Everyone’s favourite nut
Rich in flavour and versatile in nature, Japanese chestnuts have long held a special place in their countrymen’s hearts.
Fall is finally coming, but the turning of leaves is not the first indicator of this season in Japan—it’s the appearance of kuri everywhere you go.
As the well-known Japanese phrase shokuyoku no aki (“autumn is the season for eating”) attests, there is no other season that can compete with the myriad of delicious foods that fall has to offer. Among them, the Japanese chestnut or kuri is one of the most beloved and symbolic of the season, and it can be found almost everywhere in all shapes and forms. In fact, much like the seasonal pumpkin spice craze in Canada, the Japanese are so crazy about kuri that you’ll find it as a part of seasonal menus across Japan. Convenience stores offer boiled and peeled kuri as a healthy and energy-boosting snack, and there are even Japan-exclusive items from international food companies, such as chestnut pie at McDonald’s and kuri-flavoured ice cream from Häagen-Dazs.
The Japanese chestnut (Castanea crenata) is a species that originated in Japan and South Korea and has slightly different characteristics than the varieties we typically find in Canada. During the Jōmon period, between 14000–300 BC, the cultivation of kuri began in northern Japan. A few hundred years later, southern regions also began to cultivate the nut, which gradually grew in popularity across the rest of the country. Chestnut trees were worshipped with divine respect in certain regions and chestnuts were eaten for luck at festivals.
kuri gohan (chestnut rice) by simply cooking rice with peeled chestnuts, sake and salt.
Because of its mild and sweet flavour, kuri is the perfect ingredient for Japanese confectioneries or wagashi. In the fall, confectionery shops offer a spectacular lineup of sweets made with kuri, such as kuri manju (sweet bean paste and chopped kuri wrapped in flaky dough) and kuri kinton (Japanese sweet potatoes pureed with candied chestnuts). Bakeries also showcase a variety of seasonal desserts, such as chestnut cream cakes.
Kuri can typically be found in Asian grocery stores in Canada starting in early fall. When shopping for them, be sure to choose ones that feel heavy and have glossy shells. Older chestnuts tend to lose their moisture content and begin to feel lighter, and in turn lose their sweetness. After you buy them, try to consume them quickly before they start to lose their flavour. They store best and can even grow sweeter if you place them in a Ziploc bag and leave them in a crisper in your fridge for a couple of days. Roasting them the traditional way is always an option, but you can also try making
In terms of nutrition, kuri trumps most other nuts with its high potassium, fibre, vitamin C and vitamin B1 content. And with nearly four times the vitamin C as an apple, it’ll help keep you healthy and energized through the autumn months.
Crazy for kuri
The secret to this nut’s popularity isn’t tough to crack. Delicious yet practical, kuri has stood the test of time.
- Durable, easy to handle and strong, chestnut wood was widely used during the Jōmon period, including in the construction of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that still stand today, such as the homes of the traditional Shirakawa Village.
- Warlords used to provide their samurai with dried kuri as a sweet treat that not only preserved well but also offered excellent nourishment for the fighters with its abundance of vitamins and minerals.
- Kuri picking is a common field trip activity in Japan. Equipped with gloves and sacks, students excitedly scavenge the forest floor for fallen nuts to roast and enjoy.