The German physician and nutritionist W. Heupke, considered one of the founders of the modern German school of nutrition, knew of the many chestnut health benefits and called them the “small loaves for bread that nature provides.” When the bread was scarce in times of famine or war, many Europeans survived on chestnuts, using its flour to make a bread substitute.
In fact, the chestnut, botanically a nut or seed, has a composition much more similar to grains than other nuts.
Chestnuts Nutritional Facts
The chestnut is one of nature’s richest carbohydrate sources, compatible only with legumes and grains. These carbohydrates are formed primarily of starch and saccharose. There is virtually no glucose or fructose. Chestnuts also contain proteins and fats, most of which are mono and polyunsaturated. They provide an amount considerably higher than potatoes, although less than wheat flour or walnuts.
Even though they contain no vitamin E and little vitamin A, they are pretty rich in vitamin C and, above all, in B complex vitamins: B1, B6, and niacin. This B vitamin concentration is similar to whole wheat (including the germ). The chestnut mineral content is noteworthy for its richness in potassium and low sodium content, making it very beneficial for those with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disorders.
Chestnuts also contain a significant amount of iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and the trace elements zinc, copper, and manganese. Chestnuts act as a muscle tonic, alkalizer, astringent, and galactagogue (promotes milk flow). The chestnut health benefits are the following:
Chestnut Health Benefits
Physical fatigue due to extreme muscular exercise (athletes, physical laborers) or malnutrition. They possess a tonic effect on the muscles, producing a sensation of well-being and energy.
Growth periods – Chestnuts are a good source of calories, vitamins, and minerals needed for the musculoskeletal development of an adolescent.
Arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular conditions – Chestnuts provide energy but very little fat and sodium. Their high potassium content helps avert high blood pressure.
Kidney failure – When the kidney does not perform properly, there is, among other things, an accumulation of acidic substances in the blood. Among these are uric acid and urea. Chestnuts are a recommended food for those suffering from kidney failure because their alkalizing effect partially compensates for excess acid in the blood. They also contain little protein concerning the energy they provide, which is beneficial in cases of kidney failure.
Lactating mothers – Chestnuts are galactagogues (they promote milk flow). They also provide a great deal of nutrition to the lactating mother.
Chew Them Well
The chestnut’s carbohydrates, starch, and saccharose must be treated with digestive enzymes to be converted into simple sugars that can pass to the bloodstream. If chestnuts are not well chewed, mixing them well with saliva, undigested fragments can reach the large intestine causing flatulence.
Because of this, chestnuts must be chewed thoroughly and mixed with saliva before swallowing. Boiling, roasting, or particularly pureeing makes them more digestible. The obese and diabetics must exercise caution when eating chestnuts because of these nut’s carbohydrates.
Chinese Water Chestnut
The Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis Trin.) is so called because its shape and flavor are similar to the common chestnut. In reality, this is a tuber (a thickened root). They are cultivated primarily in China, preferably in wetlands; curiously, they belong to the same botanical family as the tiger nut, another small nutritious tuber used to make horchata.
Its composition resembles the common chestnut, with fewer carbohydrates and proteins. It is rich in B complex vitamins A and C. Its mineral content is the same as the common chestnut but at lower levels. It provides considerable energy and is somewhat astringent. Chinese cuisine makes excellent use of this tuber because of its slight sweetness and crunchy white pulp.
In addition to the European or common chestnut described here, three other types of chestnuts are produced by trees of the genus Castanea. The composition of all these chestnuts is similar, varying only in carbohydrate concentration and sweetness, which is more significant in the Chinese variety.
- Chinese chestnut
- Japanese chestnut
- American chestnut
Chestnut Scientific Facts
- Scientific name – Castanea sativa Mill.
- French – Châtaigne
- Spanish – Castaña.
- German – Kastanie.
- Type – Seed of the fruit of the chestnut tree, a robust tree of the botanical family Fagaceae.
- Environment – The chestnut is from Turkey’s mountainous regions, spreading through southern and central Europe. It is also cultivated in the south and eastern United States, China, and Japan.
How to use and Prepare Chestnuts
- Raw – Chestnuts should only be eaten raw when they are very tender, and even then, they must be very well chewed to begin digestion in the mouth.
- Cooked – Once shelled, they are boiled for twenty to thirty minutes. Aromatic herbs such as cumin, fennel, or thyme may be added to the water.
- Roasted – Either in the oven or over coals. They may be roasted with the shell, which must be cut to relieve pressure. Roasted chestnuts are delicious.
- Chestnut puree – After boiling, the chestnuts are mashed to a consistent paste. Brown sugar or honey may be added. The paste may also be mixed with milk.
- Marron glace – This is an exquisite French sweet made from the best quality chestnuts and egg white.
REFERENCES George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 322, 323, 324. Print.