Chestnuts and hazelnuts make for excellent snacks and offer complex flavors that can be used to garnish many different types of desserts and even savory foods.
But what is the difference between hazelnuts vs. chestnuts? Hazelnuts are harvested from hazel trees and offer a buttery, earthy and nutty flavor. Chestnuts are harvested from several different species of deciduous trees and have a slightly sweeter but similar nutty and earthy flavor.
There is so much more to both these nuts than just their flavor! Read below to learn more about their differences, uses, and how best to enjoy them!
What Are Hazelnuts?
Hazelnut is referred to as the fruit of the hazel tree that is usually categorized in the birch family called Betulaceae.
These trees are native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere and are ripened during September and are ready to harvest during October.
What makes hazelnuts so great, and also famous, is their many uses. This type of nut is prized for its unique buttery and sweet flavor which further develops when the nut is roasted.
Hazelnuts are often used as a toppings for dessert (pralines) and can also be used in salads and other delicious savory foods like soups, stews, and more.
They are packed with proteins, minerals, and vitamins and are considered to be a great source of both flavor and nutrition.
The nuts themselves are sold either shelled or you could also go for the whole nut with the shell on. Unlike other types of nuts, hazelnuts don’t demand that much work. Just a gentle touch of a nutcracker is enough to crack open its firm exterior.
The amber color shell holds the nut inside, which is further covered with a thin dark-brown skin that can come off by gently peeling around the nut. The hazelnut itself has an off-whitish or light brown color.
Fun Fact: Almost all of the hazelnuts consumed in the USA are sourced from Turkey, which is the largest producer of this delicious nut, followed by Oregon, Italy, and Spain.
Here are some of the characteristics of hazelnuts:
Raw hazelnuts have a mildly sweet, earthy, and nutty flavor with underlying buttery notes too but the real magic happens when these nuts are lightly toasted.
On a side note, hazelnuts are usually sold pre-toasted which also makes it easier to process the skin of the nut. We’ll discuss more on this in a bit.
Toasted hazelnuts will have a complex buttery and sweet flavor that is accentuated through chemical changes that the nut goes through while being toasted.
Toasted hazelnuts will also have less moisture which means that they will also develop a slight crunch that is extremely satisfying and goes well with its natural nutty flavor.
If you want to eat the whole nut (with the skin and shell) then that wouldn’t be a good idea because of the striking bitterness of the shell.
It’s ironic but this tasty nut has a very bitter-tasting outer shell. The skin of the nut is considered to be less bitter, but if you want the most out of hazelnuts, then you have to try them without their shell and skin.
Hazelnuts are pretty easy to distinguish from other nuts because of their smaller size.
Even when in the shell, hazelnuts are known to have a dark amber exterior. The whole nut is around 15–25 mm big but the inner edible fruit/nut is smaller.
When you crack open a hazelnut, you will find a small dark-colored spherical nut inside – but you still can’t eat it!
The nut is covered with a securely fit skin that also has a bitter flavor. When you peel the skin off the nut, you will see the actual hazelnut which has a cream or off-whitish color.
Once the nut is toasted, it will take on a light brown or dark brown color, depending on how much you toast it.
As explained above, hazelnuts are known for their many uses in desserts and savory food. The nut is usually added whole in desserts or it can also be crushed and added as a garnish in many dishes.
Perhaps the best use of a hazelnut is in making pralines or, everyone’s favorite, Nutella.
The nut can also be finely crushed into powder form which can be used to flavor drinks and to flavor to cookies, ice cream, and more.
Finally, hazelnuts can also be consumed on their own and make for a healthy and addicting snack. We recommend eating toasted hazelnuts with milk chocolate for the most luxurious experience.
What Are Chestnuts?
Chestnut is a generic name given to the fruit of several different species belonging to the trees and shrubs in the genus Castanea.
Chestnuts are similarly native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere and can come close to hazelnuts – but with a few key differences.
On their own, chestnuts share almost the same anatomy as hazelnuts: they too come with a shell that protects the skin-covered nut inside. However, the texture of the humble chestnut is completely different.
Chestnuts are known for their many uses and their sweet and earthy flavor. In fact, for most people, the flavor of chestnuts resembles that of soaked almonds or sweet roasted almonds.
The exterior of the nut has a slightly pliable but thick and firm layer. In most cases, chestnuts do not require a nutcracker to open them – they are rather scored (cut from the middle) and then roasted or boiled until the shell loosens and opens up.
Chestnuts are also consumed as a snack and have multiple culinary uses too. They are packed with nutrients and their toasted form is considered to be an excellent and tasty snack.
Here are some of the characteristics of chestnuts:
Raw chestnuts have a sweet, earthy, and nutty flavor – just like hazelnuts. Except chestnuts don’t have that signature buttery flavor and are considered to be sweeter.
Also, it is worth noting that chestnuts have a higher moisture content which is perhaps why it is comparable to soaked almonds. The nut is firm but easy to chew thanks to it being adequately tender.
Toasted chestnuts develop a deeper layer of flavor that is comparable to toasted almonds or other toasted seeds.
However, the hallmark of toasted chestnuts is that they are noticeably sweeter and have a more pronounced earthy flavor than hazelnuts.
Chestnuts have a dark brown outer layer that is both firm and pliable. The visual characteristics of the outer layer are important as they can give away small details about the overall health of the nut.
For example, a chestnut with a distinct crunchiness when you squeeze it between your fingers would indicate that the fruit is old and that you should probably look for a chestnut that is firm all around.
Fresh chestnuts will have a shiny dark brown exterior – but they should NOT have small holes on the shell. The holes are an indication that the nut has been compromised by insects.
When you open the shell of a fresh chestnut, you will find a light yellow or golden nut inside. Raw chestnuts have a bulky mass and can be larger than hazelnuts.
Before chestnuts can be consumed, they must first be rendered via heat. This process is important because removing the outer shell of the nut can be quite cumbersome!
The best way to do this is to score the chestnut using a special scoring knife or a sharp kitchen knife.
For safety purposes, we recommend that you only use a chestnut knife (like this one from Opinel available on Amazon), especially if you are trying chestnuts for the first time.
When the outer layer is scored, you can then either pop the chestnuts in the oven or boil them in water until the outer layer loosens up. At this point, you should clearly start to see the nut inside.
After heating the nut, you can simply peel off the loosened skin and enjoy the chestnut as it is or you could use it as an ingredient for cooking purposes too. For example, chestnuts can be ground into a powder and used as flour.
Since this nut is packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, it makes for a healthy addition to any diet!
Also, chestnuts can be used just as you would use hazelnuts too and, in some cases, both nuts may even be able to substitute each other.
Hazelnut Vs. Chestnuts: Basic Comparison
|Flavor||Slightly sweet, earthy, butter, and nutty||Sweet, earthy, nutty – comparable to soaked almonds|
|Color (Raw)||Dark brown shell with cream or subtly light-yellow nut||Dark brown shell with a light yellow or golden nut|
|Color (Cooked)||Yellow or light brown||Golden brown or dark golden|
|Cooking Method||Oven roasting||Oven-roasting, boiling, pan roasting|
|Uses||Dessert and savory recipes||Dessert and savory recipes|
|Native To||Northern Hemisphere||Northern Hemisphere|
How To Cook Hazelnuts
The best way to cook hazelnuts is to remove them from their shell and then roast them in the oven.
Here is how to do it:
- Using a nutcracker, gently squeeze and crack the outer layer of the hazelnut. Be careful with this step as hazelnuts don’t require that much torque to crack their shell unlike other nuts; like a walnut.
- Remove the nut and discard any pieces of its shell. Put all the shelled nuts on a baking tray and bake them in a preheated oven at 350°F to 400°F for about 10 minutes or until they are fragrant. No need to add any oil!
- Once the hazelnuts are done roasting, wait for about 2-3 minutes and then transfer the still-warm hazelnuts to a linen cloth. An important point to note here is that the hazelnuts will easily stain so make sure you used a discardable cloth for the next step.
- Wrap the warm hazelnuts with the cloth and gently roll them around. The idea here is to get the outer skin of the hazelnut off. If you have toasted them correctly, then this step should take no more than 3-5 minutes. If the skin is not coming off then you can further roast the hazelnuts for an additional 3-5 minutes.
- Allow the nuts to cool down for about 10-15 minutes and then transfer them into an airtight container.
How To Cook Chestnuts
Chestnuts require a bit more attention and preparation than hazelnuts.
Here is how to cook them:
- Using a knife or a special chestnut scoring knife, cut the outer layer of the nut across. Do not poke into the shell or you might cut the nut inside. The idea is to just slightly score the nut from the top so that it can come loose when it expands with heat.
- Put all the chestnuts (scored side up) into an oven and roast them for 10-15 minutes at 350°F. You could also just roast them until they are fragrant and you can prominently see the nut from the scored side.
- Let the roasted nuts cook for about 5-8 minutes and then remove the outer layer while the skin is still warm. Set the nuts aside for 10-15 minutes and then use or store them accordingly.
- Alternatively, another way to cook chestnuts would be to boil them in water for about 5 minutes and then move them onto a pan (scored side up). Cover the pan and let it steam for about 5-8 minutes and then take them off the heat. Remove the layer and then let the chestnuts cool.
How To Store Chestnuts And Hazelnuts
The great thing about hazelnuts and chestnuts is that they can both be stored in the same way.
The raw nuts should be kept in a cool and dry place. For longer storage, you can refrigerate both nuts in the fridge by keeping them in an airtight container. Hazelnuts and chestnuts should remain edible for up to a month in the shell.
Shelled nuts should be kept in an airtight jar. Cooked nuts will remain good for about 10-15 days in a cool and dry place. If you want them to last longer then store the cooked nuts in the fridge for about 2-3 weeks.
Always check the nuts for signs of spoilage like mold or bitterness in the flavor. Also, if you are storing the nuts in a cellar then you might also want to check them for signs of an infestation too.
If you find the container to have crumbs or a fine powder at the bottom, then that could mean that the nuts have been compromised and that you should just throw them away.
Hazelnuts and chestnuts are an excellent source of nutrients and make for a very tasty snack! Now that you know the difference between the two, here are some related questions:
Can you freeze hazelnuts and chestnuts?
Yes, hazelnuts and chestnuts can be stored in the freezer for up to a year. The best way to store the nuts would be to first shell them. You can store the cooked nuts in a freezer-safe airtight container.
Make sure that the nuts remain at a stable temperature throughout the storage duration for guaranteed freshness. For the best flavor and texture, consume both nuts before the 6-month mark by thawing them in the fridge overnight.
Can you make nut butter with hazelnuts or chestnuts?
Yes. Shelled hazelnuts and chestnuts can be processed in a food processor until they turn into a creamy paste, called nut butter.
The natural oils in the nuts will release as the nuts are processed which will give them a smooth and lightly grainy texture.
Once the nuts are thoroughly blended, you can use them as a spread or as an ingredient in baking and savory recipes too.
Can you eat chestnut with the skin?
No. The best way to consume chestnuts is to first cook them. The reason for this is that the outer shell of the nut can be bitter and even if you were to consume it, it may cause a lot of digestive issues. The same can also be said about hazelnuts too.