A researcher from Vila Real University has concluded that, given the worth of the Portuguese chestnut on the export market, Portugal could become a European leader in chestnut production.
Portuguese chestnuts currently earn producers between €50 million and €60 million every year. The majority of chestnuts produced in Portugal are currently exported.
José Gomes Laranjo, a professor at the Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, believes this means the chestnut “is the petrol” of the Transmontana region.
The specialist is part of the national chestnut production network RefCast, which is aiming to increase the production area of the fruit, encourage its consumption in Portugal and investment in transforming it into new products, something that is practically inexistent in Portugal.
Chestnut trees currently cover some 35 hectares of land, producing an annual average of between 50 and 60 million tonnes of chestnuts. In monetary terms, that represents between €50 million and €60 million for the producer.
Producers own on average between a hectare and a hectare and a half each of land.
“The chestnut can be grown on relatively small plots of land and earns producers a profit of around 50 percent”, Mr. Laranjo explained.
The “excellent quality” of Portuguese varieties of chestnut means it has a high international demand, the professor said, both in terms of industrialisation and as a fresh product.
“We have a product that is of value and, if there were more chestnuts, we could also increase exports”, he stressed.
RefCast is presently campaigning to increase the amount of land dedicated to chestnut production in Portugal which, should it happen, could transform the country into “the largest chestnut producer in Europe.”
A European Chestnut Federation is currently being created which, nationally, is represented by Professor José Gomes Laranjo. It is expected to become active in September 2012.
In Mr. Laranjo’s opinion the entity will carry out an important role in negotiating support for the sector within the Common Agricultural Policy (PAC) for 2020.
Imminently, RefCast wants to promote the consumption of the chestnut outside its harvest season, which has just kicked off and Mr. Laranjo expects it will be a healthy one.
This could include the publishing of a book to be serialised in a leading national newspaper.
“We want to teach people how to eat chestnuts, and introduce them into their recipes”, Mr. Gomes added, highlighting the fruit’s nutritional qualities, such as its low cholesterol levels and absence of gluten.
The network also wants to promote the transformation of chestnuts in Portugal.
“There are more than 300 chestnut derivates, including purées, compotes, yoghurts, beer and flour”, he listed, claiming secondary products are a way of adding even more value to the fruit.
Presently, companies Agroaguiar and Sortegel categorise, peel and freeze chestnuts, and last year Agroaguiar launched a new product: frozen roast chestnuts.