Lotus root is an oblong, tubular rhizome or stem that grows underground in bodies of water, averaging 5-10 centimeters in diameter and 10-20 centimeters in length. Appearing like underwater sausage links, the rhizomes are connected to other rhizomes via smaller roots creating groupings of 3 to 5 and can grow to be over one meter in length as a whole. When young, Lotus root has a firm texture with light purple to white skin that transforms into a brown-beige hue with darker brown speckling when mature. Underneath the thin skin, the flesh ranges in color from ivory to white and is crisp, light, and starchy. There are also numerous, symmetrical, air pockets patterned into a pinwheel shape in the flesh that extend the entire length of the rhizome. Lotus root has a dense and crunchy texture with a nutty and sweet flavor, similar to that of a water chestnut or taro root. The younger roots are more tender and used for fresh culinary purposes, whereas mature roots are used in extended cooking applications to develop a tender, potato-like texture.
Lotus root is high in dietary fiber, which can aid in digestion, and is considered a good source of energy as it is high in carbohydrates. It also contains vitamin C, manganese, zinc, iron, copper, vitamin B, potassium, and magnesium.
Lotus root is best suited for cooked applications such as steaming, frying, braising, stir-frying, and boiling. After peeling the root, it should be immersed in acidulated water using vinegar or citrus to prevent discoloration. Lotus root can be blanched just slightly to remove any bitterness, cooled, and added to salads or crudité. It can also be sliced and braised until tender in soups; stir-fried, battered and fried into tempura, or thinly sliced and baked into chips. In India, Lotus root is boiled, mashed, and added to vegetarian kofta, which is a dumpling dish paired with spicy sauces. A traditional Korean dessert also utilizes Lotus root with soy sauce, honey, and sesame seeds called yeongun bokkum. Lotus roots pair well with mushrooms, peppers, snap peas, snow peas, asparagus, corn, celery, cucumber, oyster sauce, peanuts, red beans, and sesame seeds. Lotus root will keep for up to two weeks when stored whole, wrapped in damp paper towels, and placed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Sliced Lotus root can be stored in an acidulated water solution for a couple of days, or it can be frozen for long-term storage.
Lotus root is available year-round, with a peak season in the fall.