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If you’ve never tried a roasted chestnut, you’re not alone! Truthfully, I didn’t try a roasted chestnut, or as the Swiss call them, a castagne, until I lived in Switzerland. Like peanuts at most professional US baseball games, fresh roasted castagnes are abundant at their ice hockey games.
While the aroma alone ignited my senses and excited my belly, the taste was something new that I will admit I was very fond of! Slightly sweet with a softer texture than any nut I had ever tried, it was a welcomed flavor profile. I came home to the United States and immediately was on the hunt to find them here.
Sadly, though, while the American chestnut used to be abundant throughout the eastern part of the United States and parts of Canada, a plant disease rapidly savaged the American trees in the 20th century and now only a few states farm chestnuts. Most chestnuts you’ll find in the markets are imported from Europe and Asia.
Chestnuts are typically found in raw form near the produce area of your market, or cooked and sold in the refrigerated section in airtight packages. Whether you choose to cook them yourself or buy them cooked for you, the same premise remains true: chestnuts are a nutrient powerhouse that you should definitely try if you haven’t yet!
Roasted chestnuts offer an array of nutrients
Ten kernels of roasted European chestnuts contain the following nutrients:
- Calories: 206 kcals
- Protein: 3 gm
- Total Fat: 1.8 gm
- Saturated Fat: 0.4 gm
- Unsaturated Fat: 1.4 gm
- Carbohydrates: 44 gm
- Dietary Fiber: 4 gm
- Calcium: 24 mg
- Iron: 0.8 gm
- Magnesium: 28 mg
- Potassium: 497 mg
- Sodium: 2 mg
- Zinc: 59 mg
- Folate: 20 mcg
As you can see above, chestnuts do not pack the same amount of protein as more common nuts, like almonds which contain about 6 grams per serving, but they do offer important nutrients most people need to be eating more of, like dietary fiber and potassium, as well as remaining low in those nutrients to be mindful of, like saturated fat and added sugar.
Dietary fiber not only helps keep you fuller for longer, meaning less mindless munching between meals, but also has shown to help control your weight. In a season where the influx of holiday goodies runs high, it’s not a bad idea to bulk up your intakes of fiber filled foods that will help you achieve your health goals!
Potassium is an important electrolyte that is involved in everything from nerve transmission, muscle contraction, and keeping your heart and kidneys functioning properly. Adult women need approximately 2600 mg of potassium in their diet everyday, of which enjoying 10 roasted chestnuts provides almost 20% of the daily recommended intakes.
You may also have noticed that chestnuts pack almost 44 grams of carbohydrates, making them vastly different from other nuts on the market. However, my carb fearers take note, there is nothing to fear when it comes to their carbohydrate content. This actually lends to their flavor and makes them a wonderful plant-based addition to your seasonal menus that blends well with meats and produce alike.
This may surprise you (and honestly, it did shock me a little too), chestnut processing actually yields a bounty of by-products that contain important antioxidants that researchers have studied for use as a food additive. Of note, discussions have ensued over if these antioxidants can serve as a way to delay the oxidation process of meats as well as to improve their nutritional profile.
While there’s a need for further studies in this area to decipher how to extract the compounds, the actual amounts of antioxidants the processing yields, and just what effect they have on the final taste and texture of food products, it’s a sustainable concept and fun way to think about the future of food and just how plant and animal-based eating can evolve together.
How to use chestnuts in your kitchen
For the novice chestnut consumer, I highly recommend picking up a cooked variety for you to try out. You can find these at markets like the popular Trader Joe’s during the holiday season in their refrigerated produce section. Start by chopping the chestnuts, then lightly toasting in a cast iron skillet. Toss them on top of your favorite seasonal salad for a fun crunch or chop and fold them into your chocolate chip cookies for a fun flavor profile.
Some online retailers sell chestnut flour as well that makes a wonderful gluten-free addition to your holiday baking arsenal.
If you’ve tried them before and are ready to tackle roasting and preparing your own chestnuts, then go for it! I’ve done this once before and followed the tried and true method from the folx at Food Network. Once you score the hard outer shell around its perimeter, roast them in a 425 degree F oven for approximately 30 minutes. Note that cooking times will vary depending on the size of your chestnut.
Once roasted, you can enjoy them on their own, or add them to your seasonal stuffings or try them in our Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts recipe here.
Chestnuts make a fantastic healthy addition to any holiday meal. For more ideas and inspiration, keep reading: