Chestnuts (also called chinkapins or chinquapins) grow on several species within genus Castanea, deciduous trees and shrubs in the Beech family. Chestnuts are native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Despite similarities in flavor, they are unrelated to the water chestnut.
Foragers searching for wild chestnuts should be careful to avoid confusion with the similar looking, poisonous, "horse chestnut" or "buckeye" (genus Aesculus).
- C. crenata — "Japanese chestnut", "Korean chestnut".
- C. henryi — "Chinese chinkapin", "Henry's chestnut".
- C. mollissima — "Chinese chestnut".
- C. seguinii — "Seguin's chestnut".
- C. sativa — "European chestnut", "husked nut", "Jupiter's nut", "Sardian nut", "sweet chestnut". In the United States, "Spanish chestnut".
- North American
- C. dentata — "American chestnut".
- C. pumila — "Allegheny chinkapin", "bush chinkapin", "dwarf chestnut", "golden chinquapin", "Ozark chinkapin".
Chestnuts are used in sweet or savory recipes. They may be used to stuff vegetables, poultry, fowl and other edibles. They are available fresh, dried, ground, canned (whole or in puree), and may be eaten raw, candied, boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, or fried (fritters).
Sweet chestnuts are not easy to peel when cold. One kilogram of (untainted) chestnuts yields approximately 700g of shelled chestnuts. When peeled and eaten raw (almost unknown in North America), they are somewhat astringent particularly if the pellicle is not removed.
Candied whole chestnuts (candied in sugar syrup, then iced) are sold under the French name marrons glacés, or the Turkish name kestane şekeri ("sugared chestnuts"). Chestnuts are picked in autumn, and candied from the start of the following summer for the ensuing Christmas. Thus the candied chestnuts eaten at Christmas are those picked the year before.
Any method of cooking requires the fruit to be scored beforehand, otherwise the flesh expands and the fruit explodes. Once cooked its texture is similar to a baked potato, with a delicate, sweet, nutty flavor.
Roasting chestnuts does not involve peeling. The roasted fruit provides a coffee substitute.
Chestnuts can be dried and milled into flour, which may be used to prepare breads, cakes, pancakes, and pastas. It is the original ingredient for polenta (Corsican, pulenda). Chestnut flour is used to thicken stews, soups, and sauces. It stores well over long periods and is nutritious. Chestnut bread keeps fresh for as long as two weeks.