It’s time to honor the humble chestnut on Roast Chestnuts Day, December 14. As it’s the season to be jolly, Roast Chestnuts Day comes at a perfect time for the holiday season. Roasted chestnuts often fill the air with their earthy scent as they’re cooked by street vendors during December. Not only this, but the delicious snack keeps the cold away for those in the northern hemisphere. While the day is a relatively new celebration, the tradition of roasting chestnuts has been around for a long time. When they are roasted, the natural sweetness of the nut is revealed, delighting our taste buds!
History of Roast Chestnuts Day
We have a lot of cultures in history to thank for learning how to roast chestnuts, bringing us the Roast Chestnuts Day we have today! Chestnuts hail from a tree indigenous to the Americas and Asia. There is a multitude of species that mankind has been harvesting for centuries. The Native Americans had been consuming them long before the first European settlers arrived. The Europeans, in turn, were introduced to the chestnut from Sardis. Sardis was an ancient capital, which is now part of eastern Turkey. It was an important city of the Persian Empire until it fell to Alexander the Great in 334 B.C.
Alexander the Great, one of the world’s greatest military generals, together with the Romans, planted chestnuts throughout Europe. The trees were spread throughout the mountainous Mediterranean regions where certain grains could not grow well. Chestnuts became a staple food source for locals and a valuable item in bartering. The ancient Greeks ground them into flour and made chestnut bread. Some species of chestnut trees were grown for their wood as well.
The United States produces only 1% of the world’s chestnut production. China is the world’s leader, even though most American chestnuts are imported from Italy. American chestnuts were decimated by a deadly blight, which ravaged the trees during the early 1900s. Approximately four billion chestnut trees succumbed and their recovery has been mediocre.
Chestnuts have a soily, mildewy taste. Although they can be eaten hot off the coals, they are better eaten with herbs in stuffing or other dishes. Soon after roasting, the nuts can become so hard they could break a tooth if bitten down on too forcefully. However, it’s still possible to chop them. Some larger grocery stores and most Italian markets leave the chestnuts in their shells and others sell unshelled chestnuts in a can, which are much softer. Roasting them became a popular treat, as heard in one of Nat King Cole’s songs in which he warmly crooned, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
The first appearance of roasted chestnuts is a mystery, though they were thought to signify chastity for Christians. Some believe they had already made an appearance during the 16th century as a street snack in Rome. Now, roasted chestnuts continue to remind many of the holiday season, winter, and Christmas.
Roast Chestnuts Day timeline
The Europeans are introduced to the chestnut from Sardis, an ancient capital important to the Persian Empire, and discover the Native Americans have been consuming them for thousands of years.
Alexander the Great and the Romans plant chestnut trees across the Mediterranean, making the chestnut a staple food source in Greece and a valuable item for bartering.
A chestnut blight spreads across North America after an infection is discovered, wiping out four billion chestnut trees.
Nat King Cole, an American singer and jazz pianist, releases “The Christmas Song” with his trio, creating a popular association with roasted chestnuts and Christmas.
Roast Chestnuts Day FAQs
How long do chestnuts take to roast?
Place the chestnuts with the flat side down and the cut side up in a single layer on your baking sheet. Roast in the oven for about 15–20 minutes.
Do you have to soak chestnuts before roasting?
You’re going to touch the shell to peel them when you eat them, so be sure to wash them properly before cooking! Some people recommend soaking chestnuts before roasting them, which allows the meat inside to steam properly.
Are roasted chestnuts good for you?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Chestnuts remain a good source of antioxidants, even after cooking. They’re rich in gallic acid and ellagic acid — two antioxidants that increase in concentration when cooked. Antioxidants and minerals like magnesium and potassium help reduce your risk of cardiovascular issues, such as heart disease or stroke.
How To Celebrate Roast Chestnut Day
Learn how to roast chestnuts
Learn how to roast chestnuts, both plain and seasoned. There is an art to roasting chestnuts, but it’s easier than you might think! You can make roasted-chestnut soup, roasted-chestnut cookies, or mini bundt chestnut roasts! The choice is endless, really, and it’s a perfect way to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends.
Remind everyone about the health benefits
Roasted chestnuts are not only delicious, they are good for your health! Thousands of years ago, chestnuts were a typical food source for those living near the Mediterranean Sea because inhabitants weren't able to grow other grains. So they feasted on these nuts, thanks to their fat, fiber, mineral, and vitamin content. Full of vitamin C, folate, potassium, copper, selenium, and manganese, this versatile food is a good source of nutrients.
Listen to “The Christmas Song”
People now mostly associate roasted chestnuts with Nat King Cole’s 1946 hit “The Christmas Song”, which mentions chestnuts roasting by the fire. Pop on the original track, gather around the fireplace, and roast some chestnuts with family or friends to mark the occasion! It’s not only cozy but also delicious. There are other pop versions of the song, too, by various mainstream artists.
5 Amazing Facts About Chestnuts
Chestnut trees live long
The lifespan of an average chestnut tree can be anywhere from 200–800 years.
The oldest chestnut tree
The oldest- and largest known chestnut tree can be found in Sicily, which is thought to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old!
Full of good stuff
Chestnuts are the only nut that contains Vitamin C.
The food of chastity
To the early Christians, chestnuts symbolized chastity.
The master nut
In Japan, chestnuts represent mastery and strength, and are traditionally served at New Years’.
Why We Love Roast Chestnut Day
It reminds us of Christmas
Roasting chestnuts by the fire has become a mainstream symbol of Christmas and the holiday season in America and Europe. The warm, earthy scent often fills the air on the streets while being cooked, and reminds us of all good and happy things. It’s one of the most common Christmas and holiday-snack traditions. We can understand why, because they are delicious!
Is there anything cozier during the winter months than sitting by the fireplace and roasting chestnuts? Because we can’t accurately describe this feeling in English, the Danes have a word for it, and it’s perfect. ‘Hygge’ is a Danish term, meaning the quality of coziness that brings about a sense of comfort, contentment, and well-being. We think this is the best way to describe roasting chestnuts by the fire with family and friends.
They are good for us!
Roasted chestnuts are not only delicious, with the sweet, natural taste of the chestnut filling our mouths. Chestnuts are also very good for our health! Chestnuts have sustained people for thousands and thousands of years, and were a staple food source in Europe. Chestnuts are good for our digestive health, energy levels, bones, immunity, and hearts. There’s almost no reason not to eat chestnuts, so why not indulge in them, not only today, but every day?
Roast Chestnuts Day dates