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Malabar chestnuts grow in a large, woody, football-shaped pod, averaging 5-7 centimeters in diameter and 10-30 centimeters in length. The pod has a rough skin, five-valves, and transforms from green to brown when ripe. Inside the pod, there are several round light-brown seeds with faint white stripes. The seeds, which grow to a diameter of 1-2 centimeters, are tightly packed in rows of five in each valve and are surrounded by a soft, spongy off-white material. As the seeds begin to mature, they enlarge and swell the pod until the pod bursts and drops the seeds to the ground. The raw seeds are soft and have a taste that is similar to that of peanuts. When cooked, they become crunchy and take on a deep chestnut and macadamia nut-like flavor that is mildly sweet and nutty. In addition to the pods, Malabar chestnut trees are also known for their large, fragrant, white ornamental flowers and their shiny green bark and palmate leaves.
Malabar chestnuts are available in spring.
Malabar chestnuts, botanically classified as Pachira aquatica, grow on a large evergreen tree that thrives in sub-tropic and tropical regions. Malabar chestnut trees can grow to be over eighteen meters in height in its native habitat, but it also can be planted as a potted bonsai tree. Also known as the Guiana chestnut, Saba nut, Money tree, Money plant, Provision tree, and Guyana chestnut, Malabar chestnuts are distantly related to baobab, durian, and South American sapote. Malabar chestnut trees are cultivated both for its seeds in South America and as an ornamental plant in Asia.
Malabar chestnuts contain protein, oils, and fat, as well as the amino acids tryptophan, threonine, and phenylalanine which may help promote growth.
Malabar chestnuts can be consumed raw or in cooked applications such as frying, stir-frying, and roasting. They can also be ground into a flour and used to make bread. Malabar chestnuts should be soaked overnight, which helps the tough skin split and peel, and then the seeds should be extracted and removed from the white, porous seed coating. Malabar chestnuts are commonly cooked in a frying pan with salt and oil or roasted in the oven. They can also be added to salads, stir-fries, eaten on their own as a snack, or ground and made into a hot drink. In addition to the nuts, the young leaves and flowers can be cooked and prepared as a vegetable and have a green, nutty flavor. Malabar chestnuts will keep for several months when stored in a cool and dark place.
In Asia, Malabar chestnut trees are commonly sold as ornamentals called Money plants. The trees are seen as having good feng shui and symbolizes wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. The trees are especially popular in Japan and are grown as a bonsai tree or in a small pot with the trunks braided for aesthetic appeal. Money plants are typically seen in businesses and may have additional ribbon or ornamental decorations wrapped around the tree for good luck and financial success. In South America, Malabar chestnuts are also used in home remedies for respiratory ailments like coughs.
Malabar chestnuts are native to tropical America and are found from southern Mexico to Guyana and northern Brazil to the western Amazon region. It is undocumented as to how Malabar chestnuts spread to the rest of the world, but they can be found cultivated today and sold in specialty markets in the United States, Asia, and Africa.
Recipes that include Malabar Chestnuts. One is easiest, three is harder.
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