Identification and functional characterization of the chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) - from tree to the gut: production, nutrition and functional characterization

According to, the genus Castanea is divided into 9 species, the most common being Castanea sativa(chestnut). Chestnut was introduced in Europe during the Roman Empire as a wood source for wine barrels. During medieval times chestnut became an important subsistence food in the mountainous areas around the Mediterranean, where natural and abiotic aspects (e.g. climate, soil, topography) were not suitable for growing cereals. During that time chestnuts were traditionally used as a local diet to produce starch for bread dough because of their high carbohydrate content. In Portugal, Saint Martin’s Day is a holiday that celebrates the historic importance of chestnuts as a food resource.

In the last decades, chestnuts have become global commercialized through the consumption of derived products, such as food supplements, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products or by associated products (cardboard and mushrooms). However, there are several opportunities for innovation and growth that we intend to develop.

Today, the industrialization of chestnuts in Portugal can follow two paths: adoption of intensive agriculture and monoculture, leading to excessive exploitation of resources to produce nutrients, ultimately leading to ecological degradation (weakness). For example, through the considerable use of water during the summer before the harvest increases the carbon footprint of the production chain.  In return (opportunities), we propose a holistic approach to chestnut production based on sustainable land use and bio-circularity of its by-products combined with their introduction into the basic daily diet (e.g. bread and dried fiber).

The main objective of this study is to value an endogenous resource, important for the local economy, with potential for nutritional health benefits. Here we intend to understand the state of nut production in Portugal, to evaluate and develop new methods for the sustainability of production, as well as the nutritional benefits and the impact on health through food supplementation. The results will be the tools for a more sustainable production and the first step to understand the health benefits of chestnut supplementation. This will ultimately increase the value and interest of consumers and producers in the endogenous food supplement Castanea sativa Mill.


The specific tasks are designed to meet the specific objectives:

  1. The state of the art of Castanea sativa(chestnut) culture in Portugal – look back to anticipate the future. To gather information about the production of chestnuts in Portugal, from production to distribution. Evaluation of the Life Cycle and sustainability of current production and alternative scenarios to increase the sustainability of the analyzed productions;
  2. Nutritional characterization and biological effect of chestnut extracts – complete characterization of the various nutrients and non-nutrients that will influence microbiota modulation and health outcomes.
  3. Food transformation effect of chestnut – complete chemical and physical transformation of starch will have an impact on digestibility and consequently on intestinal microbiota communities.
  4. Food supplement – an in vivo study will be carried out on healthy volunteers who will have a daily intake of chestnuts. Blood, urine and stool samples will be taken for metabolic assessment and metagenomic analysis of intestinal microbiota.
  5. Interaction between the composition of the chestnut diet and the intestinal microbiota – the intestinal microbiota will be characterized structurally and functionally in stool samples before and after supplementation of the chestnut diet.

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