How To Cook Chestnuts And Why They Are Healthy

You can not help singing about chestnuts over open fires during Christmastime.  If you weren’t singing before, we suspect you are now.  Sweet chestnuts also come to mind, because this healthy meal received the honor of Tree of the Year 2018 in Germany.

Let’s take a closer look at the edible sweet chestnut and the inedible horse chestnut or buckeye. We examine the health benefits of chestnuts, including Hildegard’s view on this versatile nut.  You will also find information on how to cook chestnuts (it’s easy), and how to make chestnut laundry detergent for sensitive skin.

Infographic Chestnuts
Infographic Chestnuts

Sweet Chestnut – a Gluten-Free Alternative for Malaise

Some modern German cuisine incorporates chestnuts as an alternative to wheat.  The flour derived from sweet or edible chestnuts serves as a gluten-free alternative that processes easily into bread and pastries.

Buckeye Horse Chestnuts
Buckeye Horse Chestnuts

The edible Sweet Chestnut derives from the chestnut tree, from the genus, beech tree family. The chestnut tree is a deciduous tree and forms starchy nut fruits. Do not confuse the Sweet Chestnut with the Horse Chestnut, an inedible nut that belongs to the soap tree family.  See more on the difference between horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts.

A Meal of Chestnuts

Chestnuts contain valuable constituents, including high-quality protein. In addition, they are rich in minerals and trace elements, such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sulphur, iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. Chestnuts also contain vitamins E, C, all B vitamins and provitamin A beta-carotene. Finally, chestnuts possess less fat than most other nuts 

how to cook chestnuts
Chestnuts can be cooked by boiling and roasting

With all of these constituent parts in a single foodstuff, we can comfortably say (and, Hildegard would concur) that a portion of chestnuts serves as a complete meal. We explain how to cook chestnuts below.

Sweet Chestnuts – a basic food

The chestnut tree originally hails from Asia. Cultivation as a fruit tree probably took place between the 9th and 7th centuries BC, in the area between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. From here the sweet chestnut spread rapidly to Greece and the Balkans.

How to Cook Sweet Chestnuts
Sweet or edible chestnuts

In Greek antiquity sweet chestnuts were widely cultivated. In Sparta, black bread, flour, and soups were made from chestnuts. Eventually, the Romans spread chestnuts throughout the Roman Empire, as far as Britain.

Chestnuts in monasteries and in bread

Around 800 AD monasteries started cultivating chestnut trees. At that time, chestnuts were eaten in various forms, including raw, cooked, roasted, or milled as chestnut flour. In mountain areas it was an important source of food, especially in winter. Population growth in the 11th to 13th centuries led to increased chestnut cultivation; particularly, in areas where conventional grains failed to grow. 

how to roast chestnuts
Chestnuts are a healthy and delicious

Sweet chestnut evolved into a bread for the poor. When properly dried (often by smoking), chestnut flour preserves with a shelf life of up to two years. Until the introduction of potatoes from America to Europe, chestnuts remained an indispensable basic food for a broad cross-section of Europe. Chestnuts were eaten with soup, vegetables and meat. 

Hildegard and the Health Benefits of Chestnut

Hildegard of Bingen considered sweet or edible chestnuts an important nutrient for overall health.  In addition to its health benefits, chestnut also supports a weight loss program. Chestnuts contain almost no fat, in contrast to other nuts, such as hazelnuts. Rather than fat, chestnuts contain a fair amount of carbohydrates, contributing to the feeling of satiety. With high levels of dietary fiber, chestnuts support efficient digestion. 

roasted chestnuts
Best practice how to cook chestnuts: Chestnuts develop their full aroma through roasting

Hildegard recommended eating cooked chestnuts for all forms of weakness. According to Hildegard medicine, crushed and soaked in honey they strengthen the liver. Mixed with vegetables, they stimulate kidney function. Teas made from dried chestnut blossoms have expectorant and blood-cleansing effects. A brew of chestnut leaves contracts the blood vessels under the skin, bringing bleeding to a standstill and accelerating wound healing. 

Separately, Horse chestnut (aesculus hippocastanum) seed and leaf (or, extract) are used for treating varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and swollen veins. Be careful not to confuse Horse chestnut (aesculus hippocastanum) with aesculus californica (California buckeye) or aesculus glabra (Ohio buckeye). Some people call any of these plants horse chestnut.

Cooked chestnuts for the brain

Chestnuts strengthen the nerves and serve as brain food.  These nuts relieve mental and physical exhaustion by supporting the nervous and immune system. B vitamins and phosphorus found in chestnuts contribute to composition of red blood cells, healthy skin and improved the brain function. 

cooked roasted chestnuts
Roasted chestnuts ready to eat

Hildegard suggested sweet chestnuts to improve brain function.  They actually look like brains, so it makes sense according to the doctrine of signatures.

“A person whose brain is empty and weak, due to dryness should cook the fruit of chestnut tree in water, and add nothing else, and when the water is poured out, he shall eat the fruits often before and after eating. His brain grows and is filled, and his nerves become strong, and thus the affliction in his head will go away.”   – Hildegard of Bingen

Are Chestnuts Healthy?

  • Chestnuts contain trace elements, including manganese, which helps the body to detoxify; free radicals are intercepted thereby reducing the risk of developing heart disease or cancer.
  • Cooked chestnuts are an ideal evening meal. They are easy to digest, and they contain a measurable amount of tryptophan to help with relaxation and sleep.
  • Chestnuts strengthen bones and teeth. The combination of calcium and phosphorus is particularly valuable for children, adolescents and the elderly. 
  • In the sweet chestnut there are also other unanalyzed substances that make the blood more fluid, strengthen the walls of the veins and prevent inflammations in the veins. Anyone who has to stand a lot at work, anyone who has a tendency towards vein problems, should use chestnut.
  • If you eat a lot of meat, you should enjoy cooked chestnuts regularly. Chestnuts are rich in basic micro-nutrients to help reduce excess acidity in the body. People suffering from rheumatism do well by eating chestnuts regularly.
  • The active ingredient found in horse chestnut, rutin is often used to treat varicose veins and other mild vein issues (link to hemorrhoids). The same substance appears in sweet chestnut, though in smaller doses.

5 Facts about Chestnuts

How do edible or sweet chestnuts and horse chestnuts (buckeye) differ? 

The best way to distinguish chestnuts and horse chestnuts is to look at their leaves. A horse chestnut leaf consists of five small individual leaves, a chestnut leaf is elongated and has a serrated edge. Chestnuts are a subspecies of the sweet chestnut, bred to taste more aromatic.

Leaves of a horse chestnuts tree (Buckeye)

Which chestnuts are edible?

If you eat horse chestnuts, expect stomach pains because they are poisonous to humans. Cooked sweet chestnuts, on the other hand, promote health. 

Difference between buckeye and chestnuts
Edible or sweet chestnuts

How do you recognize fresh chestnuts? 

The skin should be intact, the fruit firm and heavy and worms identified by holes in the skin. For mold issues, take a look at the inside of the chestnut, you cannot tell from the outside.

How to  cook sweet chestnuts?

Before eating, edible chestnuts must first be heated, roasted or boiled. Only then they can be consumed.

How to cook roasted chestnuts
Once the shell pops open chestnuts are ready to eat

Chestnuts develop their full aroma through roasting. Before roasting, place the fruit in cold water for an hour. After preheating the oven  to 400 F degrees, place the chestnuts on a baking tray, and bake for about 20 minutes. You know the chestnuts are ready when the shell pops open.

How to make buckeye laundry detergent

Horse chestnuts consist of a soap-like substance – saponins. Four pounds of the skin-friendly chestnut powder lasts for about 100 washing machine loads.

The following steps to make Chestnut detergent: 

  • First, use a mixture of one liter of water with one tablespoon of baking soda to clean the horse chestnuts.
  • The chestnuts are then powdered including the brown shell using a spice mill. To dry the powder, place it in the oven at 180 F degrees for three hours. The oven door should remain a gap open to allow the moisture to escape.
  • To wash, use 50 grams of the powder, mixed with one liter of water which is filtered through a fine sieve.
  • Together with 50 ml of vinegar, the mixture works as a wonderful natural detergent.

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