Water Caltrop   -   [Water Chestnut, Buffalo Nut, Bat Nut, Devil Pod, Ling Nut; Singhara; Pani-fol (India); Hishi (Japan); Lingjiao (China); Family Lythraceae, Trapa bicornis and Trapa natans, also Trapa rossica (endangered)]
Whole and Peeled Water Caltrops

These strange looking hooked pods are the seeds of floating water plants. They have been cultivated in India and China for more than 3000 years, and were much eaten in Europe from prehistoric times until near the end of the 19th century. They are now nearly extinct in Europe due to climate change and draining of swamps and wetlands, but Trapa natans has become a pest in North America, from Vermont to North Carolina and in Washington State.

The photo is of T. bicornis from East Asia, three in the shell, (3 inches point to point), and four shelled ones in the middle. T. natans is more triangular, with much shorter but sharper horns. It is the species listed as a "noxious weed" in much of the United States. Seeds do not float, and can remain viable for up to 12 years, which makes it difficult to eradicate. It's pretty hilarious that these are in the same plant family as the pomegranate.

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Buying:   These seed pods (T. bicornis) can be easily found in Asian markets here in Los Angeles, particularly in September and October. They are usually labeled "water chestnuts".

Cooking:   These are usually cooked very simply and eaten out of hand as an appetizer or snack.

  1. Wash the Caltrops.
  2. Bring sufficient Water to a boil, about 3 cups for 20 Caltrops.
  3. Stir in 1/2 T Salt, 1 Star Anise and the Caltrops.
  4. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Drain and let cool.

Eating:   I usually eat them plain, and have found this method most effective:

  1. First, cook them, as they are mildly toxic when raw. Drain and let cool.
  2. Bite down on the center, from top to bottom, to crack it, then break it in half. Biting from top to bottom takes less pressure than biting from side to side.
  3. Hold a half by the tip of the horn. Bite down fairly close to the tip. This will force the edible meat to pop out. If any significant amount remains in the shell, the shell is easily broken apart at this stage.

Health & Nutrition:   The seed meats are starchy and nutritious, with a good mineral content. They were a major food source in prehistoric Europe. Raw nuts are slightly toxic, but cooking destroys the toxin. As freshly harvested in Asia, they may have larval cysts of the intestinal parasite trematode Fasciolopsis buski, but these are destroyed by cooking.

In North America, the main health problem is from stepping on them. The sharp points, particularly of T. natans, can cause painful puncture wounds to feet.

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