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Athens News Agency: News in English, 12-01-20

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From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] Chestnut, an overlooked source for boosting local economies

  • [01] Chestnut, an overlooked source for boosting local economies

    AMNA--The chestnut tree, with deep roots in Greek mythology and which has given its name to tens of village scattered throughout the country, could become a dynamic product contributing to the substantial development of the economy in mountain communities in many parts of Greece.

    The chestnut, also known as the "breadtree" by locals because it is the only tree whose fruit produces flour, could become a dynamic product and contribute substantially to increasing the incomes of mountain populations in many parts of the country, according to Prof. Stefanos Diamantis from the Institute of Forestry Research.

    Cultivation of the chestnut tree could serve as a fundamental tool for development of mountain area economies in many parts of Greece, Prof. Diamantis told AMNA, but is underestimated by Greek farmers and also the State.

    "Greece, a mountainous country, could even become a chestnut exporter, instead of importing some 6,000 tonnes of raw chestnuts from Turkey, Portugal, China and Korea, and processed chestnuts from Italy and France," he said, noting that Greek chestnut production has dropped from approximately 18,000 tonnes in the 1960s to 12,000 tonnes today.

    Diamantis attributed this decline to the mass exodus of mountain populations to urban centers and abandonment of the trees, coupled by tree diseases, especially ulcers, which had spread to most parts of the country in the early 1990s, a lack of incentives for chestnut cultivation, and a lack of chestnut processing in the country, which 'condemned' the product to consumption only in the winter season and only in its raw form.

    Although a traditional product, the chestnut is consumed only about five months out of the year, mainly three months before and two months after Christmas.

    Only 10 percent of Greek-produced chestnuts are processed, exclusively as a traditional Greek spoon-sweet, whereas in other countries such as Italy, France, Spain and Turkey some 30-40 percent is converted into a plethora of products such as a dried or tinned fruit, chestnut flour, bakery goods, pasta, liqueurs and beer, puree, and a variety of sweets, with the most famous sweet being the glazed chestnuts (marrons glaces).

    "Standardisation and processing of the fruit of the chestnut tree are virtually unknown in Greece, where about 90 percent of the product is consumed roasted or boiled," Diamantis noted, while the remaining 10 percent is channeled to the market as marrons glaces or as spoon sweets produced in small, usually family-size, businesses mainly in Pelio and Karpenissi.amna

    In antiquity, the chestnut tree was regarded in Greece as the tree of Zeus. Mount Olympus, home of the gods of the ancient Greeks, was said to have had an abundance of chestnut trees producing this sweet, edible nut.

    Once peeled of their hard, dark brown outer shells and bitter inner skin, chestnuts can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, roasted, boiled, mashed, preserved and candied. A special type of coffee with calming effects is produced from dried chestnuts, while the chestnut tree leaves are used for their therapeutic properties in lung diseases and rheumatism. amna

    Alexander the Great and the Romans planted Chestnut trees across Europe while on their various campaigns. A Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C. thanks to their stores of chestnuts he sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), originally native to southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, was introduced into Europe from Sardis in Asia Minor; the fruit was then called the 'Sardian Nut'. It has been a staple food in Southern Europe, Turkey and southwestern and eastern Asia for millennia, largely replacing cereals where these would not grow well, if at all, in mountainous Mediterranean areas. amna. Ancient Greeks like the physician, pharmacologist and botanist Dioscurides and Romans such as Galen, the prominent physician and philosopher of ancient Greek origin, wrote of chestnuts to comment on their medicinal properties.

    To the early Christians chestnuts symbolized chastity. Until the introduction of the potato, whole forest-dwelling communities which had scarce access to wheat flour relied on chestnuts as their main source of carbohydrates. In some parts of Italy a cake made of chestnuts is used as a substitute for potatoes. In fact, the chestnut season is celebrated every autumn, from mid-October to mid-November, in many regions across Greece with special events organized to promote the chestnut's nutritional value.

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