[Chinese Water Chestnut; Biki (China); Apulid (Philippine); Cu ma they, Cu nang (Viet); Somwang (Thai); Singhada (India); Eleocharis dulcis]
Water Chestnuts are native to China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Australia, Pacific Islands and tropical Africa. They are extensively farmed in Southern China and the Philippines, where they grow well in flooded rice paddies and lotus ponds.
Mature plants produce the underground "corms" we call Water Chestnuts as a means of propagation. Their crunchy texture and slight sweetness are appreciated in soups and stir fries. A notable feature is that they remain crisp and crunchy even after cooking or canning, making them a good texture accent.
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Canned Water Chestnuts are very convenient, but the difference in taste between fresh and canned is amazing. For recipes where Water Chestnuts are a significant feature, you want fresh if at all possible.
Water chestnuts contain a lot of starch, 60% by dry weight. This starch makes a particularly crisp coating for fried foods, much liked in Southeast Asia. It is also used as a thickener, and in China, is used to make some types of cakes and dumplings.
Buying: Fresh Water Chestnuts are available from many Asian markets. Here in Southern California, they are occasionally available in upscale supermarkets and yuppie outlets. Inspect them for mold. The photo specimens were purchased from a large Asian market in Los Angeles (San Gabriel) for 2016 US $1.99 / pound.
Canned Water Chestnuts are available in the "Chinese" section of most supermarkets, whole and sliced. I suggest always buying whole, as the flavor is marginally better, and you can slice them so easily yourself.
Storing: Fresh Water Chestnuts should be rinsed well, drained well, and refrigerated. Packed loosely in plastic, they will keep for a week or so. Discard if they get moldy.
Prep: For fresh Water Chestnuts, use a sharp vegetable slicing knife to take a thin slice off the top and bottom. Then peel around the rest with your vegetable peeler. You will notice each corm has a "belly button" off to one side, where it was attached to the parent plant. If deep, it is easily gouged out.
Health & Nutrition: Water Chestnuts are about 90% dry weight carbohydrates, 60% of dry weight is starch. They are also significant sources of dietary fiber, riboflavin, vitamin B6, potassium, copper, and manganese.
In India and other parts of Asia where pigs are raised near where water chestnuts grow, eating them (or other aquatic plants) raw can convey the parasitic trematode worm Fasciolopsis buski. This is not a problem with canned water chestnuts, which are lightly cooked, or fresh ones sold in North America which are from commercial ponds, not from peasant farms.sd_wchestz 161216 - www.clovegarden.com