Water chestnuts and chestnuts

For most Americans, water chestnuts are synonymous with the bland and crunchy sliced vegetable found in Chinese takeout and ’70s-era “Asian” salads. You know what I’m talking about—those yellowed coins that come in cans and taste primarily of the water and citric acid in which they’re stored. And, if they’re the only kind you’ve ever tried, their utterly unremarkable flavor can even be precisely what makes water chestnuts so appealing—like iceberg lettuce, they’re a delightfully crisp and profoundly mild-tasting delivery system for whatever sauce or seasonings they’re dressed in. But for those in the know, the canned specimens are nothing short of a travesty.

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What do fresh water chestnuts taste like?

That’s because real water chestnuts—the fresh kind, that is—are fantastically flavorful and downright fruity: sweet and nutty and tart all at once, like a cross between a coconut and an apple, with the texture of an Asian pear. Tasted side by side, the two iterations have about as much in common with each other as a piece of tuna sashimi does with a can of water-packed chunk light. “Fresh water chestnuts have a delectable crispness and delicate sweetness to their flavor that is entirely missing in the canned version,” says Fuchsia Dunlop, whose latest cookbook, Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes From the Culinary Heart of China, comes out this October.

Which is why, when it comes to cooking, “canned water chestnuts are barely an adequate substitute ,” writes Eileen Yin-Fei Lo in Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking. She’s so dismissive of them that she suggests buying jicama if you can’t find the fresh stuff. Dunlop is a bit more forgiving, but only to a point: “I think it’s okay to use canned water chestnuts if they are a minor element in a dish, added to give a little crunch rather than standing out on their own,” she says. “I occasionally use them in meatballs, for example. But if they play a major role in a dish and you can’t get the fresh ones, I’d say: Make another dish instead.”

Where can I buy them?

Happily, fresh water chestnuts are widely available at most Asian markets. On the streets of New York City’s Chinatown, you’ll find them sold in tubs, a dark and knobbly jumble encrusted in dried mud—the plant, Eleocharis dulcis, is indigenous to tropical Asian wetlands, where its edible, tuber-like corms flourish and multiply at the water’s edge, beneath long tufts of grassy sedge.* Once unearthed, though, water chestnuts are susceptible to rot; since the vast majority are imported from China and Taiwan, experienced shoppers tend to hover over the bulbs, giving each one a squeeze and selecting only the very firmest of the lot.

* It’s worth noting that Eleocharis dulcis is unrelated to Trapa bicornis, also commonly referred to as a water chestnut or water caltrop, which grows wild and has been classified as an aggressive invasive species in the United States.

What do I do with fresh water chestnuts?

A quick scrub under running water transforms the muddy corms into smooth and shiny bulbs with dark, purple-brown skin. Only then does their resemblance to the namesake nut emerge. Thankfully, peeling them is a heck of a lot easier than shelling actual chestnuts—a paring knife or, better yet, Y-peeler, will make short work of the skin, revealing the snow-white flesh within. But if you’re not using your water chestnuts right away, there’s no rush to wash or peel them, notes Yin-Fei Lo. “Unpeeled, with the remnants of mud still on their skins, they will keep in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days,” she writes. When rinsed and peeled, they’ll keep for an additional two to three days in a covered container, she adds.

Once you’ve tasted a fresh water chestnut, though, you probably won’t have to worry about storing them for too long. That’s because they make an exceptional snack. “In China, fresh water chestnuts may simply be peeled and eaten: Street vendors sell them skewered on sticks, like a fresh, fruity kebab,” says Dunlop. It’s her favorite way to eat them, and, after recently making my way through a bowl of crisp and juicy freshly peeled corms, I understand why.

Unlike the flavor-sapped canned variety, fresh water chestnuts are often used in China as a key ingredient in sweets. Around Lunar New Year, candied renditions are a popular treat, and, if you’re lucky, you may spot them prepackaged at your local Asian grocery. The corms can even be turned into a starch or flour for sweet cakes, according to Yin-Fei Lo. And, in Thailand and Vietnam, variations on a dessert called “rubies in coconut milk” find them stained red with food coloring, fruit juice, or alcohol and floating in a sweetened coconut milk broth.

Lion’s head meatballs with water chestnuts.

But the most common use for water chestnuts remains savory cooked dishes. Yin-Fei Lo slices and lightly cooks the corms for pan-fried egg noodles and fried rice, typically adding them to the wok for just one or two minutes before removing them from the heat. They’re a natural candidate for virtually any stir-fry, from Americanized Chinese takeout favorites to the mix of lotus root, water chestnuts, day lily bulb, and celery that Dunlop encountered in Suzhou—”the kind of subtle, lightly flavored dish that I don’t think you get so often in typical American takeout food,” she says. For a more mildly flavored crunch, they can also be finely chopped and added to wontons, siu mai, and meatballs.

If you can’t track down fresh water chestnuts locally, don’t despair—you can order the bulbs online. It’s pricey (at least, considering that my local vendor sells them for just two dollars a pound), but if you’re an intrepid gardener, you can sprout a corm or two in a bowl of water and plant them in a bathtub or kiddie pool. Just be sure to winter them indoors if you don’t live in a tropical climate. The growing cycle is slow—roughly six to seven months, all told—but they’ll multiply into dozens of corms in that time. As for me? I’ll be stalking the vendor around the corner from my office, so I can be sure to always have a batch to crunch on raw when the mood strikes.

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  • Many people get confused when it comes to conkers and chestnuts. They both look similar, and conkers is often called as horse chestnuts, and this confuses a lot of people. One thing we need to understand is that chestnuts are sweet and they are edible but conkers or horse chestnuts are poisonous, and they are not for eating purposes. Horse chestnuts may look very desirable to eat but it is toxic, and it can even cause paralysis. Both have a similar feature and people often mistake conkers for chestnuts.

    The following are some of the differences between a chestnut and a horse chestnut:

    Habit:

    Conkers trees are usually large, and they are more than 100 feet tall. The tree is dome-shaped, and during springtime, the tree has white flowers which have red dots at its base. While the chestnut trees grew only up to 40 feet and they also have white flowers, but it blossoms in June. The flowers of the chestnut tree produce a strong fragrance.

    Leaves:

    Both the trees are deciduous. Chestnut trees have yellowish green leaves which are shiny, and they turn completely yellow during the fall. Conkers leaves are greenish, but they are more coarse and large when compared to that of the sweet chestnut tree. The leaves of the horse chestnut trees become darker in colour when they mature.

    Nuts:

    The nuts of the chestnut tree are sweet, and they have two to three teardrop-shaped seeds. These nuts are brown, and they are also edible. Conkers on the other side are not edible as they have a chemical called aescin which is poisonous and it can cause vomiting and paralysis. Conker nuts are bitter and people often confuse conkers with chestnuts as both the nuts looks quite similar.

    Culture:

    Conkers needs well-drained soil. It thrives on any soil type as long as it is well drained. The chestnut trees need moist and well-drained soil. Both the trees require lots of sunlight and moisture in the soil.

    Habitat:

    Conkers is popular in the South-eastern part of Europe, and it grows in mixed forests. Chestnuts are from the United States of America, and they are found in the Eastern hardwood forests.

    Lore:

    Horse chestnuts are carried for good luck and charm. The British schoolchildren tie them to their shoelaces and play with them by smashing it hard on the floor.

    It is common for people to confuse between both these seeds as they look very similar. The rich brown colour makes both the seeds quite appealing. Some may feel that they could roast it and eat, but conkers must never be consumed in any form. It must not even be fed to horses just because it is named as horse conkers. When conkers were given to pigs, they refused to eat them, but animals like deer and wild boar eat these seeds as their body is capable of breaking down the chemicals that are present in the seeds.

    Water Chestnuts
    © Denzil Green

    There are at least three major types of Water Chestnuts: Chinese, European and Indian.

    “Chinese” Water Chestnuts

    There are other Chinese Water Chestnuts (such as the ones termed “European” below), but type described here are the ones most of us are most familiar with today.

    First, they aren’t nuts — they’re “tubers” — the root-like part of a rush-like plant that grows in fresh water. (Granted, their brown skin is kind of chestnut in colour.) The almost turnip-shaped tubers grow near the bottom of the pond or stream and are harvested from the water with forks. The Chinese treat these as a vegetable; they peel them and slice them and cook them up. UK Customs also consider them a vegetable, and not a nut. Who can blame us though for thinking all these years they were nuts: the cans said “nuts”, and they were already sliced up so we couldn’t see what they looked like before. You mean, they don’t grow sliced?

    Rich in fibre, these Water Chestnuts have a starchy but neutral taste to them and have a satisfying crisp, firm bite. They don’t all come from Asia anymore: some Florida growers are reporting success with cultivating these. And once those Florida people get started: watch out. Next thing you know, they’ll have Anita Bryant drinking Water Chestnut juice.

    The Chinese call these matai, pi chi, or pi tsi. But pay attention to the scientific name, “Eleocharis dulcis” (and sometimes Eleocharis tuberosa), as it’s going to be important for the next bit.

    “European” Water Chestnuts (Water Caltrops, Jesuit Nuts)

    These aren’t actually just European Water Chestnuts, but we’ll use that term for convenience.

    This variety is called “trapa natans” by botanists, so you can see right away by the very different scientific name that it’s a very different creature from the “Chinese” Water Chestnuts. For starters, it actually is a nut. These Water Chestnuts have been around for a long time in Europe. They were found in those now-legendary Swiss neolithic dwellings whose garbage piles were the object of much funding and study, where peas were also found. The variety has been in Europe since at least the Ice Ages. However, it’s now rare in Northern Europe; it’s completely extinct in Scandinavia, and people in the UK struggle to cultivate it. For the most part, it has retreated to warmer parts in Southern Europe, where even there it is considered endangered and has been designated a protected plant. Its decline is probably due both to colder weather and to over-harvesting by man. In Germany, it was honoured on a stamp in 1981. In Italy, it is used in some popular risotto recipes.

    This variety is native to Asia, where it is used in cooking. Many South-East Asian countries import this Water Chestnut from China for food. In both Asia and Europe, the nut is often eaten raw, though more usually it is boiled or roasted.

    Fast forward to North America. This Water Chestnut variety was first noted in North America in 1874 (though one of its names, “Jesuit Nut”, may indicate an earlier introduction.) By 1879, it was growing as an escape in the wild. It quickly proceeded to take over waterways in the North-Eastern United States; so much so that it is considered a noxious weed upon which millions upon millions have been spent in eradication attempts. The plants are clogging up the surfaces of waterways, creating a hazard for recreational boaters and cutting off light into the water for other plant species.

    The nuts are a problem in themselves. Though these “chestnuts” have the same colour as chestnuts, they actually aren’t anything as benign as the chestnuts that kids bean each other with. They have sharp, very strong barbed-spines on them (usually 4) that can pierce even leather-soled shoes, never mind unprotected feet, and make beaches and wading quite dangerous. They actually look quite demonic, with a little face and horns on them. A name for this plant in Europe is “Water Caltrop”, as the nut resembles the nasty weapon called a “caltrop” used in the Middle Ages to maim the feet of charging horses.

    How the plant reproduces is as it dies each year (it is an annual), it drops the horned-nuts to the bottom of the pond or stream where they spend the winter. A nut can lay dormant there, researchers believe, for up to 12 years. When it sprouts, it will grow a plant with 15 to 20 flowers on it, with each flower then producing 15 to 20 chestnuts. One acre of the plant will produce 100 acres the next year.

    The government people trying to control it are at wit’s end. They think they’ve removed it all from an area, as a few clear years will pass, and then dormant seeds hidden in the mud at the bottom of a pond will come to life, and within two or three years the whole area is covered again.

    The plant grows in the water, where its large leaves float on the surface (though sometimes it will occasionally grow on shores near water, making the government tear its hair out thinking that it’s evolving and becoming amphibious.) The hull of the nuts will be chestnut brown or black. The husks inside will be either green, red, or mottled red and green. The actual nut at the centre of all this will range anywhere from 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) wide.

    It is illegal to even plant these in many states. The solution, however, may be to stop trying to eradicate them, and instead encourage someone to export them to South Asia — or encourage local people to eat them. A few years of commercial interest in this plant should go a long way to knocking it off. North Americans who have tried them say they like the taste, comparing them to crunchy, juicy little coconuts.

    “Indian” Water Chestnuts (Singhara Nuts)

    Again, these aren’t actually just Indian (as in India); they are actually popular throughout South Asia.

    These are a good deal like the “European Water Chestnut”, but they have fewer spines on them, usually 2. Many farmers in India are encouraged to grow them as cash-crops; they’ll grow fish in a pond for half a year, then these chestnuts in their ponds for the other half. They are considered to be tastier than the “Chinese Water Chestnut” which is a tuber. In India, they are called singhara (or singara) nuts. The Latin name is “Trapa bisponosa”, so you can see how they are related to the “European” Water Chestnuts (and like them, they are actually nuts, not a tuber.) The “bisponosa” part of the name means “two-spines”, as in just two of those dangerous-looking pokey-out things instead of four like the “European” Water Chestnut above.

    Substitutes

    When using in uncooked dishes or in stir-fries, you could try substituting raw, sliced and peeled Jerusalem artichoke or Jicama, fresh or tinned. Crosne.

    Nutrition

    Sodium level will depend on the brand if canned.

    Nutrition Facts

    Per 1 cup (140g / 5oz) canned, sliced, drained

    Amount
    Calories 70
    Fat 0 g
    Cholesterol 0 mg
    Carbohydrate 7 g
    Fibre 2 g
    Protein .4 g

    Equivalents

    1 225ml (7.5oz) can of sliced, drained = 1 cup (135g / 4.75oz ) of drained

    1/2 cup, sliced canned, drained = 70g (2.5 oz)

    Storage Hints

    Store either fresh Water Chestnuts or opened canned ones in a bowl of water in the fridge for up to a week; change water daily.

    Take Your Water Chestnut Know-How From Basic To Pro

    The humble water chestnut is a crunchy staple in Asian-inspired recipes, from tasty stir-fry to the retro-cool bacon-wrapped chicken liver appetizer known as rumaki. But how much do you really know about the ubiquitous water chestnut?

    Image zoom Photo by Meredith Publishing

    Water Chestnut Fun Facts

    • They’re not nuts at all, though they look similar to the chestnuts that thrive in trees.
    • Water chestnuts love the mud, growing in marshes and paddy fields across Asia.
    • These are found on the root end of a grass plant, and while they’re referred to as a root vegetable, they’re technically not a veggie at all, but a tuber. Like a potato.
    • They were first cultivated in Africa, but truly embraced in China, and now around the globe.

    Nutrition Nuggets

    • Water chestnuts are a great source of potassium — almost as much as a banana in a serving — and also have fiber, B-6 and even a bit of protein. They’re virtually fat-free, too.
    • Not going to be a hit with the low-carb crowd, though, because the sweet taste translates to 3 grams of sugar per serving.
    • Fresh water chestnuts have twice the nutrients as their canned counterparts.

    Image zoom In their natural state, fresh water chestnuts are a real treat. Photo by Leslie Kelly

    What To Look For When Shopping For Water Chestnuts

    • Price is often the driving force when it comes time to choose, and the cheapest option is almost always in cans, water chestnuts sold in jars are widely believed to have a fresher taste. When purchasing canned, go for whole water chestnuts instead of sliced, as the whole water chestnuts have a crunchier texture.
    • While canned water chestnuts are available in every supermarket from coast-to-coast, fresh water chestnuts have started making regular appearances in Asian grocery stores. When buying fresh water chestnuts, a good indication of quality is if they’re full and heavy.
    • Fresh water chestnuts should be kept in the produce drawer to the fridge in a sealed container to help extend their shelf life. Use within a few days of purchase.
    • After opening, leftover canned water chestnuts should be placed in cool, filtered water in a covered container and used within a few days of opening, changing the water daily.
    • Bottled water chestnuts can remain in their original container after they’ve been opened, stored in the fridge. Stored this way, water chestnuts should be used within a few days of opening.

    Prepping Water Chestnuts

    • Canned water chestnuts should be rinsed under cool, running water. To remove the “tinny” taste, soak the rinsed water chestnuts in fresh water with 1 teaspoon baking soda for 10 minutes before slicing or chopping for various recipes.
    • To peel fresh water chestnuts, slice off the top and the bottom and remove the skin with a vegetable peeler. Rinse with cool, running water.

    Cooking With Water Chestnuts

    • Fresh water chestnuts can be eaten raw after they’ve been peeled. They’re a favorite snack in Asia, served by street vendors.
    • When cooking with fresh or canned, add both toward the end of the cooking process so they retain their maximum crunch.
    • Because they have a more neutral flavor they are prized for their crunchy texture in a wide range of preparations from appetizers to dessert.

    Top-Rated Recipes To Try

    Find more stories like this on Allrecipes’ Dish.

    Growing Water Chestnuts

    By Penny Ossowski

    To plant Water Chestnuts, research them now so you will have time to think about growing some after winter.

    Most of us would have seen tins of Water Chestnuts in the Asian Supermarkets of the Asian food section of our local supermarket. Those ones are fine but they taste even better when they are fresh.

    The Chinese Water Chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) is part of the Cyperaceae family, a sedge, which look like grasses and rushes, some grow in wet areas and some

    prefer poor soil, some common members of this family you may know are papyrus and nut grass. In Cantonese it is known as ‘Matai’ which translates as ‘horses hoof’, there is some resemblance. It is native to topical and temperate areas of East Asia, the pacific island, Madagascar and West Africa. There is also a native Australian variety which is found in the Northern Territory, which when given to the explorer Leichardt by the Aborigines said “it was the tastiest native food offered to him by the Aboriginals”. In its natural environments it would be found growing in marshy areas and on the edges of water ways. In the home garden this environment can be achieved by digging a pond or with some creative recycling. Suitable containers could include barrels, wading pools, cut down 44 gallon drums, old laundry or bath tubs, have you got the idea. I’m sure you can find something suitable.

    The edible part of a water chestnut is the corm which grows below the waterlogged soil. To prepare a container for planting put about 20cm sand, soil or potting mix which has been enriched with well rotted down manure, some garden lime/dolomite and blood and bone (the preferred pH is between 6.5 and 7.0). Bruce grows his water chestnuts in cracker dust with added sand, zeolite, seaweed and granular diatomaceous earth. Fill the container with water so it is a few centimetres above soil level and allow it to soak well for a few days. Drain off the excess water and allow it to sit for a couple of weeks so the manure and fertilisers have time to breakdown a bit. In ideal growing conditions one corm will multiply to 100 in a good growing season, some sources recommend in a square metre you should plant 1 corm others 2 some say plant them 30cm apart, I would go with 3 or 4 per square metre. Plant corms about 10cm deep in the soil, keep the soil moist but not submerged until their shoots are about 20 – 25 cm high, then fill with water to about 10cm above soil level. This water level should be maintained until the corms are ready to harvest. It takes about 8 months from planting until harvest. When the weather starts to cool in Autumn the leaves of the water chestnut will start to go yellow, which means they are almost ready to be harvested, drain off/remove the water leaving the corms in the wet soil for another month until the shoots die back and are straw coloured. If you don’t want to harvest them at this time remove the dead leaves and the corms can be left under the soil for the cooler months (a few cold nights will sweeten them) but come spring they will start to shoot again. In containers harvest the corms by hand to avoid damaging their delicate skins, the corms will usually be in the top 10cm of the soil.

    Select a couple of your best corms to store for planting in a few months when the warm weather arrives, keep them in a dark cool to cold place in cold water or damp sphagnum moss or damp sand. Corms that have been frozen or dried out will not grow. To store for later use seal in plastic bags in the bottom of the fridge, they will also keep well in cool damp sand. Bruce prepares a large (20cm) plastic pot with mulch or shredded paper in the base. This covered with a thin layer of seaweed. He lifts the water chestnuts with minimal root disturbance and places them in the pot. This is covered with a thin layer of seaweed. He lifts the water chestnuts with minimal root disturbance and places them in the pot. This is covered with a thin layer of seaweed and then more shredded paper and/or mulch. The pot is kept barely moist over winter. He places the pot in deep shade under a tree.

    Water chestnuts are shaped like a gladioli bulb with a shiny dark brown/black skin and between 3 and 5 in diameter. They should be thoroughly washed then peeled by first cutting off the top and bottom and then peeling the remaining skin, this can be easily peeled with your fingers to reveal a crisp white flesh, which can be

    eaten raw or cooked. Raw water chestnuts are usually sweet and have a nutty flavour and their flavour has been likened to coconut, apple and macadamia nuts. Even when they are cooked they will retain their crispness. They are a common ingredient cooked in many Chinese and Japanese dishes and also go well raw in salads. They can be added to stew, soup, curry, stir fries and almost anything. The Chinese dry and grind them into a flour which is used in several Chinese dishes and also to make a water chestnut cake. They can also be picked. In some parts of Asia they make a drink by either blending raw chestnuts in water or boiling them or their skins in water for 15 to 30 minutes and adding a little extra palm sugar to enhance the flavour. The drink tasted like water that has had sweet corn boiled in it and it is reputed to have cooling properties, popular on hot days in Asian cities. Canned ones are okay to use but the fresh ones are by far superior.

    Medicinally they are said to be helpful for coughs, measles, jaundice, urinary infections, fevers, diarrhoea, indigestion, sore throats, and diabetes, hypertension and mouth ulcers. Eating too many of them can cause gassy stomachs and bloating and pregnant women should avoid them.

    They are generally free from pest problems but ducks and geese will dig up and eat the corms if they are given the opportunity. Water rats also like them. Do not allow them to escape into our waterways as they could become a pest. As the water chestnut is grown in stagnant water in our warmed months mosquitoes may be attracted to the water to lay their eggs. Some suggested ways to avoid this are to add some small fish to the container or make a frame over your container and put mosquito netting over it. Bruce Ham moves a striped marsh frog into the pond and the problem is soon resolved.

    A water feature is supposed to be good feng shui, so make yours an edible water garden this coming spring and plant some water chestnuts in it. It is also a project young children might like to help with.

    Broccoli, Bean Sprouts and Water Chestnuts

    500g fresh broccoli 250g fresh bean sprouts 18 water chestnuts

    1 tbsp sesame oil 2 tbsp peanut oil 3 tbsp soy sauce

    1 teas sugar

    Divide broccoli into small sprigs, trimming off all but the most tender stems. Bring a small pan of lightly salted water to the boil, drop in the broccoli and return to the boil for 1 minute. Drain, and then plunge into cold water to stop cooking and to set the colour. Wash bean sprouts in cold water and drain in colander. Peel, wash and slice water chestnuts.

    Mix together oils, soy sauce and sugar in a container with lid and shake to mix well and dissolve sugar. Toss together vegetables and dressing in bowl and serve.

    Dim Sim

    500 g small cooked prawns 3 shallots – chopped 250g mined pork

    6 dried Chinese mushrooms ½ teas salt 1 tbsp soy sauce

    3 tbsp canned bamboo shoots 1 egg white 1 teas sesame oil

    1 tbsp Chinese wine or sherry 1 packet wonton wrappers

    Peel prawns and chop. Soak mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes then slice off and discard stems, chop mushroom caps. Chop bamboo shoots. Combine all the chopped ingredients with the pork, sale, soy sauce, wine, sesame oil and egg white. Mix well together and place 1 heaped teaspoon of mixture in the centre of each wonton wrapper. Gather the wrapper around the filling and press it closed to give the shape of a little money bag. Lightly oil a steamer and place Dim Sims in a single layer on the perforated tray. Cover tightly and steam over boiling water for 20 minutes. Serve hot or cold with your preferred dipping sauce.

    Water Chestnuts are available most years in season. Check online to buy Water Chestnuts to see if they are available in early spring.

    Growing Chinese Water Chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis) –
    This plant is native of tropical and temperate areas of East Asia, the pacific islands, Madagascar and West Africa. It naturally grows in marshy ground, which is seasonally flooded. It has half a metre to one metre high with light green cylindrical rush like foliage. It prefers a fairly heavy clay based soil with lots of organic fertilizer and a long hot growing season in a warm spot.

    Planting out-
    -Plant out corms in early spring or plants in summer so that the crown or growing tip of the plant is 3cm below soil level in pots or tubs.
    -If planting corms, allow to be only damp until you see the little green shoots coming out of the soil.
    -Once plants have started to grow, gradually increase the water supply either by flooding in tubs or lowering pots deeper into water till the growing tip is 4 to 10cm below the water surface.
    -As autumn arrives, either lift pots gradually out of the water or allow tubs to dry out by evaporation till they are no wetter than the average pot plant when winter arrives.
    -The tops will die back and be straw coloured.
    -Harvest the corms which will be anywhere through the top 100mm of soil only after there has been some good cold weather to sweeten the corms.
    -Large corms can be pealed and eaten raw or cooked in stir fry and other Asian cooking.
    -Store corms to be replanted next season in a dark, cold place in cold water or damp sphagnum moss.

    Good points about Chinese water chestnuts-
    – they are a good alternative food crop
    – they store well
    – suit permaculture principles by using another niche to garden productively
    – can be grown in a space as little as a 20cm pot which can be submerged in water.
    – have a great crispy texture even when cooked.
    Pests and problems-
    Water chestnuts are not very successful grown in dams where stock have access to the water edge as animals will eat the green growing tops. Ducks, wild and domestic will puddle in mud and dig up and eat the corms if given half a chance. When soil dry out towards the end of the season mole crickets and witchety grubs may burrow in the soil and damage corms, so watch out for evidence of tunnels.

    Water chestnut Cake Recipe –

    Ingredients-
    150g Water chestnut flour (from Asian grocery suppliers)
    One and a half cups water
    500g peeled water chestnuts, chopped
    60g butter
    Two thirds cup milk
    One and one half cups caster sugar

    Method-
    * blend flour with a little water to make a paste, Then gradually add the rest of the water and stir to mix.
    * In a saucepan place water chestnuts, butter, milk and sugar over moderate heat and bring to the boil, stirring often.
    * Add half the flour mix and stir well, the repeat, adding the rest of the flour mix and stir constantly till mix is thick and leaves the sides of the pan.
    * pour into a greased 7 or 8 inch cake tin, cover well with foil and place into a steamer over boiling water for 25 to 30 minutes.
    * allow to cool in the tin then turn out and slice into diamond shapes to serve.
    * stores well in the fridge for days and is a great addition to any Asian meal.

    Are Water Chestnuts Good For You? How To Eat Them? Swathi Handoo Hyderabd040-395603080 October 10, 2019

    Did you know that some vegetables grow underwater too?

    Water chestnuts are a good example. Going by their name, you may think they belong to the family of chestnuts. Wrong! Chestnuts grow on trees, while water chestnuts grow underwater.

    They are more like fruits of an aquatic plant that grows in shallow waters. They are used in Indian, Chinese, and several European cuisines. Research proves them to be storehouses of minerals and antioxidants. But, how do they help your body? How can you consume them? Are they safe? How do they taste?

    Keep scrolling to find the answers!

    Table Of Contents

    What Are Water Chestnuts? What Are Their Varieties?

    Water chestnuts are not nuts. They are aquatic/underwater vegetables (or corms)that grow in China, India, and parts of Europe. Two species are grown under the name of water chestnuts – Trapa natans (a.k.a water caltrops or Jesuit nut) and Eleocharis dulcis (1), (2).

    Trapa natans (water caltrop or ‘ling’) is grown in Southern Europe and Asia. Eleocharis dulcisis grown extensively in China. Therefore, Trapa natans is called the European water chestnut, while the latter is known as the Chinese water chestnut (1), (2)

    The European chestnut has three to four spiky, angled, orthogonal, large fruits. The edible part is the nut-like inner core. The Chinese water chestnut, on the other hand, looks more like a turnip-shaped tuber – round and softer.

    Both these species are invasive and aggressive weeds. They grow quickly and form dense mats on ponds, lakes, and shallow-deep water bodies (2).

    However, locals enjoy eating these aquatic vegetables. Peeled water chestnuts are roasted, boiled, steamed, ground, and cooked in various ways. You can see it being widely used in Asian cuisine,particularly in authentic Chinese food.

    Ever wondered why?

    Keep reading!

    Why Are Water Chestnuts Popular?

    Water chestnuts are storehouses of minerals, vitamins, starch, fiber, and phenolic compounds. Their starch and fiber content makes them a good addition to your regular diet.

    Since they have a high nutritive value, water chestnut is linked to several health benefits. It is an essential component of Ayurveda. It is known for its diuretic, antiseptic, and digestive properties.

    Water chestnut preparations can help treat dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhage, fractures, and inflammatory disorders (3). To know more about the health benefits of water chestnuts, scroll down!

    What Are The Benefits Of Water Chestnuts?

    Water chestnuts are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds aid in correcting digestive issues, anemia, and fatigue. They can also help reduce fever, pain, and inflammation.

    1. Relieve Pain And Inflammation

    According to clinical trials, water chestnut extracts inhibit the production of inflammatory compounds like interleukins and nitric oxide. The active chemicals in this fruit downregulate the genes responsible for producing these compounds (4).

    The phenolic antioxidants in water chestnuts scavenge free radicals in your system and prevent them from inducing organ damage, inflammation, and pain. Hence, water chestnut has a potent pain-relieving (analgesic) effect on your body (4).

    With these properties, this aquatic vegetable can be used to treat skin irritation, stomach ulcers, fever, and age-related brain disorders (3), (4).

    2. May Help In Managing Diabetes

    Root vegetables like water chestnuts store water and nutrients and supply them to the plant. Hence, they are rich in fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and starches. Making water chestnuts a part of your diet may help manage diabetes (5), (6).

    Though this vegetable has fair amounts of starch, its fiber and antioxidant content have the upper hand (5), (6).

    3. Possess Antioxidant And Anticancer Effects

    Potent antioxidant effects have been identified in various parts of water chestnut. Multiple experimental studies showed that the fruit and peel extracts of water chestnuts scavenged free radicals in subjects (7).

    Hence, water chestnut can prevent/slow down lipid peroxidation, tumor proliferation (growth and metastasis), and DNA damage induced by free radicals. Flavonoids like luteolin, fisetin, and diosmetin are responsible for this property (7), (8).

    According to lab trials, Chinese and European water chestnuts may exert anticancer activity against human breast, lung, and colon cells (8).

    4. May Lower Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

    Water chestnuts are high in minerals. Compared to wheat flour, water chestnut flour has higher potassium, magnesium, zinc, and copper content. This flour also retains its antioxidant properties, unlike wheat flour. Including it in your diet can help in regulating blood pressure (9).

    Along with water chestnuts, adding dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables also enhances heart health. Such high-potassium foods are known to relax your heart muscles and prevent stroke (10).

    Moreover, these vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates. They may help people with hypertension to lose weight (10).

    5. Exhibit Antimicrobial Activity

    Water chestnut extracts can eliminate bacterial strains like Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Listeria monocytogenes. Shigella sonnei and Bacillus cereus were also found to be susceptible in another study. Water chestnut extracts inhibited the growth of helminths (worms and insects) as well (11), (12), (13).

    These studies prove the antibacterial nature of green and red water chestnuts. Since they can kill several pathogenic strains, their extracts can be used to treat bacterial infections (11), (12).

    Moreover, this antibacterial activity is comparable to the effect of standard antibiotics (like kanamycin). Therefore, adding water chestnut to your food may increase its shelf life (11). This plant may also purify water bodies with this antimicrobial effect.

    Such health and ecological benefits are attributed to the mineral, vitamin, and phytochemical content of water chestnuts.

    Find out more about their nutritional value in the following section.

    Nutritional Profile Of Water Chestnuts

    The water chestnut plant contains minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, sodium, and potassium.

    The fruit kernels contain vitamins A, B, and C, and functional proteins.

    The water chestnut fruits contain carbohydrates, minerals, and fair amounts of phenolic compounds. The flavonoids, flavones, saponins, phytosterols, oils, and tannins in them contribute to their antioxidant properties. It is these polyphenols that scavenge free radicals from your system (14).

    Consuming water chestnuts means supplying your body with all these phytonutritional components.

    How can you do it? Can you eat raw water chestnuts or should they be processed?

    Keep reading for answers!

    How To Use/Consume Water Chestnuts

    Freshwater chestnuts can be eaten raw after peeling and washing them well. They are crispy and taste mildly sweet, similar to lotus root.

    No matter how long you cook or steam them, these corns have a magical power to remain crunchy.

    Therefore, you often see them added to soups, ramen, stew/stocks, and any broth-like preparation for a fresh and crunchy twist.

    Don’t you want to taste water chestnuts? Let’s stir up something quick with them!

    Here’s a simple recipe you can try in your kitchen right away!

    Water Chestnut And Veggies Stir Fry

    What You Need

    • Olive oil: 1-2 tablespoons (enough for a stir fry)
    • Water chestnuts: 1 ounce (canned or fresh), sliced
    • Broccoli florets: 5-6, washed and cleaned
    • Snow peas: 1 pound, fresh, trimmed
    • Baby corn kernels: 6-8, fresh, sliced into halves
    • Bell peppers: 1-2 medium-sized, sliced long
    • Fresh mint: 1 tablespoon, chopped
    • Sesame seeds: 2 tablespoons
    • Salt: to taste
    • Pepper: to taste
    • Skillet: 1, medium-large

    Let’s Make It!

    1. Place a large skillet over a medium-high flame and add olive oil.
    2. Once the oil is hot, stir in the broccoli, snow peas, baby corn, and bell peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
    3. Toss in the water chestnuts, mint, and sesame seeds.
    4. Cook and stir well for about 3-5 minutes more, until the vegetables are tender.
    5. Sprinkle salt and pepper and give a final stir.
    6. Serve hot alongside rice, noodles, or flatbreads.

    Such sides or stir-fries are a super healthy and tasty way of incorporating these nutty water vegetables into your diet.

    This dish can give your body a boost of antioxidants and much-needed micronutrients.

    You can find a horde of such quick, simple, and nutritious recipes with water chestnuts. They go very well with greens, chicken, and meat dishes.

    You can dry water chestnuts and get them milled for flour. Water chestnut flour can be used in baking and cooking, similar to wheat flour.

    But before you think about cooking with it, let’s talk about how to pick the best water chestnuts at the grocery store.

    How To Buy Water Chestnuts

    You can find fresh water chestnuts if you live close to a pond or a lake that has been invaded by this plant. If not, you can get them from supermarkets that sell international foods or Asian grocery stores.

    Pick the hard and glossy ones. Ensure that they have no pits, bruises, or mushy spots. Good quality and healthy water chestnuts should look bright and white on the inside. They should taste sweet and nutty.

    How To Store Water Chestnuts

    After buying water chestnuts, store them unpeeled in paper bags in the refrigerator for up to a week. You can also freeze them in suitable containers. They last up to 5-6 months at 0ºF.

    It is better to peel water chestnuts just before use. Storing peeled ones in water may rob them of their fresh taste and texture.

    If you still wish to do so, keep them in this condition only for 2-3 days. Change the water every day.

    Some of us find it convenient to cook and store such vegetables. The best way to do so is to boil water chestnuts, peel them, pack them in freezer bags/suitable containers, and freeze.

    Label the bags with the date of packing. Leave enough headspace in each bag to prevent rotting or partial freezing.

    Cooked, peeled, and frozen water chestnuts will last up to a year if stored the right way.

    Another fuss-free option is using canned water chestnuts. Good quality water chestnuts are washed, peeled, and stored in brine (saltwater) before canning. You can buy them here.

    You can use canned water chestnuts just like the fresh ones. They taste similar. Once opened, the leftovers need to be stored in fresh, filtered water. Change the water every day.

    How Can You Tell If Water Chestnuts Have Gone Bad?

    Water chestnuts spoil quickly if not stored well. Do not use the canned contents if they smell off and feel slimy.

    Fungal molds may develop in the containers if you don’t change the water. This can also happen in the cans.

    Be careful when you are buying water chestnuts – fresh or canned ones.

    Sometimes, the fresh ones may be picked from a lake/pond that has polluted/contaminated water. Therefore, stick to a trusted source/brand.

    Also, check the expiration date and storage conditions before purchasing canned water chestnuts.

    In Summary

    Water chestnuts are aquatic corns that grow in shallow water bodies. The plant and its fruits are rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and starches. This is why they have been traditionally used to treat dysentery, diabetes, and blood pressure.

    Their antioxidant activity is also thought to reduce the risk of cancer. However, there is not enough information about its safety and side effects.

    Hence, talk to your dietitian or healthcare provider about water chestnuts. If permitted, try cooking and baking with it. Follow our storage tips to recreate that favorite Chinese dish of yours any time of the year! Share your feedback in the section below.

    14 sources

    Stylecraze has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

    • Water chestnut, NewCROP, Center for New Crops & Plant Products, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University.
      https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/Crops/WaterChestnut.html
    • Water chestnut, Environmental Fact Sheet, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences.
    • Trapa bispinosa Roxb.: A Review on Nutritional and Pharmacological Aspects, Advances in Pharmacological Sciences, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941599/
    • Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Water Chestnut Extract on Cytokine Responses via Nuclear Factor-κB-signaling Pathway, Biomolecules & Therapeutics, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4286755/
    • Non-Starchy Vegetables/Protein/Fat, Comprehensive Diabetes Center, University of Michigan.
    • The pros and cons of root vegetables, Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
      https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-pros-and-cons-of-root-vegetables
    • Antitumor, Antioxidant, and Nitrite Scavenging Effects of Chinese Water Chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) Peel Flavonoids. Journal of Food Science, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27603811
    • DNA scission inhibition, antioxidant, and antiproliferative activities of water chestnut (Trapa natans) extracted in different solvents, National Agricultural Library, United States Department of Agriculture.
      https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/catalog/1258235
    • Wheat-water chestnut flour blends: effect of baking on antioxidant properties of cookies, Journal of Food Science and Technology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5223262/
    • Potassium lowers blood pressure, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
      https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/potassium-lowers-blood-pressure
    • Characterization and antimicrobial properties of water chestnut starch-chitosan edible films. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23831899
    • Environment friendly antibacterial activity of water chestnut fruits, Journal of Biodiversity and Environmental Sciences, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    • Anthelmintic Activity of Fruit Peel and Root Extracts of Trapa natans L. var. bispinosa Roxb, Academic Journal of Plant Sciences.
    • Pharmacognostical evaluation and phytochemical studies on Ayurvedic nutritional fruits of Trapa natans L. International Journal of Herbal Medicine, Academia.
      https://www.academia.edu/19548752/Pharmacognostical_Evaluation_and_Phytochemical_studies_on_Ayurvedic_Nutritional_Fruits_of_Trapa_natans_L

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    Swathi Handoo

    Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.

    As the winter starts in India, one can observe innumerable hawkers with Singhara or water chestnut on the roadsides. The market is also flooded with this aquatic vegetable. The crispy and crunchy features of it are mouth watering. Due to its low price value and on the other hand of higher nutritional facts, more or less all the people like to purchase it. I also like to bring it for myself as well as for my family members. I relish its crunchy and crispy aspects.

    What is water chestnut?

    Water chestnut is an aquatic vegetable, native of Asian continent and generally grown in muddy or marshy area of the land. It is having the shape of tube and its stems are without leaves. The edible part of the vegetable is the corms, which is whitish in colour. Often, they are eaten raw. They are also used after slightly boiled. They are used to make flour and cake (water chestnut cake). Singhara is rich in carbohydrate, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are crispy and crunchy.

    Common name of water chestnut

    Water chestnut is known by various names in different countries. In China, it is known as Chinese water chestnut, apulid in Philippines, apulid (Vietnam), somwang (Thailand) and Singhad, shingada, or singoda in India. Its biological name or botanical name is Eleocharis dulcis. The other names of water chestnut are water caltrop and Trapa natans.

    Amazing uses of water chestnut

    They are used along with coriander, rice, noodles, ginger, sesame oil and bamboo shoots, etc. and give the taste of crunchy and crispy. In Thailand, it is the important component of famous Thai desert ‘tabtim krob’. In the developed countries, it is used along with bacon strips as an hors d’oeuvre and mix with drinks in Indonesia. They are used in many forms such as powder, juice, cake, flour, sliced, eaten raw and steamed.

    Surprising benefits of water chestnuts

    1. Rich in potassium: It has enough amount of potassium, which helps to counter the effect of sodium and good for lowering blood pressure as well as for your heart. 5 raw water chestnuts have 5% of daily recommended of your potassium intake.
    2. Alleviate nausea: the drinking of water chestnut juice is helpful in easing out of nausea. Singhara juice is good for jaundice.
    3. Lowers cardiac risks: It helps to lowers down the level of cholesterol and discourages the absorption of carbohydrate. 100 grams of it contains 2 g of fiber.
    4. Good for sound sleep: The presence of Vitamin B-6 is good for sleeping as well as alleviating your mood. It produces neurotransmitters that are effective for your mood and sleep.
    5. Good for measles: Boiled water of water chestnuts is good for measles patients.
    6. Good for thyroid gland: Due to the presence of iodine, it is effective in the proper functioning of thyroid gland.
    7. Hair growth: It has sufficient amount of potassium. It is also having vitamins B and E. All these nutrients are good for healthy hair.
    8. Control loose motions: It has cooling effects and acts like as coolant.
    9. Anti-viral: The presence of anti-oxidants like poly-phenols and flavonoids , it acts as anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer and anti-fungal.
    10. Good for fetal growth: During pregnancy, it is helpful in the growth and development of fetal.
    11. Good for skin: It helps to detoxify the body and gives overall good appearance. The paste of water chestnuts and lemon juice is good to cure eczema.
    12. Regulates water retention: It has the balancing effects in the body due to the presence of enough amount of potassium and lower amount of sodium thus helps in regulation of water retention.
    13. Cure phlegm: Its juice is good in curing of phlegm.
    14. Secretion of mother milk: It is good in the secretion of milk by stimulating the mammary gland.
    15. Sore throat: Eating the vegetable is helpful to cure sore throat.

    Nutritional facts

    The nutritional value of Singhara is as follow:

    Water chestnuts nutritive recipes

    The following recipes can be made from this important vegetable.

    • Bacon wrapped water chestnuts
    • Snow peas with water chestnuts
    • Bacon water chestnut appetizer
    • It can be used in preparing of many recipes like Egg rolls, Moo Goo Gai Pan, vegetarian potstickers, vegetarian cabbage rolls, ultimate chicken stir-fry and stuffed green peppers.
    • Cashew shrimps with water chestnuts

    Availability period

    Water chestnuts are available throughout the year. But in the tropical climate, especially in the Asian region, it is abundant in the winter season. In United States of America (USA), it is grown in the states of California and Florida. For having Singhara round the year, you have to use either packed or tin products.

    Selection process

    The selection of singhara is some sorts of a tedious job. Selecting or getting the smooth skin of this vegetable is not an easy task. Very few pieces are of even in shape. Maximum of them are wrinkled. So, while purchasing of it, one should take more quantity of it because many of them are get rotten or decay.

    How to store

    Uncooked or raw Singhara without unpeeling can be kept for 4 to 5 days. The storage process for the peeled water chestnuts; extra precautions have to be taken care of. It can be put in the refrigerator for two weeks dipping into water. Water should be changed daily to maintain its taste. However, canned water chestnuts can be kept for one year. Once it opened, it should be consumed at the earliest. It is advisable to eat the fresh form of it to get the maximum benefits of the vegetable. The fresh form is more tasty, crispy and crunchy.

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    Water chestnuts, those little round discs that provide crunch to so many Chinese takeout dishes, are not nuts at all, let alone chestnuts.

    They are a vegetable that grows in conditions similar to rice.

    In Southern China, water chestnuts can often be found growing alongside rice paddies. The water chestnut itself is the aquatic bulb of a marsh plant by the Latin name of Eleocharis dulcis.

    These solid bulb-like parts, which grow in the muddy soil, are known as corms by botanists. These corms have a loose, papery, mahogany colored covering with a uniform, solid interior. In outward appearance, they resemble a chestnut shaped like a slightly rounded disc, which is how they got their name. They are grown extensively in China and the Philippines.

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    Although the canned version we get in the West taste like crispy potatoes with a slight “canned” taste, when fresh they are snappy and sweet and can be used in raw as well as cooked dishes. Unlike other starchy vegetables, they maintain their texture when cooked.

    Fresh Water Chestnuts are Much Better than Canned

    We often hear that the canned version of a vegetable is inferior to fresh. Often, this is an unfair and knee-jerk reaction. However, the canned version of water chestnuts, which have almost no taste, are quite inferior to fresh which lose a lot of their sweetness and take on a tinny taste. Fortunately, fresh water chestnuts have been available in Chinese grocery stores since the 1980’s so if you want to try the real thing, you can, although it may take a bit of travel for those of us without an Asian market nearby.

    One whole and one sliced open water chestnut

    Buying and Storing Water Chestnuts

    They basically grow in mud and when sold fresh, they will probably still be covered in mud. When buying, you want a nice outward appearance without a lot of defects or soft spots, which means bruising that can affect the taste. The mud might obscure quality so bring a cloth or paper towel along to rub off some of the mud so you can check the shell. Good ones will have a hard, shiny appearance.

    It is okay to wash water chestnuts before storing, but do not peel until you are ready to use, as the flesh will turn brown, similar to apples, when exposed to air. After washing, store wrapped in paper towels in the fridge, for up to two weeks. When you are ready to use them, peel and use immediately or place them in water to retard browning. They can be eaten raw, as in salads, or used in cooking of any kind. Fresh water chestnuts become more flavorful when cooked.

    When using canned water chestnuts, it is possible to remove some of the tinny taste by boiling them in water for about one minute. Although they will still taste bland, compared to fresh, they will still give a satisfying crunch to your Asian dish.

    Water chestnut image © Shariff Che’Lah

    Water chestnuts

    An ingredient with a very unusual, utterly reliable crunch and light sweetness. They are not chestnuts or nuts but the corms of an aquatic vegetable that is native throughout Asia, Africa, Australia and Pacific Islands. The texture and flavour is closely related to that of lotus root. The corms can be made into a flour for a steamed cake familiar to habitués of dim sum restaurants.

    Water chestnuts can be eaten raw but this is not advisable as some might come with disease from the water in which they grew.

    Availability

    Most easily found canned in Asian supermarkets.

    Choose the best

    Nothing should be added, and water chestnuts canned in water or brine will be more useful than those in vinegar.

    Store it

    Once opened, treat like other cooked vegetables, keeping them chilled and covered, for up to a week.

    Cook it

    The great appeal of the water chestnut is its magical ability to stay crisp no matter how long it is cooked. So, sliced, grated, or cubed, it is a totally reliable addition for texture to almost anything, ideally of an Asian bent. You might add tiny cubes to mashed garlic and parsley potatoes, to the stuffing of roast chicken or duck; thin slices make welcome additions in dishes like green beans with a touch of sweet chilli sauce.

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