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Malabar chestnuts are round, light-brown seeds with faint white stripes. They grow in green seed pods. Each pod has 5 valves. The seeds, which grow to a diameter of 1.2 centimeters each, are tightly packed in rows of 5 in each valve, and are surrounded by a soft, spongy material. When mature, the seed pods turn a red-brown color, and the seeds burst out and fall to the ground. The raw seeds are soft-textured 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.
Malabar chestnuts are available in the spring months.
Malabar chestnuts are botanically classified as Pachira aquatica, in the Bombacaceae family. It is distantly related to baobab, durian and South American sapote. Malabar chestnuts are also called Guiana chestnuts and Saba nuts. The Malabar chestnut tree is cultivated mainly for its seeds, but the leaves and flowers can also be eaten.
Malabar chestnuts contain protein, oils and fat, as well as the essential amino acids trptophan, threonine and phenylalanine. These amino acids help promote growth in infants, and help provide nitrogen to human adults.
Malabar chestnuts can be eaten raw or cooked. They can also be ground into a flour used to make bread. To use Malabar chestnuts, soak the pod overnight, which helps the tough skin to split and peel. Extract the seeds, and remove the white, spongy seed coating. Cook in a frying pan with some salt and oil. Alternatively, Malabar chestnuts can be roasted in the oven. They can then be added to salads and stir-fries, and can also be eaten on their own as a snack. Store Malabar chestnuts in a cool, dark place for up to several months.
In South America, Malabar chestnuts are used in home remedies for respiratory ailments like coughs. Malabar chestnut trees are commonly sold in Asia as ornamentals called Money plants. These are seen as being good feng shui plants that symbolize wealth and prosperity.
Malabar chestnut trees grow in tropical wetlands. They are native in an area in South America, from southern Mexico to Guyana, and northern Brazil to the western Amazon region. It is unclear as to how Malabar chestnuts spread, but they can be found today throughout the world, from the United States to Asia and Africa.