Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa)
The edible nut being sold at a market
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Fagaceae
Subfamily: Quercoideae
Genus: Castanea

The chestnuts are the deciduous trees and shrubs in the genus Castanea, in the beech family Fagaceae. The name also refers to the edible nuts they produce.[1][2][3] They are native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.


Chestnut trees are of moderate growth rate (for the Chinese chestnut tree) to fast-growing for American and European species.[4] Their mature heights vary from the smallest species of chinkapins, often shrubby,[5] to the giant of past American forests, C. dentata that could reach 60 metres (200 feet). Between these extremes are found the Japanese chestnut (C. crenata) at 10 m average;[note 1] followed by the Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) at about 15 m, then the European chestnut (C. sativa) around 30 m.[7]

The Chinese and more so the Japanese chestnuts are both often multileadered and wide-spreading,[7] whereas European and especially American species tend to grow very erect when planted among others, with little tapering of their columnar trunks, which are firmly set and massive. When standing on their own, they spread on the sides and develop broad, rounded, dense crowns at maturity.[4] The foliage of the European and American species has striking yellow autumn coloring.[8]

Bark - sweet chestnut (C. sativa)

Its bark is smooth when young,[9] of a vinous maroon or red-brown color for the American chestnut,[10] grey for the European chestnut. With age, American species' bark becomes grey and darker, thick, and deeply furrowed; the furrows run longitudinally, and tend to twist around the trunk as the tree ages; it sometimes reminds one of a large cable with twisted strands.[4]

C. sativa male catkins (pale buff) and female catkins (green, spiny, partly hidden by leaves)

The leaves are simple, ovate or lanceolate, 10–30 cm long and 4–10 cm wide, with sharply pointed, widely spaced teeth, with shallow rounded sinuates between.[11]

The flowers follow the leaves, appearing in late spring or early summer[4] or into July.[5] They are arranged in long catkins of two kinds,[5] with both kinds being borne on every tree.[10] Some catkins are made of only male flowers, which mature first. Each flower has eight stamens, or 10 to 12 for C. mollissima.[12] The ripe pollen carries a heavy, sweet odor[5] that some people find too sweet or unpleasant. Other catkins have these pollen-bearing flowers, but also carry near the twig from which these spring, small clusters of female or fruit-producing flowers. Two or three flowers together form a four-lobed prickly calybium, which ultimately grows completely together to make the brown hull, or husk, covering the fruits.[4]

Chestnut flowers are not self-compatible, so two trees are required for pollination. All Castanea species readily hybridize with each other.


The fruit is contained in a spiny (very sharp) cupule 5–11 cm in diameter, also called "bur" or "burr".[13] The burrs are often paired or clustered on the branch[5] and contain one to seven nuts according to the different species, varieties, and cultivars.[1][2][14][15] Around the time the fruits reach maturity, the burrs turn yellow-brown and split open in two or four sections. They can remain on the tree longer than they hold the fruit, but more often achieve complete opening and release the fruits only after having fallen on the ground; opening is partly due to soil humidity.[16]

The chestnut fruit has a pointed end with a small tuft at its tip (called "flame" in Italian),[16] and at the other end, a hilum – a pale brown attachment scar. In many varieties, the fruit is flattened on one or two sides. It has two skins. The first one is a hard, shiny, brown outer hull or husk, called the pericarpus;[17] the industry calls this the "peel".[16] Underneath the pericarpus is another, thinner skin, called the pellicle or episperm.[17] The pellicle closely adheres to the seed itself, following the grooves usually present at the surface of the fruit. These grooves are of variable sizes and depths according to the species and variety.

The fruit inside these shows a germ with two cotyledons connected to creamy-white flesh throughout.[18] Some varieties have consistently only one embryo per fruit (nut) or have only one large fruit per burr, well rounded (no flat face). The name of varieties with these characteristics may start with "marron"[16] for example marron de Lyon in France, or Marrone di Mugello in Italy.

Chestnut fruit may not exhibit epigeal dormancy. It may germinate right upon falling to the ground in the autumn, with the roots emerging from the seed right away and the leaves and stem the following spring. The germ can lose viability soon after ripening and under drying conditions.

The superior fruiting varieties among European chestnuts have good size, sweet taste, and easy-to-remove inner skins.[19][20] American chestnuts are usually very small (around 5 g), but sweet-tasting with easy-to-remove pellicles. Some Japanese varieties have very large nuts (around 40 g), with typically difficult-to-remove pellicles. Chinese chestnut pellicles are usually easy to remove, and their sizes vary greatly according to the varieties, although usually smaller than the Japanese chestnut.[7]

Similar species

The unrelated horse chestnuts (genus Aesculus) are not true chestnuts, but are named for producing nuts of similar appearance that are mildly poisonous to humans. True chestnuts should also not be confused with water chestnuts, which are tubers of an aquatic herbaceous plant in the sedge family Cyperaceae.[11][18] Other species commonly mistaken for chestnut trees are the chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) and the American beech (Fagus grandifolia),[21][7] both of which are also in the Fagaceae family. Brazil nuts, called "Brasil chestnuts" (castañas de Brasil in Spanish) or "chestnuts from Pará" (castanha-do-Pará in Portuguese) are also unrelated.



Chestnuts belong to the family Fagaceae, which also includes oaks and beeches. The four main species groups are commonly known as American,[22] European, Chinese, and Japanese chestnuts.

The taxonomy of the American chestnuts is not completely resolved, particularly between the chinkapins (Castanea ozarkensis and Castanea pumila), which are sometimes considered to be the same species. Genetics have indicated the California native "golden chinkapin" (Chrysolepis chrysophylla) is worthy of inclusion in a different genus along with a species from Coastal China. There is also another chestnut, Castanea alabamensis, which may be its own species.[23]

Subgenus Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
American chestnuts Castanea dentata American chestnut Eastern North America
Castanea pumila American or Allegheny chinkapin, also known as "dwarf chestnut" Southern and eastern United States[24][16]
Castanea ozarkensis Ozark chinkapin Southeastern and Midwestern United States
Asian chestnuts Castanea mollissima Chinese chestnut China, Vietnam, India, and North Korea
Castanea henryi Chinese chinkapin, also called Henry's chestnut China
Castanea seguinii Seguin's chestnut China
Castanea crenata Japanese chestnut, Korean chestnut Korean Peninsula and Japan
European chestnut Castanea sativa sweet chestnut; also called "Spanish chestnut" in the US and the UK Parts of Southern Europe, the Caucasus, Western Asia and Asia Minor


Female chestnut flowers
Male chestnut flowers

The name "chestnut" is derived from an earlier English term "chesten nut", which descends from the Old French word chastain (Modern French, châtaigne).[25] The French word in turn derives from Latin Castanea (also the scientific name of the tree), which traces to the Ancient Greek word κάστανον (sweet chestnut).[26] A possible source of the Greek word is the ancient town of Casthanaea in Magnesia.[27] Its location is at the modern village of Keramidi.[28][29] The town probably took its name, though, from the trees growing around it.[10] In the Mediterranean climate zone, chestnut trees are rarer in Greece because the chalky soil is not conducive to the tree's growth. Kastania is located on one of the relatively few sedimentary or siliceous outcrops. They grow so abundantly there that their presence would have determined the place's name.[30] Still others take the name as coming from the Greek name of Sardis glans (Sardis acorn) – Sardis being the capital of Lydia, Asia Minor, from where the fruit had spread.[31]

The name is cited twice in the King James Version of the Bible. In one instance, Jacob puts peeled twigs in the water troughs to promote healthy offspring of his livestock.[32] Although it may indicate another tree, it indicates the fruit was a local staple food in the early 17th century.[10]

These synonyms are or have been in use: Fagus Castanea (used by Linnaeus in first edition of Species Plantarum, 1753),[33] Sardian nut, Jupiter's nut, husked nut, and Spanish chestnut (U.S.).[4]


The tree is noted for attracting wildlife. The nuts are an important food for jays, pigeons, wild boar, deer, and squirrels. American and Chinese chinquapins (C. pumila and C. henryi) have very small nuts that are an important source of food for wildlife.[11]




It has been a staple food in southern Europe, Turkey, and southwestern and eastern Asia[18][34] for millennia, largely replacing cereals where these would not grow well, if at all, in mountainous Mediterranean areas.[35][36] Evidence of its cultivation by humans is found since around 2000 BC.[37] Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe while on their various campaigns. A Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401–399 BC thanks to their stores of chestnuts.[38] Ancient Greeks, such as Dioscorides and Galen, wrote of chestnuts to comment on their medicinal properties—and of the flatulence induced by eating too much of it.[30] To the early Christians, chestnuts symbolized chastity.[32] Until the introduction of the potato, whole forest-dwelling communities which had scarce access to wheat flour relied on chestnuts as their main source of carbohydrates.[18] In some parts of Italy, a cake made of chestnuts is used as a substitute for potatoes.[24] In 1583, Charles Estienne and Jean Liébault wrote, "an infinity of people live on nothing else but (the chestnut)".[39] In 1802, an Italian agronomist said of Tuscany that "the fruit of the chestnut tree is practically the sole subsistence of our highlanders",[40] while in 1879 it was said that it almost exclusively fed whole populations for half the year, as "a temporary but complete substitution for cereals".[41]

In Britain, boundary records compiled in the reign of King John already showed the famous Tortworth Chestnut in South Gloucestershire, as a landmark; it was also known by the same name of "Great Chestnut of Tortworth" in the days of Stephen. This tree measured over 50 ft (15 m) in circumference at 5 ft (1.5 m) from the ground in 1720. The Hundred Horse Chestnut in the chestnut forests on Mount Etna is the oldest living chestnut tree and is said to be even larger. Chestnut trees particularly flourish in the Mediterranean basin.[4] In 1584, the governor of Genoa, which dominated Corsica, ordered all the farmers and landowners to plant four trees yearly, among which was a chestnut tree – plus olive, fig and mulberry trees. Many communities owe their origin and former richness to the ensuing chestnut woods.[42] In France, the marron glacé, a candied chestnut involving 16 different processes in a typically French cooking style, is always served at Christmas and New Year's time.[32] In Modena, Italy, they are soaked in wine before roasting and serving,[32] and are also traditionally eaten on Saint Simon's Day in Tuscany.[38] In the Romagna region, roasted chestnuts are often served with a traditional wine, the Cagnina di Romagna. It is traditional to eat roasted chestnuts in Portugal on St. Martin's Day.

Their popularity declined during the last few centuries, partly due to their reputation of "food for poor people".[43] Many people did not want to take chestnut bread as "bread" because chestnut flour does not rise. Some slandered chestnut products in such words as the bread which "gives a sallow complexion" written in 1770,[44] or in 1841 "this kind of mortar which is called a soup".[45] The last decades' worldwide renewal may have profited from the huge reforestation efforts started in the 1930s in the United States to establish varieties of C. sativa which may be resistant to chestnut blight, as well as to relieve the strain on cereal supplies.

The main region in Italy for chestnut production is the Mugello region; in 1996, the European Community granted the fruit Protected Geographic Indication (equivalent to the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) status to the Mugello sweet chestnut. It is markedly sweet, peels easily, is not excessively floury or astringent, and has notes of vanilla, hazelnut, and, more subtly, fresh bread. It has no unpleasant aroma, such as yeast, fungus, mold, or paper, which sometimes occur with other chestnuts.[46] The main regions in France for chestnut production are the départements of Ardèche, with the famous "Châtaigne d'Ardèche" (A.O.C) Archived 2012-02-27 at the Wayback Machine, of the Var (Eastern Provence), of the Cévennes (Gard and Lozère départements) and of the Lyon region. France annually produces over 1,000 metric tons, but still imports about 8,000 metric tons, mainly from Italy.[47]

In Portugal's archipelago of Madeira, chestnut liquor is a traditional beverage, and it is gaining popularity with the tourists and in continental Portugal.[48]


Always served as part of the New Year's menu in Japan, chestnuts represent both success and hard times—mastery and strength.[32] The Japanese chestnut (kuri) was in cultivation before rice[49] and the Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) possibly for 2,000 to 6,000 years.[7]

During British colonial rule in the mid-1700s to 1947, the sweet chestnut, C. sativa, was widely introduced in the temperate parts of the Indian subcontinent, mainly in the lower to middle Himalayas. They are widely found in British-founded hill stations in northern India, and to a lesser extent in Bhutan and Nepal. They are mainly used as an ornamental tree and are found in almost all British-founded botanical gardens and official governmental compounds (such as larger official residences) in temperate parts of the Indian subcontinent.

China has about 300 chestnut cultivars. Moreover, the 'Dandong' chestnut (belonging to the Japanese chestnut C. crenata) is a major cultivar in Liaoning Province.[50]

In South Korea, roasted chestnuts (gunbam) are a popular winter snack, and serve as a symbol of abundance in ancestral rituals. Roasted chestnuts are also included in folk songs of Korea, which include "Gunbam Taryeong", a song that celebrates chestnuts,[51] as well as "Jeongseokga", a song from the Goryeo period. Gongju, one of Baekje's former capitals, is renowned for its chestnuts, with an annual chestnut festival that takes place in the winter. In the Samgukji(Records Of The Three Kingdoms), a book that was compiled during the Jin dynasty about the Three Kingdoms, chestnuts are used in the description of Mahan, the former land of Baekje.[52]

In the Philippines, the endemic talakatak or Philippine chestnut (Castanopsis philippinensis) is not cultivated commercially, though its nuts are harvested from the wild and consumed locally.[53][54] Imported chestnuts (known as kastanyas in Tagalog, from Spanish castañas) are traditionally sold as street food in the Philippines during the Christmas season.[55][56][57]

North America

Native Americans were eating the American chestnut species, mainly C. dentata and some others, long before European immigrants introduced their stock to America, and before the arrival of chestnut blight.[38] In some places, such as the Appalachian Mountains, one-quarter of hardwoods were chestnuts. Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 ft (15 m), up to 100 ft, averaging up to 5 ft in diameter. For three centuries, most barns and homes east of the Mississippi River were made from it.[58] In 1911, the food book The Grocer's Encyclopedia noted that a cannery in Holland included in its "vegetables-and-meat" ready-cooked combinations, a "chestnuts and sausages" casserole beside the more classic "beef and onions" and "green peas and veal". This celebrated the chestnut culture that would bring whole villages out in the woods for three weeks each autumn (and keep them busy all winter), and deplored the lack of food diversity in the United States's shop shelves.[24]

Soon after that, however, the American chestnuts were nearly wiped out by chestnut blight. The discovery of the blight fungus on some Asian chestnut trees planted on Long Island, New York, was made public in 1904. Within 40 years, the nearly four billion-strong American chestnut population in North America was devastated;[59] only a few clumps of trees remained in Michigan, Wisconsin, California, and the Pacific Northwest.[38] Due to disease, American chestnut wood almost disappeared from the market for decades, although quantities can still be obtained as reclaimed lumber.[60] Today, they only survive as single trees separated from any others (very rare), and as living stumps, or "stools", with only a few growing enough shoots to produce seeds shortly before dying. This is just enough to preserve the genetic material used to engineer an American chestnut tree with the minimal necessary genetic input from any of the disease-immune Asiatic species. Efforts started in the 1930s are still ongoing to repopulate the country with these trees, in Massachusetts[61] and many places elsewhere in the United States.[62] In the 1970s, geneticist Charles Burnham began back-breeding Asian chestnut into American chestnut populations to confer blight resistance with the minimum difference in genes.[63] In the 1950s, the Dunstan chestnut was developed in Greensboro, N.C., and constitutes the majority of blight-free chestnuts produced in the United States annually.

Today, the demand for the nut outstrips supply. The United States imported 4,056 metric tons of European in-shell chestnuts worth $10 million in 2007.[64] The U.S. chestnut industry is in its infancy, producing less than 1% of total world production. Since the mid-20th century, most of the US imports are from Southern Italy, with the large, meaty, and richly flavored Sicilian chestnuts being considered among the best quality for bulk sale and supermarket retail. Some imports come from Portugal and France. The next two largest sources of imports are China and South Korea.[64] The French varieties of marrons are highly favored and sold at high prices in gourmet shops.[32]

A study of the sector in 2005 found that U.S. producers are mainly part-timers diversifying an existing agricultural business, or hobbyists.[65] Another recent study indicates that investment in a new plantation takes 13 years to break even, at least within the current Australian market.[66] Starting a small-scale operation requires a relatively low initial investment; this is a factor in the small size of the present production operations, with half of them being between 3 and 10 acres (12,000 and 40,000 m2). Another determining factor in the small productivity of the sector is that most orchards have been created less than 10 years ago, so have young trees which are as now barely entering commercial production.[65] Assuming a 10 kg (22 lb) yield for a 10-year-old tree is a reliable conservative estimate, though some exceptional specimens of that age have yielded 100 kg (220 lb).[66] So, most producers earn less than $5,000 per year, with a third of them not having sold anything so far.[65]

Moreover, the plantings have so far been mostly of Chinese species, but the products are not readily available.[65] The American Chestnut Foundation in collaboration with many partners (SUNY ESF, the American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation and many others from education, research, and industry sectors contributing to the program) are in the last stages of developing a variety that is as close as possible to the American chestnut, while having incorporated the blight-resistant gene of the Asiatic species.[67] Considering the additional advantage that chestnut trees can be easily grown organically,[65] and assuming the development of brands in the market and everything else being equal, home-grown products would reach higher prices than imports,[citation needed] the high volume of which indicates a market with expanding prospects.[65] As of 2008, the price for chestnuts sold fresh in the shell ranges from $1.50/lb ($3.30/kg) wholesale to about $5/lb ($11/kg) retail, depending mainly on the size.[64][65]

Australia and New Zealand

The Australian gold rush of the 1850s and 1860s led to the first recorded plantings of European chestnut trees, brought from Europe by settlers.[7] Along the years, most chestnut tree plantations were C. sativa stock, which is still the dominant species. Some of these remain today. Some trees in northern Victoria are around 120 years old and up to 60 m tall. Chestnuts grow well in southwest Western Australia, which has cold winters and warm to hot summers.[18] As of 2008, the country has nearly 350 growers, annually producing around 1,200 metric tons of chestnuts, of which 80% come from northeast Victoria. The produce is mostly sold to the domestic fresh fruit market. Chestnuts are slowly gaining popularity in Australia. A considerable increase in production is expected in the next 10 years, due to the increase in commercial plantings during the last 15[22] to 25 years.[18] By far, the most common species in Australia is the European chestnut, but small numbers of the other species, as well as some hybrids, have been planted.[22] The Japanese chestnut (C. crenata) does well in wet and humid weather and in hot summers (about 30 °C); and was introduced to New Zealand in the early 1900s, more so in the upper North Island region.[7]

Cultivation ecology

See also: Chestnut orchard

Climate and seasonal germination cycle

Chestnuts produce a better crop when subjected to chill temperatures during the dormant period. Frosts and snowfalls are beneficial rather than harmful to the trees.[18][66] The dormant plant is very cold-hardy in Britain,[68] to the Royal Horticultural Society's H6 hardiness rating, to -20 °C.[69] Chestnut is hardy to USDA zone 5, which is −29 °C (−20 °F) lower in average minimal temperature than London in zone 9.[70] The young growth in spring, even on mature plants, however, is frost-tender;[68][70] bud-burst is later than most other fruit trees, so late frosts can be damaging to young buds.[66]

Trees can be found at altitudes between 200 and 1000 m above sea level;[66] some mention between 300 and 750 m altitude,[71] while the famous Hundred Horse Chestnut on Mount Etna stands at 1200 metres.[72] They can tolerate maritime exposure, although growth is reduced.[70]

Seeds germinate in late winter or early spring,[68][70] but the life length is short. If kept moist, they can be stored in a cool place for a few months, but must be checked regularly for signs of germination.[70] Low temperature prolongs dormancy.[16] Sowing them as soon as ripe is better, either in cold frames or seedbeds outdoors,[73] where they can be left in situ for one to two years before being planted in their permanent positions,[70] or in pots, where the plants can be put out into their permanent positions in summer or autumn. They must be protected from the cold in their first winter,[68] and also from mice and squirrels.[70]

Chestnuts are considered self-sterile,[70][74] so at least two trees are needed for pollination.[75]

Soil requirements

Castanea grows best in a soil with good drainage and adequate moisture.[66][75] The tree prefers sloping, deep soils; it does not like shallow or heavy soils with impermeable, clay subsoils.[66] The Chinese chestnut prefers a fertile, well-drained soil, but it grows well in fairly dry, rocky, or poor soils.[76]

Although Castanea can grow in very acidic soil,[70] and while these soils are reasonably well tolerated, the preferred range is from pH 5.5-6.0.[66] It does not grow well on alkaline soils, such as chalk,[26][70] but thrives on soils such as those derived from granite, sandstone, or schist.[26] On alkaline soils, chestnut trees can be grown by grafting them onto oak rootstocks.[60]
Recently cleared land is best avoided to help resist the root rot, Armillaria mellia.[66]

Sun exposure

Castanea likes a full sun position.[75] An experiment with C. dentata seedlings in Ohio confirmed the need for sun for optimal growth.[77] The butt of the tree is sometimes painted with white paint to protect the tree from sunburn until it has developed enough canopy.[66]

Wide spacing between the trees encourages low, broad crowns with maximum exposure to sunshine to increase fruit production. Where chestnut trees touch, virtually no fruit is produced. Current industrial planting spacings can range from 7 x 7 to 20 x 20 m. The closer plantings, which are more popular, mean quicker increases in short-term production, but heavy pruning or even tree removal is required later.[66]


The optimum rainfall for chestnut trees is 800 mm (31 in) or more, ideally in even distribution throughout the year. Mulching during summer is recommended. Rainfall below 700 mm (28 in) per year needs be complemented with, for example, a drip irrigation system. This should water the soil at the outer half of the circle formed by the drip line[66] to encourage root growth.

Independently from annual rainfall, watering young trees is recommended at least during summer and early autumn.[66] Once established, they resist droughts well.[26][15][78][79]


In addition to being consumed fresh, chestnuts can also be canned, pureed, or preserved in sugar or syrup (marrons glacés). Shelled and cooked nuts should be covered, refrigerated, and used within 3–4 days. Cooked chestnuts, either whole, chopped, or pureed, may be frozen in an airtight container and held up to 9 months. Because of their high water content, transpiration rates, and consequent loss weight, the nuts react as fresh fruits (not as nuts). They should be kept cool at all times, including in shops when on display for sale.[66] To preserve their freshness for a few months with no artificial refrigeration, the chestnuts can be soaked in cold water for about 20 hours immediately after harvest, after which they are dried in the shade, then layered in dry sand.[43]
Chestnuts behave similarly to seeds in that they produce very little ethylene, and their respiration rate is low, varying between 5 and 20 mg/(kg·h) depending on the temperature.[16]


Mammals and birds


Chestnut blight
Chestnut canker


Most chestnut wood production is done by coppice systems, cut on a 12-year rotation to provide small timber which does not split as badly as large logs.[60] In southern England (particularly in Kent), sweet chestnut has traditionally been grown as coppices, being recut every 10 years or so on rotation for poles used for firewood, and fencing (fence posts and chestnut paling).

Sustainable forest management

An excellent soil-enriching understory[4] in pine forests,[26][70] sustainable forest management incorporates more mixed plantings of proven efficiency, as opposed to monosylviculture. A study presented in 1997 has evaluated positively the potential increase in productivity with mixed stands and plantations, compared to plots of only one species. The relative yield total values of the mixed plantings steadily increase with time. C. sativa responds well to competitive pressure from Pseudotsuga menziesii, the latter also showing a higher productivity.[89] C. dentata seedlings in Ohio reforestation efforts are best achieved by planting them in places with little or no arboreous land cover, because of the need for light.[77]

Chestnut production – 2020
Country (Thousands of tonnes)
 China 1,743.4
 Spain 188.7
 Bolivia 80.9
 Turkey 76.0
 South Korea 54.4
 Italy 49.7
 Portugal 42.2
World 2,321.8
Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations[90]


In 2020, world production of cultivated chestnuts was 2,322 tonnes, led by China with 75% of the total (table). Spain and Bolivia were also significant producers.



Chestnuts (raw, peeled)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy820 kJ (200 kcal)
28 g
Sugars11 g
1.3 g
1.6 g
Vitamin A equiv.
1 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.144 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.016 mg
Niacin (B3)
1.102 mg
Vitamin B6
0.352 mg
Folate (B9)
58 μg
Vitamin B12
0 μg
Vitamin C
40.2 mg
19 mg
0.42 mg
0.94 mg
30 mg
0.34 mg
38 mg
484 mg
2 mg
0.49 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water60.21 g
Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[91] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[92]

Chestnuts depart from the norm for culinary nuts, as they have little protein or fat; their calories come chiefly from carbohydrates. Fresh chestnut fruits provide about 820 kJ (200 kcal) of food energy per 100 g of edible parts, which is much lower than walnuts, almonds, other nuts, and dried fruit (about 2,500 kJ or 600 kcal per 100 g).[46][93][7]

In some areas, sweet chestnut trees are called "bread trees".[46][94] When chestnuts are just starting to ripen, the fruits are mostly starch and are firm under finger pressure from the high water content. As the chestnuts ripen, the starch is slowly converted into sugars, and moisture content decreases. Upon pressing the ripe chestnut, a slight "give" can be felt; the hull is not so tense, and space occurs between the flesh of the fruit and it.[75]

Raw chestnuts are 60% water and contain 44 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, one gram of fat, supplying 200 calories in a 100-gram reference amount (table). Chestnuts provide some B vitamins and dietary minerals in significant content (table).

Their carbohydrate content compares with that of wheat and rice.[43] Chestnuts have twice as much starch as the potato on an as-is basis.[38] They contain about 8% of various sugars, mainly sucrose, glucose, fructose, and in lesser amounts, stachyose and raffinose, which are fermented in the lower gut, producing gas.[16]

Chestnuts are among the few "nuts" that contain vitamin C, with 48% of the Daily Value in a 100-gram serving (table). The amount of vitamin C decreases by roughly 40% upon heating (typically, the vitamin is decreased or destroyed in heated foods). Fresh chestnuts contain about 52% water by weight, which evaporates relatively quickly during storage. They can lose as much as 1% of weight in one day at 20 °C (68 °F) and 70% relative humidity.[16]

A kestaneci or chestnut vendor in Istanbul
Roasted chestnuts in Melbourne, Australia


A hot chestnut seller in Avignon, 1936
Dried chestnut in the South of Italy

The fruit can be peeled and eaten raw, but it can be somewhat astringent, especially if the pellicle is not removed.[95]

Another method of eating the fruit involves roasting, which does not require peeling. Roasting requires scoring the fruit beforehand to prevent explosion of the fruit due to expansion. Once cooked, its texture is slightly similar to that of a baked potato, with a delicate, sweet, and nutty flavour.[18][17][96] This method of preparation is popular in many countries, where the scored chestnuts may be cooked mixed with a little sugar.

Chestnuts can be dried and milled into flour, which can then be used to prepare breads, cakes, pies, pancakes, pastas, polenta[24] (known in Corsica as pulenda), or used as thickener for stews, soups, and sauces. Chestnut cake may be prepared using chestnut flour.[97] In Corsica, the flour is fried into doughnut-like fritters called fritelli and made into necci, pattoni, castagnacci [it], and cialdi.[98] The flour can be light beige like that from Castagniccia, or darker in other regions.[42] It is a good solution for long storage of a nutritious food.[5] Chestnut bread can stay fresh as long as two weeks.[24]

The nuts can also be eaten candied, boiled, steamed, deep-fried, grilled, or roasted in sweet or savory recipes.[24] They can be used to stuff vegetables, poultry, fowl, and other edibles.[4] They are available fresh, dried, ground, or canned (whole or in puree).

Candied chestnuts (whole chestnuts candied in sugar syrup, then iced,[47]) are sold under the French name marrons glacés or Turkish name kestane şekeri ("sugared chestnuts"). They appeared in France in the sixteenth century. Toward the end of nineteenth century, Lyon went into a recession with the collapse of the textile market, notably silk. Clément Faugier, a civil engineer, was looking for a way to revitalize the regional economy. In 1882 at Privas, he invented the technology to make marrons glacés on an industrial scale (although a great number of the more than 20 necessary steps from harvest to the finished product are still accomplished manually).[4] Chestnuts are picked in autumn, and candied from the start of the following summer for the ensuing Christmas. Thus, the marrons glacés eaten at Christmas are those picked the year before.[99]

An auca of the 19th century with the image of Catalan Castanyera, the traditional seller of chestnuts.

In Spain, on 31 October on the eve of the All Saints' Day, Catalonia celebrates la castanyada a festivity that consists of eating chestnuts, panellets, sweet potatoes and muscatell.[100][101] On November, in the regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and other Northern provinces and Portugal, the Magosto is celebrated.[102]

In Hungarian cuisine, cooked chestnuts are puréed, mixed with sugar (and usually rum), forced through a ricer, and topped with whipped cream to make a dessert called gesztenyepüré (chestnut purée).[103] In Swiss cuisine, a similar dish made with kirsch and butter is called vermicelles. A French version is known as "Mont Blanc".

A fine granular sugar can be obtained from the fermentation of the juice,[24][104] as well as a beer; the roasted fruit provides a coffee substitute.[104] Parmentier, who among other things was a famous potato promoter, extracted sugar from chestnuts and sent a chestnut sugarloaf weighing several pounds to the Academy of Lyon.[105] The continental blockade following shortly after (1806–1814) increased the research into developing chestnuts as a source of sugar, but Napoleon chose beets instead.[106]

Sweet chestnuts are not easy to peel when cold. One kilogram of untainted chestnuts yields about 700 g of shelled chestnuts.[17]

Animal fodder and litter

Chestnuts are often added to animal fodder. A first soak in limewater removes their bitter flavour, then they are ground and mixed with the ordinary provender. Other methods of preparation are also used. It is given to horses and cattle in the Orient,[4] and to pigs in England,[4] France[43] and other places. The leaves are not as prone to be insect-eaten as those of the oak, and are also used for fodder.[4]


Chestnut wood: Note the splitting at the top of the log.

Chestnut is of the same family as oak, and likewise its wood contains many tannins.[38] This renders the wood very durable,[38] gives it excellent natural outdoor resistance,[38][107] and saves the need for other protection treatment. It also corrodes iron slowly, although copper, brass, or stainless metals are not affected.[107]

Chestnut timber is decorative. Light brown in color, it is sometimes confused with oak wood.[107] The two woods' textures are similar.[38] When in a growing stage, with very little sap wood, a chestnut tree contains more timber of a durable quality than an oak of the same dimensions. Young chestnut wood has proved more durable than oak for woodwork that has to be partly in the ground, such as stakes and fences.[4]

After most growth is achieved, older chestnut timber tends to split and warp when harvested. The timber becomes neither so hard nor so strong as oak.[4][38][107] The American chestnut C. dentata served as an important source of lumber, because it has long, unbranched trunks.[11] In Britain, chestnut was formerly used indiscriminately with oak for the construction of houses, millwork, and household furniture.[4] It grows so freely in Britain that it was long considered a truly native species, partly because the roof of Westminster Hall and the Parliament House of Edinburgh were mistakenly thought to be constructed of chestnut wood. Chestnut wood, however, loses much of its durability when the tree is more than 50 years old, and despite the local chestnut's quick growth rate, the timber used for these two buildings is considerably larger than a 50-year-old chestnut's girth. It has been proven that the roofs of these buildings are made of Durmast oak, which closely resembles chestnut in grain and color.[4]

It is therefore uncommon to find large pieces of chestnut in building structures, but it has always been highly valued for small outdoor furniture pieces, fencing, cladding (shingles) for covering buildings,[107] and pit-props,[4] for which durability is an important factor. In Italy, chestnut is also used to make barrels used for aging balsamic vinegar and some alcoholic beverages, such as whisky or lambic beer.[108] Of note, the famous 18th-century "berles" in the French Cévennes are cupboards cut directly from the hollowed trunk.[109]


Dry, chestnut firewood is best burned in a closed log-burner, because of its tendency to spit when on an open fire.[107]


Chestnut wood is a useful source of natural tannin and was used for tanning leather before the introduction of synthetic tannins.[60] On a 10% moisture basis, the bark contains 6.8% tannin and the wood 13.4%.[110] The bark imparts a dark color to the tannin, and has a higher sugar content, which increases the percentage of soluble non-tans, or impurities, in the extract; so it was not employed in this use.[111] Chestnut tannin is obtained by hot-water extraction of chipped wood. It is an ellagic tannin and its main constituents are identified by castalagin (14.2%) and vescalagin (16.2%).[112][113]
It has a naturally low pH value, relatively low salts content, and high acids content. This determines its astringency and its capability to fix raw hides. These properties make chestnut extract especially suitable for the tanning of heavy hides and to produce leather soles for high-quality shoes in particular. It is possible to obtain a leather with high yield in weight, which is compact, firm, flexible, and waterproof. Chestnut-tanned leathers are elastic, lightfast, resistant to traction and abrasion, and have warm color.[114][115] Chestnut tannin is one of the pyrogallol class of tannins (also known as hydrolysable tannin). As it tends to give a brownish tone to the leather, it is most often used in combination with quebracho, mimosa, tara, myrabolans, and valonia.[111]
The wood seems to reach its highest tannin content after the trees reach 30 years old. The southern European chestnut wood usually contains at least 10 to 13% more tannin than chestnut trees in northern climates.

Other uses

Fabric can be starched with chestnut meal.[4] Linen cloth can be whitened with chestnut meal.[4] The leaves and the skins (husk and pellicle) of the fruits provide a hair shampoo.[43][116]

Hydrolysable chestnut tannins can be used for partial phenol substitution in phenolic resin adhesives production[117] and also for direct use as resin.[118]

Chestnut buds have been listed as one of the 38 substances used to prepare Bach flower remedies,[119] a kind of alternative medicine promoted for its effect on health. However, according to Cancer Research UK, "there is no scientific evidence to prove that flower remedies can control, cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer".[120]

In culture

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16-17th century still life with roasted chestnuts by Georg Flegel

Notable specimens

See also


  1. ^ Some specimens can have greater bulk.[6]


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Further reading