Why Do People Roast Chestnuts at Christmastime?

(Image credit: gouvernant | sxc.hu)

Roasting chestnuts dates back centuries, when people turned up the heat on these nuts for more than just festive fare.

Chestnuts became a staple in the mountainous regions around the Mediterranean Sea thousands of years ago, in part because most cereal grains couldn't grow in these areas. These flavorful nuts can supply a feast of nutrients: They are low in fat, high in fiber , and packed with minerals (manganese, potassium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and iron) and vitamins, mainly vitamin C, but also vitamin B6, thiamin, folate, and riboflavin.

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Roasting sweetens the nut's raw, bitter flavor, which could also help explain its history of being consumed around the holidays, when celebrating folks tend to indulge in sweets.

There does not seem to be a consensus on when and where people began the tradition of roasting chestnuts around holiday times. Early Christians believed the nut symbolized chastity, which, although that theme doesn't tie directly into Christmas, does connect the nut to religion. Some historians say that roasting chestnuts dates back to the 16th century, when vendors sold the treat on the streets of Rome. Other scholars put their debut in Portugal for St. Martin's Day, and in Modena, Italy, for St. Simon's Day.

If you've never roasted chestnuts and want to give it a shot, here's a simple recipe.

Michelle Bryner
Michelle writes about technology and chemistry for Live Science. She has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the Salisbury University, a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware and a degree in Science Journalism from New York University. She is an active Muay Thai kickboxer at Five Points Academy and loves exploring NYC with friends.