Archive for November 2007
Unlike some of the pseudo-foods we eat today, chestnuts are a food that has been eaten widely as a staple for a number of centuries. Though they first appear officially in the food timeline in the 1st Century, broken chestnuts shells have been found in large quantities at palaeolithic sites.
In the mountainous areas of the Mediterranean where cereals would not grow well, if at all, the chestnut (Castanea sativa) has been a staple food for thousands of years (Jalut 1976). Ancient Greeks and Romans, such as Dioscorides and Galen, wrote of the flatulence produced by a diet that centered too closely on chestnuts and commented on the nuts’ medicinal properties, which supposedly protected against such health hazards as poisons, the bite of a mad dog, and dysentery.
Moving forward in time to the sixteenth century, we discover that “an infinity of people live on nothing else but this fruit [the chestnut]” (Estienne and Liébault 1583), and in the nineteenth century an Italian agronomist, describing Tuscany, wrote that “the fruit of the chestnut tree is practically the sole subsistence of our highlanders” (Targioni–Tozzetti 1802, Vol. 3: 154). A bit later on, Frédéric Le Play (1879, Vol. 1: 310) noted that “chestnuts almost exclusively nourish entire populations for half a year; in the European system they alone are a temporary but complete substitution for cereals.” The Cambridge World History of Food
There are many different cultivars of chestnuts and distinctions are made in France between the common châtaigne and the better marron – known as the Spanish chestnut in English. There are American, Japanese, Chinese, and European varieties. They are not the same as horse chestnuts (conkers), which are poisonous without considerable processing to remove the tannins. Castanea sativa.
Despite having some medicinal properties, chestnuts have not been studied in great detail by science. I am sure that chestnuts help me to relax, ease my back pain, and make my skin look better than normal. During a brief spell of recovery prior to discovering the failsafe diet, I had reduced my vegetable consumption and I was eating a lot of chestnuts. I do not know whether they are merely failsafe, or whether they contain a beneficial polyphenol (like milk thistle), or whether they contain essential sugars, or some other substance.
At this time of year you can find roast chestnuts for sale from small carts in most city centres in the UK and Europe. I have always adored chestnuts and can never get enough of them! They can be bought from farm shops and farmer’s markets and some supermarkets. I do not know how commonly they are seen in the US and Canada but I would be interested to know.
I have a very good tolerance level for chestnuts, I am sure that I tolerate them better than I tolerate the equivalent quantity of Brussels sprouts. Chestnuts have not been tested for salicylate content and do not appear on any lists of safe/unsafe foods. I had hoped to donate some money in order that they and some untested seeds/grains would get tested as I believe they may be failsafe or near-failsafe, but instead the Food Intolerance Network selected some strange non-calorific amine/glutamate containing foods that included seaweed, persimmon wine, and yellow tomatoes… a list of foods I refused to pay for! Perhaps I will approach them again and request to ‘buy’ the tests once my house sale goes through and I have some money.
I am currently eating about 100 grams of chestnuts most days and getting on with them relatively well for me – better than I would be with lentils, Brussels sprouts, beans or garlic – all allowed on the elimination diet. I also seem to tolerate the châtaigne variety better than the marron, which seems ever so slightly aromatic.
Does anyone on failsafe want to trial sweet chestnuts and give me some feedback on how well you get on with them?