Where do chestnuts come from? How do you eat them? Here's all you need to know.

chestnuts roasting in cast-iron pan
Photography by Caitlin Bensel
| Credit: Photography by Caitlin Bensel

Where do they come from?

When on the tree, chestnuts look like thorny green pom-poms. Once they're harvested, the husks fall off to reveal a smooth brown shell—that's how you'll find them in stores. As soon as chestnuts bare their glossy chests, they begin to dry out, so give each nut a shake. Don't buy any that rattle because the nut is likely shriveled.

How do they taste?

When they're raw, chestnuts are crunchy and a little bitter. Once cooked, they're sweet, slightly nutty, and creamy.

OK, so how do I roast them?

Using a sharp paring knife, carefully cut a 1/2-inch X into the rounded side of each shell. (This will help steam escape, making the nuts easier to peel.) Then soak chestnuts in hot water for 1 minute, toss with oil and salt, wrap in foil, and bake at 350° until the nuts soften, about 25 minutes.

Fun fact!

A fungus wiped out millions of American chestnut trees more than a century ago, so you'll mostly buy nuts imported from Italy or China.