The water chestnut is an aquatic-grown bulb (a root or technically a “corm”). Eaten raw or cooked, it is moist and crisp. As a vegetable, it is an important addition to many Asian dishes, especially in stir-fries. The little water chestnut is often included as much for its texture as it is for taste in dressings and appetizers.
Water chestnuts grow naturally in calm bodies of water and are produced commercially in flooded fields.
- Fresh water chestnuts can be purchased at Asian markets. These are referred to as “Chinese.”
- Ethnic stores may also stock flour from dried chestnuts, which - as a starch - is used to thicken liquids.
- Canned products, whole or sliced, are not as flavorful as the fresh bulbs, but available in most grocery stores.
- The Chinese root should not be confused with the European water chestnut. Known as the water caltrop (Trapa natans) – it is from a different plant species and contains toxins and parasites unless cooked. There are other varieties in this family (grown throughout Asia) with the same toxic qualities.
- Fresh unpeeled chestnuts are similar in appearance to their nut namesake. Look for a firm outer shell – it will require peeling before use. Do not select any with sprouts.
- When purchasing loose chestnuts, always add a little extra to the bag. Some will probably be unusable.
- Fresh, peeled chestnuts should be submerged in water, sealed in a container, and refrigerated. Change the water daily. Unpeeled, they will remain edible for about two weeks if kept in a plastic bag.
- After opening, refrigerate canned chestnuts and use within four days.
- Do not wash unpeeled chestnuts until ready to use. (Dirt protects the inner fruit.)
- Always rinse canned chestnuts to remove the metallic container taste.
- The crispness remains when cooked, even at high heat.
- Keep sliced chestnuts on hand for adding to fresh salads.