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?
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).
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).
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).
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!
- Place a large skillet over a medium-high flame and add olive oil.
- Once the oil is hot, stir in the broccoli, snow peas, baby corn, and bell peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Toss in the water chestnuts, mint, and sesame seeds.
- Cook and stir well for about 3-5 minutes more, until the vegetables are tender.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper and give a final stir.
- 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.
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.
- Water chestnut, NewCROP, Center for New Crops & Plant Products, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- DNA scission inhibition, antioxidant, and antiproliferative activities of water chestnut (Trapa natans) extracted in different solvents, National Agricultural Library, United States Department of Agriculture.
- 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.
- Potassium lowers blood pressure, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
- 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.
- 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.
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