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  How to roast chestnuts


What is the difference between chestnuts and conkers?

How do I roast chestnuts in the oven?

Do chestnuts have any food value ?


The chestnuts we eat are often called sweet chestnuts and are not to be confused with 'conkers' (also known as horse chestnuts), or with water chestnuts which are roots.  The horse chestnut is an entirely different tree from the sweet chestnut, and in fact they are not even distantly related.  The chestnut that is edible, the sweet chestnut, has a point at the top of the nut whereas the ‘conker’ is completely smooth and rounded and very polished.  The fruits are often paired or clustered and covered with many thin spines, looking like spiny burs. Each fruit will have 2 or 3 edible chestnuts. They are flattened, pointed, and shiny brown in colour. They are edible when ripe.

It is important to note that sweet chestnuts are edible and have species name Aesculus hippocastanum whereas Conkers are non-edible and from the Horse chestnut tree species Castanea dentate. The two trees are not related. Sweet chestnuts are smaller than horse chestnuts, and have lots of very prickly spikes on their outer shells (many more spikes than the horse chestnut). You can further identify a sweet chestnut by opening up the outer shell. It will reveal up to three sweet nuts, whereas opening up a horse chestnut conker it will just reveal one. Sweet chestnuts can be roasted on the open coals, toasted under the grill or in a wok, or cooked in the oven.

The smell of roasting chestnuts marks the coming of Bonfire night and establishes the arrival of autumn.  Chestnuts have a hard skin covering dense starchy fillings.  Cooking sweetens the filling and softens it.   Traditional roasting over coals exudes wonderful smells and causes the skin to char and blacken, as it does, so the skin peels back to expose the softened centre.  All that remains is for you to peel off the skin and eat the warmed chestnut.


After buying a net of chestnuts, use them within a couple of days.  The chestnuts will dry and shrink in a warm kitchen so store them in a cool place.  When you want to roast them take a sharp vegetable knife and a chopping board.  Holding the chestnut in one hand carefully cut a criss-cross mark into the base of the nut, this will allow the heat to penetrate more readily.  Using charcoal the temperature is far hotter and the chestnuts tend to burst.  This does not happen so readily in an electric or gas oven.  Lay the chestnuts onto a baking tray and pop them into a hot oven.


Leave about 15 minutes in the oven to allow the centres to heat up and soften.  Remove the baking tray and cover the chestnuts with a clean tea-towel.  This will retain the steam and will soften the skins.


Chestnuts are a source of complex carbohydrate.  Peeled chestnuts can be made into a puree. You can buy peeled chestnuts in a tin either whole kernels or as a puree.  



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