Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chestnuts - You either love them or you hate them

By: Cecily Costa

Chestnuts—you either love them or hate them. For me, nothing is better than chestnut stuffing on Thanksgiving.

They are sweet, starchy and somewhat crunchy. My best childhood food memories are filled with aromas and flavors of chestnut stuffing. The night before Thanksgiving, most of my family (6 siblings) would sit down at the table and peel the just roasted chestnuts, eating half of them along with way. Our hands would be stained by the tannins and our fingernails torn. It was really hard work and made me appreciate the finished product even more. If you have never peeled chestnuts, it is laborious— like pitting Nicoise olives. (Thank goodness for raw, peeled, IQF!)

Different from water chestnuts, which are a grass-like plant, these chestnuts can be candied, boiled, steamed, grilled, deep-fried or roasted. They can be used in sweet or savory dishes ranging from cakes and pastries (the most famous are Castagnaccio and Mont Blanc), to stuffing vegetables, poultry or other fowl. Chestnuts are also used in beer making! You can buy them fresh, frozen, dried, ground or canned.

It used to be that chestnut trees dominated the eastern United States. Around 1904, chestnut blight was accidentally introduced by an Asian chestnut varietal and within 40 years over 4
billion (yes billion) trees were killed. For those of you who watch Antiques Roadshow, you know that chestnut wood (a member of the oak family) was commonly used in a variety of ways before the blight. Most of the chestnut wood today is actually left over from those very same decaying trees.

Chestnuts are somewhat different than most nuts because they contain very little fat and protein. They are a great source of carbohydrate (50%) and water (45%). In fact, of all the nuts, chestnuts are the only ones that contain Vitamin C—one ounce of boiled or steamed chestnuts delivers between 9.5 mg and 26.7 mg of the vitamin! They also contain zinc and other minerals like potassium, iron, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus and calcium.

At one time even, chestnuts were considered as a possible sugar source for the French, but Napoleon preferred to make sugar from beets instead.

The largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world is called Hundred Horse and is located in Sant'Alfio, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, in Sicily. It had a circumference of 190 feet when measured in 1780—way bigger than our Redwood trees! Since then, the above-ground tree has split into multiple large trunks, but below-ground, these trunks still share the same roots. It is generally believed to be 2,000-4,000 years old! The tree's name originated from a legend—the Queen of Aragon and her company of one hundred knights were caught in a severe thunderstorm during a trip to Mount Etna. The entire company is said to have found shelter under the tree.

We stock the two most popular chestnut items—IQF raw peeled frozen and honey. The IQF product is a great labor saver plus allows you to steam or braise a lot more flavor into them. Both are sold only by the case to protect the integrity of the packaging and product.

#234661 Ravifruit Chestnuts Raw Peeled IQF 5/1 kg (2.2 lb)
#292020 Mieli Thun Chestnut Honey Raw Italy 6/250 gr (8.9 oz)