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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogJapanese Chestnuts: The Ultimate Guide for Food and Drinks!

Japanese Chestnuts: The Ultimate Guide for Food and Drinks!

Karina IkedoKarina Ikedo
Published TimeNovember 22, 2022
An image of shiny, brown Japanese chestnuts.

Japanese chestnuts are a popular autumn food. They are known as “kuri” in Japanese and “marron” in French, especially when used in Western-style desserts. As autumn approaches in Japan, the hearty chestnut comes into season. The chestnut is only available in the fall and winter. 

People use Japanese chestnuts in a wide range of dishes, from savory to sweet, including both traditional Japanese and Western-style dishes. We’ll take you on a journey through the history of chestnuts in Japan, as well as the best foods and drinks that feature Japanese chestnuts!

Western vs. Japanese Chestnuts

Japanese chestnuts are native to Japan and Korea, and are much larger than their Western counterparts. The seeds dwarf European and American chestnuts and can be as large as the palm of your hand. In contrast to European and American varieties, Japanese chestnuts are boiled in salt water rather than roasted. 

A bowl of large Japanese chestnuts .
Japanese chestnuts are much larger than their Western counterparts. Image via Shutterstock

After its preparation, kuri is soft and fleshy with a sweet and nutty flavor. There are many sweet and savory chestnut dishes that are extremely popular in Japan during the colder months.

Japanese chestnuts have a spiny outer hull and a double-layered shell that protects soft yellow flesh. There are many methods to prepare Japanese chestnuts. The most common are boiling, roasting, steaming, candying or drying them to make flour.

History of Chestnuts

Since prehistoric times, people have eaten chestnuts. Chestnuts have been a staple of Japanese cuisine for thousands of years. Archaeological sites have revealed charred remains of chestnuts more than 9,000 years old from early Jomon Period (10,000-200 BCE) settlements, proving that even the most ancient Japanese enjoyed them during the fall. 

A Jomon-era hut. it's triangular and is made with mud.
The use of Japanese chestnuts as good dates all the way back to the Jomon era. Image via Shutterstock

The remains of a settlement in Aomori Prefecture, in particular, show clear evidence of large-scale chestnut cultivation. The nearly 5,500-year-old settlement, includes the remains of a large chestnut tree in the village center. This indicates the importance of the crop to the people who lived there.

Foods that Feature Japanese Chestnuts

Japanese chestnuts are in everything from kurigohan to Mont Blanc, featuring delicious sweet and savory food! 

Kurigohan

Kurigohan is a dish that combines two important autumn foods: chestnuts and rice. It uses soy sauce, sake, sweet mirin rice wine, a bit of sugar, and salt. Then people steam it with kombu kelp. This creates a dish with a magnificently nutty aroma, which many people associate with the start of autumn!

A bowl of kuri gohan, which is chopped chestnuts (yellow flesh) in white rice. It also uses black sesame seeds.
This dish is strongly associated with the changing of the seasons. Image via Shutterstock

Chestnut Pastes

In Japan, chestnut puree is a common filling for cakes, sweet breads, pastries, and wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). Its two most popular varieties are kuri kinton and kuri-an. Kuri kinton (chestnut gold mash), is a traditional Japanese new year’s dish that represents wealth and prosperity for the coming year!

Kuri kinton is a combination of kuri no kanroni (candied chestnuts) nuts and syrup, satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potatoes), sugar, salt, and mirin. Using gardenia pods are along with the simmering mixture to enhance the paste’s yellow-gold color! 

A bowl of smooth, yellow Japanese chestnut paste.
This paste serves as a filling for so many different kinds of wagashi! Image via Shutterstock

Some of the most common ways to enjoy kuri kinton include anywhere from on its own in a bowl to dumplings. Additionally, they can be flavoring in cakes or mousses, and covered in a kudzu (Japanese arrowroot) and water dough!

Kuri-an is a puree of chestnuts, mirin, sugar, salt, and water that is similar to anko (Japanese sweet red bean paste). It is most commonly in dorayaki (a type of Japanese pancake), and kuri-anpan (a type of Japanese sweet bread roll).

Monburan

Monburan is a Japanese dessert that comes from the traditional French dessert “Mont Blanc”. It consists of puréed chestnuts topped with whipped cream!

A plate of Monburan (Mont Blanc), which is strings of whipped Japanese chestnut puree on top of a meringue, with an additional chestnut on top.
Monburan is a Japanese interpretation of a French classic. Image via Shutterstock

Japanese monburan is a decadent sponge cake with layers of fresh cream and whipped cream, encased in stringy, spaghetti-like layers of chestnut purée that give it a distinct appearance, and topped with a candied chestnut!

Roast Chestnuts

Yaki-guri (roast chestnuts) are made in Japan using a traditional Chinese method. First, people place the chestnuts in a large nabe pot containing tiny pebbles. Then they heat the nabe to the point where the pebbles slowly roast the chestnuts to their core. 

A pile of roasted Japanese chestnuts, resting on a piece of brown paper.
Roasted chestnuts are rare, but they’re still delicious! Image via Shutterstock

Afterward, the chestnuts are perfectly tender, fluffy, and easy to peel. During this season, yaki-guri are a common sight at street vendors and many supermarkets!

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Kuri Mushipan

Japanese steamed cakes are mushipan. “Mushi” means steamed and “pan” means bread or cake. These are a popular type of cake in Japan, because of their convenience!

People can cook them via stovetop, in the microwave, or in a rice cooker rather than in an oven. They are widely available in convenience stores, supermarkets, and bakeries. 

Mushipan is available in a wide range of flavors, many of which use seasonal ingredients. Specifically, chestnut or Mont Blanc mushipan is filled with candied chestnut pieces or a mixture of chestnut paste and whipped cream. Finally topped with extra chestnut paste! They’re usually available to eat in autumn.

Kuri Manju

Looking for more Japanese desserts? Try kuri-manju! This delicious treat is a family favorite. It’s a soft bun with red bean paste filling and a whole or chopped chestnut. Manju is a year-round favorite in a variety of forms, but kuri-manju is by far the most delectable!

A plate of kuri manju which are buns filled with Japanese chestnut paste.
Kuri manju dates all the way back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600).

With the addition of chestnuts, many popular Japanese sweets get an autumn twist. Take, for example, kuri-dorayaki, which is a classic dorayaki with red bean paste and chopped chestnut fillings!

Kuri Youkan

Name a perfect combination of yokan and chestnut! If you enjoy jellied desserts, you should definitely try kuri-youkan (chestnut jelly). Agar-agar, smooth red bean paste, and chestnuts are combined and chilled to make kuri-youkan. Afterward, it is cut into blocks. They are just as adorable as they are delectable!

Three pieces of kuri-youkan, a traditional sweet consisting of preserved Japanese chestnuts, red bean paste and agar jelly.
Kuri yokan is a perfect jellied dessert for the autumn season. Image via Shutterstock

Kuri Dango

Mochi dango are sweet mochiko rice flour dumplings that are small and sticky. They are available in a variety of flavors and are typically boiled and skewered with three to four pieces per bamboo skewer, before being grilled over an open flame. Kushi dango (dango on a skewer) is smothered in delicious chestnut paste in the autumn for a sweet and delectable snack! 

A plate featuring different types of kuri dango. Some are covered in kuri-an (chestnut paste) while others are on a stick.
Kuri dango is a traditional delight. Image via Pixta

Kuri no Kanroni

Kuri no kanroni is a compote of candied chestnuts. It’s made with peeled chestnuts that are boiled until tender and then simmered in stages in a simple sugar syrup.

A square bowl of kuri no kanroni *candied chestnuts) and kuromame *sweet black beans).
This is the Japanese version of marron glace. Image via Shutterstock

Kuri no kanroni can be eaten alone during Osechi, Japan’s traditional New Year’s meal, or mixed into savory dishes such as kuri-sekihan (chestnut and red bean rice).

Kuri no Shibukawani

Shibukawani is a traditional Japanese dessert that is similar to but much sweeter than kanroni. Chestnuts cooked in this style, like kanroni, take hours to prepare. Unlike kanroni, shibukawani is made by peeling away only the first layer of shell, preserving the thin, bitter-tasting inner chestnut skin! 

A bowl of kuri shibukawani, or sweet boiled Japanese chestnuts.
These chestnuts are boiled rather than roasted. Image via Shutterstock

Before being candied in syrup, the chestnut is boiled several times to remove all astringency. The result is a treat that has a natural appearance and incredible flavor! You can enjoy it on its own or as an ingredient in other Japanese sweets.

Starbucks Drinks Featuring Japanese Chestnuts

Chestnuts in Japan have even ventured off into drinks! When it comes to Starbucks’s seasonal offerings, chestnut is the star ingredient in so many beverages!

In 2019, the Chestnut Praline Latte was the staple chestnut drink. It consists of espresso, steamed milk, and chestnut praline syrup topped with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs. The nutty flavor wasn’t too overbearing, so you are able to still get a taste of the coffee. It strikes the perfect balance between syrupy and sweet. 

In 2020, Starbucks released the Chocolate Marron Frappuccino which contained actual crushed chestnuts. They’ve also added chocolate into the mix, with a drizzling of marron cacao sauce, which has the extra bonus of creating a lovely marbled pattern on top of the white whipped cream. 

An ad featuring Starbucks' Japanese chestnut marron frappuccino.
Starbucks is famous for their seasonal drinks, and their chestnut lineups over the years are no different! Image via Japan Today

In 2021, the beloved beverage begins with espresso and velvety steamed milk, followed by flavors of caramelized chestnuts and spices – all topped with a finale of whipped cream and specially spiced praline crumbs. 

In 2022, Starbucks released the Marrone Cassis, which is French for chestnut and blackcurrant. This frozen drink combines a subtle coffee taste with fruity blackcurrant and chestnut. 

Japanese chestnuts are a staple of autumn and can be found in many delicious foods and drinks. 

Do you have a favorite Japanese chestnut food or drink that you would like to try? Let us know in the comments below!

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