Is a Chestnut a Nut?

chestnuts.jpg

This question has an interesting answer that may surprise you.

It is true that a chestnut is a nut. On the other hand, there are other foods called "chestnuts" that are not.

If you have an allergy to tree nuts, you will want to avoid chestnuts, which grow on deciduous trees and shrubs.

Chestnuts are edible, but they are not as popular as walnuts, almonds and other varieties of nuts. One reason for this is that the shell of the chestnut is extremely difficult to remove. Even after cutting an X in each nut's shell and warming them in the oven, you may still struggle to remove them.

'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire'

You may recognize these words from the lyrics to a song that is typically heard during the Christmas season each year. Chestnuts were traditionally used in stuffing that was placed inside a chicken or turkey before roasting. It is still a common Christmas Day dinner for some families.

Chestnuts are a popular food in some parts of the world (Italy and Korea for example). They have a high starch content and a high nutritional value. But to someone with an allergy to chestnuts, they can cause a severe allergic reaction.

Respiratory problems can result from a chestnut allergy

People who are allergic to chestnuts can have a wide range of reactions if they eat these nuts, from a runny nose to anaphylaxis. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to chestnuts are much like those of reactions to other nuts in people with nut allergies. Some of these symptoms are runny nose, cough, watery, itchy eyes, hives, swelling of the lips or tongue, hoarseness, throat swelling, and sinus pain.

Some people get a headache and their face gets red and swells. Others have a variety of other possible symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you have trouble breathing or are experiencing any signs of anaphylaxis, such as rapid heartbeat or a whole-body reaction, call 911 and get emergency treatment immediately.

One type of chestnut might be safe for people with nut allergies

If you have ever eaten Chinese food, you have probably eaten water chestnuts. These are a type of chestnut that is safe for people with a nut allergy to eat because they aren't a nut at all. They are actually a tuber vegetable that looks almost exactly like the chestnut tree nut. This type of chestnut is commonly used in Asian dishes that include vegetables and rice.

A third type of chestnut is used to make medicine

There is another type of chestnut: the horse chestnut. This chestnut is a plant, not a nut. The plant's bark, flowers and leaves are used to make natural medicines. If eaten raw, it can cause death.

Some of the purposes for medications made from horse chestnuts are to treat diarrhea, fever, enlarged prostate, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and swollen veins. The leaf of the plant is used to help eczema, arthritis, joint pain and a few other conditions. The bark of the tree helps heal malaria and dysentery.

Photo of chestnuts roasting by John Nyboer

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