Chestnut: Uses

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Nuts of wild varieties are relatively small but of good flavour. They have been an adequate staple food for peasants in poorer regions, and remain a useful foodstuff in the countryside. Rural uses of wild chestnuts include the original Italian polenta, a porridge which was made with chestnut meal before the introduction of maize from the New World; and bread and biscuits made of chestnut meal mixed with cereal flour.

Chestnut bread is characterized by large, irregular holes. Although the European chestnut has almost the same proportions of protein, starch, and fat as wheat, it lacks gluten to bind the bread together, and can only be used in moderate amounts. A higher proportion of chestnut meal is used in Italian necci, flat cakes baked on hot stones and resembling Indian chapati. Chestnut meal, called farina dolce (sweet flour) in Italian, is often used as a thickener in Italian dishes. In Italy chestnuts which have been dried to keep through the winter are called secchielli; in Spain pilongas. They need to be soaked or steamed before they can be used.