Are Roasted Chestnuts Good for You?


This popular holiday nut is worth cracking open

By Rachel Meltzer Warren

Though the idea of chestnuts roasting on an open fire sounds appealing, many people have no idea how to do it—and wonder whether these holiday treats are tasty and nutritious enough to be worth all the work involved in preparing them.

Nutrition-wise, chestnuts have some major differences from almonds, walnuts, and other nuts, but they’re still worth cracking open for their many health benefits.

And chestnuts get accolades for their versatility in the kitchen. “They can be used in sweet and savory applications, or just eaten on their own,” says Barbara Kamp, MS, RDN, assistant professor of culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University.

Chestnut Benefits

“Chestnuts have much more water and very little fat compared to other nuts,” says Liz Applegate, PhD, distinguished senior lecturer emerita in the Department of Nutrition at University of California, Davis. They also have less protein.

Chestnuts are mostly carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates have fewer calories per gram than fat—4 calories vs. 9 calories—chestnuts are far lower in calories than other nuts. A half-cup of chestnuts has 175 calories compared with 414 calories for a half-cup of almonds.

The downside of not having all of that fat, however, is that chestnuts don’t provide the same cardiovascular benefits that other tree nuts do, because of their high levels of healthy poly- and/or monounsaturated fats.

Still, chestnuts’ nutrition profile is strong. In just half a cup of chestnuts, you get decent amounts of the mineral manganese, which is important for cell function and bone health and copper, a mineral that helps the body form red blood cells. It also supplies vitamin C, folate, and potassium and has 3.6 grams of fiber—13 percent of the amount you need daily.

Chestnuts are also rich in antioxidants, especially ellagic acid, which is also found in berries, pomegranates, pecans, and walnuts. Ellagic acid belongs to a class of powerful plant compounds called polyphenols. Studies suggest that it may help control inflammation, improve cholesterol levels, and help control the risks of type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Roasted chestnuts have more ellagic acid content than fresh, possibly because the heat causes a chemical reaction that increases the amount of the compound in the nut.

Roasting Chestnuts and Other Ways to Prepare Them

The first stop for any fresh chestnuts you bring home is the refrigerator. “They’re very perishable,” Applegate says.

Cooking them before you eat them, though not required, is strongly recommended, says Applegate. “It makes the starch more digestible.”

The best cooking method depends on how you plan to use them, Kamp says. For snacks and salads, you want to keep the chestnuts dry, so roasting is her pick.

Start by using a knife to carefully score an “X” on both the flat and domed side of the chestnut. You can roast them over an open fire, but it might be easier in an oven or toaster oven (see three of CR’s top performers, below). Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes at 375° F. Turn and roast for an additional 10 minutes.

For use in soups or purées, score them and then place them in a pot of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

In both methods, the nuts are ready when the X’s pop open, revealing the nut flesh. Remove the hard outer shell as well as the thin inner membrane before eating or using in a recipe.

To save time, Kamp approves of the steamed and roasted chestnuts available vacuum-sealed in glass jars and foil pouches. They won’t taste as good as freshly prepared chestnuts, she says. “But for using in recipes, they work great.” However, watch out for the prepared chestnut jams and spreads you’ll see in specialty stores: They’re pretty sugary—15 grams in 2 tablespoons, the same as in a heaping tablespoon of table sugar.

How to Use Chestnuts

“Any way you would use nuts, you could use chestnuts,” Applegate says. They have a nutty, sweet flavor, and a slightly mealy, crumbly texture.

For hearty meals, chestnuts work well as an addition to bread-based stuffing because their richness makes a good complement to the savory herbal notes typically used, Kamp says.

You can also add them to roasted Brussels sprouts and other vegetable side dishes. Chopped roasted chestnuts make a standout topping for Greek yogurt, paired with a drizzle of honey and a few dried cherries, Applegate says. And they’ll add creaminess to soups made with squash, parsnips, and other fall and winter flavors.

Try Roasting Chestnuts in a Toaster Oven

Consider these recommended models from Consumer Reports’ tests (listed in alphabetical order) to help with holiday meal prep.

Black+Decker 8-Slice Digital Extra WideTO3290XSD

Breville Smart Oven Air Convection BOV900BSSUSC

Hamilton Beach Professional Digital 31240

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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