What Is A Water Chestnut?

Explains how and where water chestnuts are grown and describes their nutritional benefits. Also details popular uses for this tuber.

The water chestnut, also called the Chinese water chestnut or the water caltrop, is a tuber vegetable that resembles a chestnut in color and shape. Although it is most commonly associated with Chinese cooking, it is now gaining in popularity as a cooking ingredient in many different ethnic meals. Originating in Southeast Asia, water chestnuts are the roots of an aquatic plant that grows in freshwater ponds, marshes and lakes, and in slow-moving rivers and streams. Currently, water chestnuts are grown in Japan, Taiwan, China and Thailand as well as in Australia. When harvesting water chestnuts, much labor is involved. Because of this, water chestnuts are fairly expensive to purchase, especially in a processed or canned form. However, processed and canned water chestnuts are the most common form used for producing and mass-marketing water chestnuts to consumers. You can easily purchase these products in most supermarkets and grocery stores. You can also purchase fresh water chestnuts, which are more difficult to find, at some specialty vegetable stores and ethnic markets. When purchasing fresh water chestnuts, however, know who your supplier is first to ensure that the tubers, which you are buying, are fresh.

Once you have purchased your water chestnuts, if canned, you can store them unopened in your home pantry. If a can has been opened or if you have purchased fresh water chestnuts, you can store them for up to one week in your refrigerator. However, you must keep the water chestnuts in a bowl of water. The water must also be changed every day in order for them to remain fresh while they are being stored.

Water chestnuts can be used in a variety of recipes because they have a starchy taste that is fairly neutral. Some people claim that their flavor is similar to a bland nut. Water chestnuts also have a firm and crispy texture, which adds to their appeal as an ingredient in stir-fries, salads, or any meals where the vegetables to be used must have a crunchy consistency. Some common uses for the water chestnut include the following:

* combining them with vegetables, such as bamboo shoots and snow peas, then adding soy sauce and other seasoning to make a stir fry

* adding them chopped to soups, salads, rice, and stuffing

* wrapping them whole with bacon then baking the pieces to serve as an appetizer or as a side dish.

Water chestnuts can also be used as a healthy and nutritious snack. For a quick treat, open a can of water chestnuts and rinse the water chestnuts thoroughly under cold water. Dry any remaining water off of the water chestnuts then eat them raw. Water chestnuts are also great for those who are looking for health-conscious vegetable alternatives because they contain little fat as well as provide a good source of fiber and of vitamin B. Additionally, water chestnuts contain a fair amount of the following minerals: calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc. They also offer a flavorful alternative to dieters who are looking to liven-up their meals by using unique and low-fat vegetables and foods. One cup of water chestnuts contains approximately 135 calories.

Water chestnuts will continue to be used as a cooking stable among Asian and international households because of their cooking diversity and because of their unique texture and interesting taste.

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