Chestnuts suffer from seasonal NPD syndrome. They are featured heavily at Christmas – like in turkey stuffing – but the ingredient seems to disappear for the rest of the year.
Supplier Porter Foods wants to change all that. It claims the ingredient can add creaminess to dairy-free products, form a component of gluten-free baking and replace some sugar as a natural sweetener.
In other countries like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, chestnuts are eaten all year round, whether it’s in soups or patisserie, turned into a spread or mousse for the chilled aisle, or even made into a puree to top crepes.
Andrew Ashby, managing director of Porter Foods’ parent company Brusco, wants to see that versatility spread to the UK, where he believes the biggest potential is in the healthy indulgence categories.
“Chestnuts went through a phase of being a chef’s ingredient, used especially for making foams, but they have lots of functional features and possible explanations that are widely overlooked,” he told Food Spark’s sister site Food Navigator.
“It’s a very on-trend ingredient from the perspective of the ever-growing focus on vegan food. It’s also high in fibre, which is very important as most of us are deficient.”
Conquering new categories
Porter Foods is currently piloting trials with manufacturers to create a vegan ice cream that uses chestnuts as a base, rather than avocado.
“Lots of dairy-free ice creams use avocado as a base because they provide a creamy texture and mouthfeel, but chestnuts can also provide this. When you macerate them down into a puree, they mix well and are quite easily absorbed into other ingredients, such as in stocks or sauces. They have a smooth, velvety mouthfeel and aren’t bitty,” Ashby said.
Chestnut flour is also becoming a popular gluten-free alternative to wheat flour, he added.
On the health side of things, chestnuts are also high in fibre, with 100g dishing up around one-fifth of the recommended daily intake. They also aren’t plagued with the high fat content like other nuts.
Prime picking time for chestnuts is from the end of October, with Porter Foods sourcing its stock from a Spanish processor, importing them whole roasted, kibbled, pureed, sweetened and candied. Vacuum-packed chestnuts are cheaper per kilo than the dried alternative due to processing costs.
Ashby admits that Brexit is a worry, but the business is looking at contingency plans around stockholding to deal with any potential delays at ports.
So can Sparkie see the chestnut evolving past its Christmas cheer?
This is one of the things I would not limit to a single ingredient as far as a trend goes. The whole food industry seems to be looking at alternative ways of utilising produce in order to maximise profits. There has been a big push towards waste utilisation such as spent grain from brewing, fruit peels, unused vegetable parts, etc.
Replacing avocado feels like an unusual step to take though because although they are expensive, they are universally loved by those that buy into their health benefits, so I am not sure if this is an entirely positive approach. Alternatives for free-from foods will continue to have a growing market, but one of the main issues within this category is texture – and in general chestnut is not going to help there.
It is not without potential, but will come down to the quality of the initial wave of products that uses the ingredient. The seasonality may be an issue long term but not for the niche market – there is likely enough supply that can be preserved to fulfil that obligation.