The chestnut fruit from the tree takes a bit of work to get to the nut itself. The nuts are encased in a spikey husk enclosure, with two to three nuts per each prickly burr. When mature, the fruit falls to the ground and is then shelled of the husk to get to the thin, smooth-shelled nut.
Although we refer to them as nuts, the meat inside is soft and starchy, more akin to grains rather than crunchy like traditional nuts.
It is the only nut primarily treated as a vegetable due to its starch content.
The European varieties are a bit larger in size than the native American variety. Horse chestnuts (generally considered inedible) and water chestnuts are of completely different species.
You will most likely be buying chestnuts already separated from the outer husk.
Beware Raw Chestnuts
Certain people with severe intestional problems, kidney problems, liver disease, and those who are pregnant should avoid raw chestnuts. These nuts are usually boiled or roasted before eating due to the high levels of tannic acid. Ingesting high levels of tannic acid can cause stomach irritation, liver damage, or kidney damage. They should be cooked completely in order to avoid digestive discomfort.
The nuts are cured for about a week to permit their starch to develop into sugar, thus sweetening the meat. The outer thin shell as well as the inner bitter brown skin is removed before eating.
Removing the skin in its raw state is virtually impossible, but with patience, the outer shell can be removed from the raw nuts. It is much easier and recommended to blanch or cook fresh chestnuts before removal of the shell and skin.
More About Chestnuts and Chestnut Recipes
|•||The Totally Nuts Cookbook|
|•||Nuts: Sweet and Savory Recipes from Diamond of California|
|•||The Nut Gourmet|