Best in season: Chestnuts

Eating in season is good for you, good for your wallet and good for the planet!

Familiarising yourself with what’s in season is also a subtle and satisfying way of reconnecting with nature, especially if you live in a town or city. Noticing the different produce on offer will give you a greater awareness of nature’s cycles—and an enhanced appreciation of fresh, whole, delicious food.

In Britain, chestnuts are in season from late September until late January. For many, the herald the start of the Christmas period!

WHAT ARE THEY?

As the name suggests, chestnuts are a type of nut. However, they’re unusual in that they’re very low in fat.

Chestnut trees are found in Europe, Asia and the United States—for the simple (yet incredible) reason that the trees were growing some 60 million years ago, before the continents split apart.

Chestnuts were particularly popular in America. Records suggest that Native Americans gathered chestnuts for food, and they were shipped to big cities such as New York and Philadelphia to be roasted and sold by street vendors.

However, a disease hit the American chestnut tree in the early 20th century, reducing most of the trees to sad stumps. Today, most chestnuts are grown in China, Italy, Japan and Spain.

WHY SHOULD I EAT THEM?

Like many nuts, chestnuts are nutrient-rich. Some of their benefits include:

Providing vitamin C. Chestnuts are the only nut that contains vitamin C! In fact, 100g chestnuts contain roughly half of the recommended daily intake of this essential vitamin. From supporting immunity to keeping skin supple, vitamin C has many roles in the body [1].

Supporting digestion. They may be low in fat, but chestnuts are high in fibre. This important substance helps food mood through your digestive tract, and it also provides a source of fuel for your friendly gut bacteria [2].

Protecting your heart. Chestnuts contain both antioxidants and potassium, which can help to reduce inflammation and other risk factors associated with heart disease [3]. Of course, chestnuts can’t do this all own their own, but they’re a valuable addition to a diet that’s based on whole, natural foods.

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING CHESTNUTS?

If you’re buying chestnuts fresh, choose plump and heavy nuts that have glossy, mahogany shells. Leave them to ripen at home for a couple of days, as this will allow their starch to convert into natural sugar. After that, pop them in the fridge.

It’s also possible to buy a range of pre-prepared chestnut products, many of which have chestnuts as the single ingredient. Look out for chestnut puree, vacuum-packed chestnuts, and even chestnut flour.

HOW CAN I PREPARE THEM?

Chestnuts work well in both sweet and savoury dishes.  Try the following:

Simple roasted chestnuts. Cut an ‘X’ on the flat side of each fresh chestnut, put in a single layer on a baking tray, and roast at 230°C for 20–25 minutes. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and enjoy!

Chestnut pudding. Blend boiled chestnuts (or chestnut puree) with some maple syrup and a little vanilla essence. Serve with cream, ice cream or coconut yoghurt for a sweet and rich dessert.

Chestnut risotto. Add chestnuts to your favourite mushroom risotto recipe. You can also sauté chestnuts with mushrooms, prosciutto and a little white wine for a delicious sauce. Serve with brown rice pasta.

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