Raw, boiled or roasted, ancient Greeks valued chestnuts more than almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts. There is a legend stating that Greek army survived due to their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in the third century B.C.
They have been cultivated more than 6000 years in China, and still are very valuable food in Mediterranean, Japan, and Korea. Their value steams from the fact that they were often a substitute for everyday potato in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Chestnuts are, according to some researches, probably one of the first foods eaten by men.
Although most of us think about chestnuts as snacks, these nuts are more powerful than we actually know.
Chestnuts are actually a group of 8 or 9 species of shrubs and deciduous trees from the family Fragaceae, the same family that oak and beech belongs to. Today, there are four main species known as European, Chinese, Japanese, and American chestnuts.
In the first place, chestnuts are great because they are low in calories (195 calories per 100 grams) and fat, but high in nutritional value. This is also the main reason why they should be included in diets – food that can provide all necessary nutrients for our body and health. Second reason why chestnuts are powerful food is due to the dietary fiber – 100 g of chestnuts provide 21 % of the RDI and dietary fiber is responsible for lowering cholesterol levels.
One of the best qualities of chestnuts and the main difference to other popular nuts is their content of vitamin C. In a word, they are exceptionally rich with vitamin C – 100 g of nuts provide 43 mg of vitamin C (72% of DRI). Vitamin C is known as the vitamin that is strong antioxidant and protector of the metabolism and immune system. Moreover, we need this vitamin for our bones, teeth, and blood vessels.
When one is eating chestnuts, it is almost as eating green-leafy vegetables. This is quite unique and another distinction from other nuts. Being rich in folates (100 g provide 62 µg of folates) means that chestnuts have the ability to form red blood cells. Many have included chestnuts in their healthy nutrition due to the mono-unsaturated acids – oleic acid and palmitoleic acid. These acids help lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.
They do not lack any essential minerals as well. Chestnuts are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
Like hazelnuts and almonds, they are gluten free, which is great for those with Coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. They are rich in B-complex group of vitamins (niacin, riboflavin).
Then, why should they be included in diets? Although we mentioned the first reason before, let us outline the advantages of chestnuts once again:
Low in calories, but high in valuable nutrition
Gluten free nuts
Excellent source of dietary fiber
Low in total and saturated fat
Rich with vitamin C
High in potassium
Good source of low GI carbohydrate
Chestnuts have 50 % of water
Chestnuts have higher starch content, thus the feeling of fullness is longer
However, what kind of health benefits do we have if we include them in the diet? How can they help our organism and body to maintain optimum health?
In the first place, due to the low GI carbohydrate, chestnuts are great for people with diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, and insulin resistance.
They are very beneficial to cardiovascular health and proper neurological development in infant due to the essential fatty acids.
As antioxidants, these nuts hold the first place as protectors of the immune system.
Chestnuts keep our digestive health in order because of the high content of dietary fiber. Soluble fiber gets absorbed in water and forms a certain consistency in the intestines. This fiber helps reduce cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber helps reduce the risk of constipation.
Soluble B vitamins are responsible for healthy skin, and for the production of red blood cells. On other hand, due to these vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, and B-6 vitamin) chestnuts are brain food. They keep us focused, alert and energized.
Manganese soaks up free radicals in the system, reduce the risk of cancer and heart diseases, and slow down the aging process.
There is cooper in the chestnuts, a mineral that helps with nervous system and that boosts the immune system.
How to Prepare Chestnuts?
Chestnuts are normally available in season from October to March. We are used to seeing street vendors selling roasted chestnuts in the countries where these nuts are popular. However, for those who wish to experiment, here is the instruction on how to roast chestnuts at home.
• Oven should preheat to 400F
• In order to prevent chestnuts from bursting, slash an X with a sharp knife on the flat side of each chestnut
• Place them on the baking sheet and in the oven to roast for 20 to 30 minutes
• Remove from oven and let them cool down enough for you to handle them because chestnuts are peeled when hot.
If you wish to boil chestnuts, place them in a pot of cold water, let them boil and simmer for about 15 to 25 minutes. Peel them when they are still hot.
For centuries, chestnuts were dried in order to preserve for longer period. After they were dried, chestnuts could be ground into flour. From this flour, one can make bread or pancakes.
Because the nuts are sweet and flavored, we usually eat them as snacks. Nowadays, they are ingredients in soups, salads, and in cakes and cookies. In France, and in Brazil, one can find chestnuts beer as well.
There are many delicious dishes and recipes one can find to experiment with their culinary skills while discovering all the benefits of the chestnuts. Try this recipe, enjoy the taste, and stay healthy.
Freinkel, S. (2009). American Chestnuts: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. University of California Press.
Ornelas, K.O. & Kiple, K.F. (2000). The Cambridge World History of Food. Cambridge University Press.
Sadler, P. (2008). The Magic of Mother Nature’s Healing Foods. Knowledge Works
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