Waterchestnuts are the small, flattened, round corms or bulbs of a reed-like plant. They are 4 centimeters in diameter and 2 to 3 centimeters tall. They take 6 to 7 months to develop and are harvested when the leaf stalks begin to die and the corms have developed a dark brown outer layer. Waterchestnuts have a bright white flesh with the texture of an Asian pear or apple. They offer a sweet, nutty flavor with a slight tartness.
Waterchestnuts are rich in potassium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, and riboflavin. They contain phosphorus, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. They are also a great source of antioxidants, especially ferulic acid, which helps them retain their crisp, crunchy texture when heated. Waterchestnuts contain a compound called punchin that has antibacterial properties.
Waterchestnuts can be eaten raw or cooked. The peel can be removed before or after cooking, and a peeler or paring knife can be used to remove the skin. Slice, dice, or leave them whole. Raw tubers can be eaten as is for a snack or shredded or grated for sads or slaws. Sweet applications call for adding waterchestnuts to heated sugared liquids like coconut milk, cow’s milk, or water. These can then be made into desserts or beverages. Waterchestnuts maintain their crisp texture even when cooked. Wrap slices of waterchestnuts in bacon and roast or toss in tapioca starch and fry. Add at the end of the cooking process to stir-fries, omelets, soups, or stews. They can be chopped or shredded and added to meat for dim sum filling. Unpeeled waterchestnuts can be stored in the refrigerator, in a sealed container with water, for up to 2 weeks. Peeled waterchestnuts need to be stored in water and can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Waterchestnuts are available in the fall and winter months through the spring.