Nutrition & Culture
Chestnuts as Nutritious and Healthy Food!
Chestnuts were a staple of life in Appalachian culture and an important part of holiday cooking. The nuts are highly nutritious, and fattened all wildlife and domestic free range livestock, including geese. Hogs were “chestnut vacuum cleaners”, so much so that by the early 1900s, foresters were worried that no new chestnut seedlings from seed were occurring in forest lots where livestock were allowed to forage freely.
The chart below compares the nutritional content of American chestnuts to other chestnuts and to acorns. The American nut has the highest protein content, and a lower carbohydrate content. It is sweet without being as starchy as the commercially marketed Asian and hybrid Asian nuts. Note that livestock fed on acorns can be poisoned by the tannic acid in acorns, and that wildlife have developed specific adaptations for dealing with this toxin. Chestnuts have no bitterness, and become sweeter as they ripen.
When we get “chestnutting” back as part of our cultural heritage, we will need to learn to cook with chestnuts all over again. There are excellent recipe books about cooking with chestnut, not only for stuffing, but also for soups and in baked goods. It was used as a flour in recipes.