significantly lighter than its nut cousins (133 kcal per serving compared to more than 600kcal for nuts) (1) and was also used to make flour to replace wheat flour in many recipes and breads. Although the systematic use of chestnuts in the cooking of mountainous regions has now declined, boiled or roasted chestnuts are still commonly eaten in France and it is easy to find freshly picked chestnuts in the shops between October and December. Chestnut flour is less widespread in supermarkets, but its marketing is now regaining a certain popularity.
Did you know that chestnuts, as well as being comforting in cold weather, also have many properties to protect you against chronic diseases? With up to eight times less fat than other treenuts, they are mainly composed of water and starch, making it a perfect candidate for producing gluten-free flour. Chestnuts actually have the power to lower cholesterol: the carbohydrates in their flesh help to eliminate the excess lipids(2) (3) and fats in the blood, thereby helping to fight against certain cardiovascular diseases (4) linked to excess cholesterol in the body and against the onset of type 2 diabetes (5).
It is important to protect your body against potential infections when the cold weather returns. Chestnuts contain Vitamin C, Vitamin B9 (up to 15% of the recommended daily intake), which both help to strengthen the immune system. It is important to note that chestnuts also contain Potassium and Magnesium, which are for helping you to fight against sudden winter fatigue (6). Vitamin B9 (also called "folate") is particularly recommended for pregnant women because it encourages the production of the cells needed during pregnancy and the renewal of blood cells.
Finally, chestnuts are rich in manganese, that helps to fight against the effects of free radicals, which are responsible for many chronic diseases such as colon and intestine cancers. The soluble fibers and starch contained in chestnuts aid digestion and increase the speed of the metabolism. (7) However, be careful not to eat more than ten pieces of fruit per day to avoid counter-productive side effects!
How to cook and taste chestnuts
There are endless potential recipes including chestnuts. You can obviously enjoy your chestnuts roasted in the oven or a pan, or boiled with milk and a bit of sugar. The flavor of boiled chestnuts goes very well with that of mushrooms: for example, you can stuff your meats or fall vegetable mixtures with this forest mixture or reduce them to a creamy soup. You should also be aware that incorporating chestnut flour into your diet can be very beneficial for your health. Most of its nutritional benefits are in fact preserved. You can use it to add flavor to your soups, but also as a substitute for wheat in your gluten free pancakes and pastries. Enjoy!
References: (1) Table de composition nutritionnelle des aliments Ciqual (2013) – ANSES. (2) Mukuddem-Petersen J, Oosthuizen W, Jerling JC. A systematic review of the effects of nuts on blood lipid profiles in humans. J Nutr 2005 September;135(9):2082-9. (3) Zlatanov MD, Antova GA, Angelova-Romova MJ, Teneva OT. Lipid composition of Castanea sativa Mill. and Aesculus hippocastanum fruit oils. J Sci Food Agric. 2013 Feb;93(3):661-6. (4) Hu FB, Stampfer MJ. Nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. Curr Atheroscler Rep 1999 November;1(3):204-9. (5) Lovejoy JC. The impact of nuts on diabetes and diabetes risk. Curr Diab Rep 2005 October;5(5):379-84. (6) Ana I.R.N.A. Barros, Fernando M. Nunes, Berta Gonçalves, Richard N. Bennett, Ana Paula Silva, Effect of cooking on total vitamin C contents and antioxidant activity of sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa Mill.), Food Chemistry, Volume 128, Issue 1, 1 September 2011, Pages 165-172, ISSN 0308-8146. (7) Afssa, 2002. Les fibres alimentaires : définitions, méthodes de dosage, allégations nutritionnelles.