what are chestnuts

What are Chestnuts

The fruit or roots from a few different plants have been called chestnuts, but there is only one edible sweet chestnut, which grows on the species of chestnut tree, Castanea.

edible nutsEdible Chestnut false nutsFalse Chestnut

  Edible Chestnuts

chestnut in burrThe chestnut (Castanea) belongs to the same family of trees as oak and beech trees.  There are four main varieties; commonly known as European, Chinese, Japanese and American chestnuts.  Most of the major varieties in Australia are hybrids of Castanea Sativa (European chestnut). 

Chestnuts have been grown in Australia for over 150 years.  The first recorded plantings of chestnut trees in Australia were in the 1850s and 1860s during the gold rush.  Some of those trees are still growing today, and other trees in northern Victoria brought in from Europe are around 120 years old and up to 60 metes tall.

Commercial plantings have occurred in the last twenty five years or so.  The south west of Western Australia is very suitable for the growth of chestnuts as they need cold winter temperatures and warm to hot summers.  Chestnuts have been part of the staple diet of Southern Europe, Turkey and Asia for centuries, and are now slowly gaining popularity in Australia.

The texture of a cooked chestnut is similar to a firm baked potato (quite unlike other nuts which are crunchy), and it has a sweet nutty flavour.  Until the introduction of the potato, the chestnut was a major source of complex carbohydrate in Europe.

Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnuts as they went across Europe on their various campaigns.

  False Chestnuts

The chestnuts we grow are often called sweet chestnuts and are not to be confused with 'conkers' (also known as horse chestnuts), or with water chestnuts.

The horse chestnut is an entirely different tree from the sweet chestnut, and in fact they are not even distantly related.  It is a native of northern and central parts of Asia, from which it was introduced into England in about the middle of the sixteenth century.

There is uncertainty as to how the horse chestnuts were named.  Some writers think that the prefix 'horse' is a corruption of the Welsh gwres, meaning hot, fierce, or pungent   e.g. 'horse-chestnut' = the bitter chestnut, in opposition to the mild, sweet one.

True edible chestnuts are readily recognizable from conkers (the nut of the common name for horse chestnut) by the point at the top of the nut.  Conkers have no point on their flattened smooth tops and are much smaller in size than sweet chestnuts.

Chinese water chestnuts, which are a common ingredient of Asian cooking, are grown beneath a swamp loving sedge.  They are roots of an aquatic plant and are not grown on a tree, so are also not related in any way to true chestnuts.

back to top Chestnuts top