Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

chestnuts, once a savior for poorer communities lacking sufficient food, continue to be treasured in the form of desserts, particularly at Christmas, New Year, christenings, weddings, and feasts. Thanks to their natural sweetness, these nutritious nuts are aptly named “sweet chestnuts.”

In 1780 Antoine Parmentier, the French apothecary who taught the French to eat potatoes, discovered he could extract sugar from the chestnut. He formed this sugar into an impressively large cone weighing several pounds and sent it to the Academy at Lyon for consideration as a sugar source in place of regular cane sugar. Although chestnut sugar made transparent crystals that tasted similar to cane and beet sugar, Napoleon decided that France should prepare its own sugar from beets, whose processing was cheaper, so chestnut sugar fell by the wayside. See sugar beet. Nevertheless, the sweetness of the chestnuts themselves makes them perfect for inclusion in all kinds of confectionery, puddings, and sweet baked desserts.