Known as the grain that grows on trees, chestnuts are made into a naturally sweet-flavored flour that has been part of Italian cuisine for centuries. In Tuscany, where it is known as farina di castagne, chestnut flour is considered a staple food that is commonly called for in recipes. Since there are almost no American chestnut trees, most of the chestnut flour available in the United States comes from Italy or France where chestnut trees are thriving. The chestnut fruit is dried and ground to a fine powder, which is then used for all kinds of baking.
Chestnut flour can give dishes a unique, hearty flavor that is nutty, mellow and a little sweet. It can be used in place of other flours in baked goods, or as a thickener for soups and stews. In traditional Italian recipes, chestnut flour is often blended with all-purpose or whole-wheat flour, but you can blend chestnut flour with other gluten-free flour substitutes such as rice flour. Chestnut flour is a wonderful gluten-free alternative for pasta, gnocchi, bread, cakes, pie crusts and many other baked goods. Its sweet flavor makes it a favorite ingredient for recipes involving almonds, chocolate, honey and hazelnuts.
Chestnut flour can be used in place of all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour or almond flour with a 1:1 ratio. Because chestnut flour contains no gluten, it can be a challenge to cook with. Many chefs add gluten-containing flour to chestnut flour when cooking many baked goods. Chestnut flour is dense, so it’s important to add extra liquid to your recipes. For every cup of chestnut flour, an additional 1/4 cup of liquid should be added. When baking with chestnut flour, the baking time should be decreased by about 25%.
Because chestnuts do not contain the fat content other nuts have, and are instead largely composed of carbohydrates, they have many of the same properties as flour. Low in fat and calories, flour made from chestnuts is considered a healthier alternative to almond flour and white flour. As a gluten-free product, this flour is also a cooking option for people with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances or allergies.
Regardless, chestnut flour is a great ingredient for a change of pace, especially when blended with all-purpose or whole-wheat flours in autumn and winter dishes.