Horse Chestnuts

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

The horse chestnuts, Aesculus spp, are not closely related to true chestnuts or chinquapins, and the resemblance of their fruits is coincidental. The species common in Europe, A. hippocastanum, known as marron d’Inde in France, originally grew in Asia Minor and Greece. In 1557 a Flemish doctor resident in Constantinople sent some nuts to the great botanist Matthiolus in Vienna, remarking that in Turkish they were called kastane and used in a horse medicine. The large, handsome tree, which thus came to be called ‘horse chestnut’, then became popular as a shade tree. Its nuts, however, are bitter and inedible because of the presence of large amounts of tannins. These are soluble in water, so the nuts can be processed to produce an edible starch which, ground to meal, makes a famine food.