Chestnuts are a healthy addition to the holidays

There are many ways to enjoy nutritious chestnuts during the holiday season.

Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that chestnuts protected against poisons, dog bites and dysentery. In early America, chestnuts were a staple food source for people and livestock. The chestnut tree provided much of the needed wood. Blight in the 1900s nearly wiped out the chestnut tree.

Chestnuts appear in markets October through December, perfect timing for holiday cooking. They are starchy, edible nuts encased in a prickly burr that splits when the nut ripens and falls to the ground. The chestnut is lower in calories and fat than other nuts because of its high water content. Chestnuts are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin B6, copper, manganese and fiber. Chestnuts top the list of rich sources of antioxidants.

When selecting chestnuts, look for those with a rich brown, hard outer shell; free of soft spots, mold and deterioration. Keep in mind that chestnuts are more perishables than other nuts; they will last about three months if refrigerated.

Though you can peel chestnuts like an apple and eat them raw, the sweet flavor won’t shine through unless they are cooked. Roasting over an open fire is perhaps the most celebrated way to enjoy chestnuts. But when that isn’t practical, try roasting halved nuts (shell on) in the oven for about 15 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit or “roast” in the microwave by placing halved nuts cut-side down on paper plates and microwaving for two to three minutes. You can also boil or steam chestnuts for about 10 to 15 minutes. No matter how you cook them, be sure to puncture the shell or halve them to avoid an explosion.

A favorite European pastry flour for generations is chestnut flour because of its natural sweetness. The characteristic flavor of chestnuts goes well with fall dishes like squash, Brussels sprouts, stuffing and soup. Chestnuts can also accent desserts like cookies, pastries, fruit pies and cakes.

For more information on healthy choices, please visit Michigan State University Extension.

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