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Sweet Chestnut [How to Identify, Find and Cook!]

The Sweet Chestnut is a popular choice with Christmas dinner. But did you know it’s also a superfood, packed with essential nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium? During Autumn, they’re super easy to forage and freeze, making them a healthy, tasty snack all year round. And you can pick them for free!

Sweet chestnut in green spikey casing

The Sweet Chestnut tree (Castanea Sativa) produces edible nuts that have a sweet, earthy flavour when roasted. You can enjoy them on their own or they can be used in many different dishes, from snacks, soups and stuffing to desserts and cocktails. There’s nothing better than foraging your own chestnuts fresh from the tree, so let’s run through how to identify, prepare and cook these delicious nuts.

The Difference Between Sweet Chestnut & Horse Chestnut

First, let’s look at the differences between these two chestnuts. Although they look very similar, one is edible and the other isn’t!

The easy way to differentiate between the two is the casing. The Sweet Chestnut’s husk has long, needle-like spikes (think hedgehog), whereas the Horse Chestnut’s husk is more leathery, with fewer, shorter, thorn-like spikes. 

You can also tell which is which by the leaf shape and colour. The sweet chestnut leaf has a serrated edge all the way around and is a glossy, dark green colour. The horse chestnut leaf, on the other hand, is much broader, with a more matte green texture.

While one hosts tasty edibles, the other is better known for its (inedible) conkers!    

Sweet chestnut with spikey, crowded casing
Sweet Chestnut
Horse chestnut with leathery case and shorter wider-spaced spikes
Horse Chestnut

Top tip: When foraging for chestnuts, you may want to wear gloves as they are quite spiky when handling!

Video: How to Forage For Sweet Chestnuts In October

How to Forage Sweet Chestnuts

One of the best places to find sweet chestnuts is woodlands, but you will also see them in public parks and gardens as well as urban green spaces.

Chestnuts are ready to forage when they fall from the tree. Typically, they ripen during September and October, over a period of two to four weeks. Most of their weight is gained in the final two weeks before falling, so it’s best to pick from the ground than take from the tree. To get the chestnuts out of their husks, either step on them and roll with your foot (it breaks apart). Or you can pull them apart with thick gloves.

How to Roast Sweet Chestnuts

If you’d rather store your chestnuts ahead of cooking, pop them in a freezer bag (remove any that have holes in). They can be frozen for 2 to 3 months until ready to use. You can freeze them shelled or unshelled, raw or cooked, but if you plan to roast them it’s best to keep the shells on for optimal flavour.

To roast, make a cross-shaped incision on the round part of the chestnut shells. This stops them from exploding in the oven when heated up. Lay them out on a baking tray and put them in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200°C/180° Fan/gas mark 6. When the shell has peeled back, take them out of the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. Keep checking when cool enough to handle, as the shell is easier to remove when warm. Peel the shells off and your creamy, nutty chestnuts are ready to eat! You can store them in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days or re-freeze for 2-3 months if saving for a later date.