What’s that food?

Water chestnuts and the tree chestnuts found in your backyard are not related and belong to two different plant families, though they do look very similar and both are delicious. There are two different plants that are referred to as water chestnuts. The one we’re describing is the the Chinese eleocharis dulcis, not the water caltrop. Water chestnuts are not nuts, but rather they are aquatic vegetables.

Most commonly cultivated in China, water chestnuts are a water plant that generally grows in ponds or marshes. They grow in the mud underneath the water, and are attachead to tubular green leaves that grow around 1.5 meters high. The white bulbs kind of look like a mix between a small peeled potato and a scallop.

The outer shell of the water chestnut resembles tree chestnuts in shape and colour, though water chestnuts are larger. They can be eaten fresh or cooked. Eaten raw, the starchy white flesh of water chestnuts is very crunchy, similar to an Asian pear, and the taste is slightly sweet and fruity. Eaten cooked, the flesh is firm and less crunchy, and the flavour is slightly nutty, though mild-tasting.

Water Chestnuts//Photo credit: Evan Ceretti

Water chestnuts are most commonly used in Chinese cuisine, as well as in other Asian cuisines. Fresh water chestnuts are often used as a key ingredient in Chinese sweets. The raw, fruity bulbs are also eaten as snacks, peeled and are consumed as is. Water chestnuts are recognizable in most cooked dishes by their distant crunch. They’re commonly used in stir-frys, so you may have chomped into one without even knowing.

The versatile aquatic vegetable is low in calories and high in minerals and vitamins. They contain no cholesterol and are low in sodium and fat. Additionally, they are high in potassium and provide 10% of the daily recommended value in vitamin B6, copper, riboflavin, and manganese. They make for a healthy addition to any meal. You’re more likely to see them sold in cans, but they’re also available fresh. The ones pictured were found at Global Grocery Store in Charlottetown.

About Evan Ceretti

Evan is a vegetarian foodie and freelancer based in Charlottetown. His two greatest loves are food and travel, which just so happen to be the perfect pairing. A graduate of Holland College’s journalism program, and of UPEI’s print journalism program, Evan enjoys writing about the local food scene as well as writing about gastronomic journeys from the other side of the world. He’s had to luxury of visiting 30 countries and traveling for more than 1,000 days. In Charlottetown, you’ll either see him riding his bicycle, eating curry, taking photos, or playing ultimate frisbee. Follow him on IG @Evanontheroad, and on Facebook at Evan on the Road.

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