What’s the difference between chestnuts and “marroni”?

What’s the difference between chestnuts and “marroni”?

Chestnuts are undoubtedly part of Italy's cultural and enogastronomic heritage. Many Italians certainly have among their childhood memories those of evenings spent on the sofa peeling chestnuts, together with their grandparents and parents, during cold winter days.


The sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) belongs to the genus Castanea and the family Fagaceae. Cultivated for centuries in the territories of Southern and Central Europe, its origins are very ancient and still uncertain today. Most botanists consider it to be an autochthonous plant of the European territories, but other hypotheses suggest it is native to Asia Minor; in fact, the current taxonomic classification of the genus Castanea is based on the study carried out by Richard A. Jaynes, in 1975, in which it is assumed that the plant is native to China.

What is certain is that it is a very ancient species and widespread since the Tertiary period (Paleocene-Pliocene) thanks to its agricultural and forestry use. During the Ice Age the distribution of the chestnut tree underwent a regression as a consequence of the cooling of the climate, but over the centuries, due to economic needs, its cultivation expanded considerably even outside the natural limits of the species.

Romans dedicated themselves to the cultivation of the chestnut tree mainly for obtaining timber to be used both in the building industry and for the construction of the barrels dedicated to the transport of wine. It was the Romans who made a decisive contribution to the spread and cultivation of the chestnut tree, not only in Italy but throughout Central and Southern Europe, planting real chestnut groves and woodlands in Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland and Germany.

Even throughout the nineteenth century hundreds of thousands of farmers and mountaineers depended on fresh, dried or floured chestnuts for their survival. It is no coincidence that Giovanni Pascoli used to define the chestnut tree as 'the Italic bread tree' because, even in Italy, its fruit (called 'mountain bread') was at the time the basis of the diet of a large part of the rural population.

The production of chestnuts today has increased exponentially, concentrating mainly in Asia and Europe. Italy has permanently been at the top of the European producer countries together with Portugal and Spain. In Asia most of the production comes from China.

The varieties of Italian chestnuts

The chestnut varieties grown in Italy are numerous: in fact each growing area boasts different types, named according to the place of production. Some types of Italian chestnuts have obtained PDO and/or PGI recognition: these two brands have the objective of enhancing the agricultural and food production of a given territory/region with a unique, homogeneous and valid procedure for all EU countries. There are four recognised and certified Italian chestnuts:

  • Castagna di Vallerano PDO, 
  • Castagna di Cuneo PGI, 
  • Castagna del Monte Amiata PGI, 
  • Castagna di Montella PGI.

Difference between chestnuts and “marroni”

In common language the term "chestnut" is used to define any type of fruit of the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) available on the market, although in reality this term is not completely correct.

An important distinction that must be made, in fact, is that between "chestnuts" and "marroni" which, although often used as synonyms, actually indicate two very different products from a morphological, qualitative and commercial point of view:
  • Chestnuts: the term "chestnut" includes several varieties derived from the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), widespread in the different Italian chestnut-growing areas. More elongated in shape, dark brown in colour, chestnuts have an inner skin that penetrates deep into the inside of the flesh, in some cases to the point of dividing it (in which case we speak of sectated fruits) that often makes them difficult to peel. From a commercial point of view, chestnuts are of different sizes, smaller and generally cost less than "marroni”, with respect to which they are less valuable. The size varies from 45 to 100 fruits per kg.
  • Marroni: destined both for industrial processing and fresh consumption; they are the most sought after type on the market where they are sold at high prices. “Marroni” are such chestnut fruits that are unsettled, more "rounded" in shape, with a light brown skin slightly streaked and a sweeter and more fragrant taste than chestnuts. Among the main characteristics of "marroni” is the fact that the episperma (i.e. the skin of the fruit) does not penetrate the flesh and this allows them to be peeled more easily. The ripening takes place towards the end of September. They have a medium-large size (from 55 to 70 fruits per kg).

Chestnuts are to be found on the market in different 4 forms:

    • Fresh chestnuts: with no chestnut burr they are eaten after being cooked in the oven or barbecued,
    • Soft dried chestnuts: perfect for an immediate consumption but perishable,
    • Tough dried chestnuts: before consumption, they need to be rehydrated,
    • Chestnut flour: obtained from dried chestnuts and used in several sweet and savoury recipes.

For what concerns the drying process, what is preferable is using small, sugary fruits that are easy to peel. The drying process generally takes place with dehumidified air and at low temperatures, so as to leave fragrance, colour and aroma of the fruit unaltered, ensuring at the same time a good rehydration, raising the quality index.

Where to buy online Italian chestnuts and Italian “Marroni”?

Discover our chestnut flour and Italian steamed peeled chestnuts on nuturally.com

Our nuts

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