Chestnuts: The Holiday Treat That’s Healthy for You and the Planet

Yup, there is a treat that appears at holiday time that is beneficial to not only your health but the planet’s as well.


Whether you use them in your cooking, buy them from bundled street vendors, or know them only from storybooks and Christmas carols ‘there are plenty of reasons to enjoy chestnuts not just at the holidays but throughout their season.

In many ways chestnuts are decidedly un-nutlike. The sweet meat of the roasted chestnut is low in fat, naturally sweet and, when roasted, soft. Chestnut meat is

  • high in fiber;
  • rich in minerals like potassium, magnesium and iron;
  • rich in vitamin C and B vitamins.

Most of the chestnuts we find in the US are imported from Asia and Italy. But that’s about to change. The American chestnut, which once dominated over 200 million acres of eastern forests from Georgia to New England, is on its way back.

“Until the early 1900s, the American chestnut was much more prevalent than the oak and was a prolific food source for forest animals; the nuts are much sweeter than acorns, so animals preferred them,” explains Paul Franklin of the American Chestnut Foundation in Asheville, North Carolina.

“For Appalachian families at that time, these chestnuts provided them a way to make money to get them through the winter,” he says.

In 1904, though, a devastating blight hit the American chestnut and the fungus killed the majority of the trees. Through many trials, the ACF has created what it hopes is a blight-resistant American chestnut strain. “We have 5,000 volunteers planting these seeds; in about five years you will see many more American chestnuts on the market,” Franklin says. It takes about five years for a chestnut to begin producing seeds.

If you manage to get your hands on some American chestnuts, you will notice they are smaller and sweeter than their European and Asian cousins. Given their excellent nutritional profile and unique sweet flavor, the American chestnut just may rise again. Until then, enjoy imported chestnuts. These recipes will help you have fun in your kitchen with this fabled nut.

Want to try your hand at growing an American chestnut? Every Annual Sponsor of the ACF will get seeds for free:

Don’t forget to check out our chestnut recipe suggestions here.

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