All About Water Chestnuts and How to Cook With Them

Take your water chestnut know-how from basic to pro.

101636768 water chestnuts
Photo by Meredith Publishing.

The humble water chestnut is a crunchy staple in Asian-inspired recipes, from tasty stir-fry to the retro-cool bacon-wrapped chicken liver appetizer known as rumaki. But how much do you really know about the ubiquitous water chestnut? And how do you cook with them?

Water Chestnut Fun Facts

  • They're not nuts at all, though they look similar to the chestnuts that thrive in trees.
  • Water chestnuts love the mud, growing in marshes and paddy fields across Asia.
  • These are found on the root end of a grass plant, and while they're referred to as a root vegetable, they're technically not a veggie at all, but a tuber. Like a potato.
  • They were first cultivated in Africa, but truly embraced in China, and now around the globe.

Nutrition Nuggets

  • Water chestnuts are a great source of potassium — almost as much as a banana in a serving — and also have fiber, B-6 and even a little bit of protein. They're virtually fat-free, too.
  • These may not be a hit with the low-carb crowd, though, because the sweet taste translates to 3 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Fresh water chestnuts have twice the nutrients as their canned counterparts.
water chestnuts unpeeled photo by Leslie Kelly
In their natural state, fresh water chestnuts are a real treat. Photo by Leslie Kelly.

What to Look For When Shopping for Water Chestnuts

Price is often the driving force when it comes time to choose, and the cheapest option is almost always in cans. When purchasing canned, go for whole water chestnuts instead of sliced, as whole water chestnuts have a crunchier texture. Water chestnuts sold in jars are widely believed to have a fresher taste.

While canned water chestnuts are available in every supermarket from coast-to-coast, fresh water chestnuts have started making regular appearances in Asian grocery stores. When buying fresh water chestnuts, a good indication of quality is if they're full and heavy.

How to Store Water Chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts should be kept in the produce drawer of the fridge in a sealed container to help extend their shelf life. Use within a few days of purchase. After opening, leftover canned water chestnuts should be placed in cool, filtered water in a covered container in the refrigerator and used within a few days of opening, changing the water daily. Jarred water chestnuts can remain in their original glass container after they've been opened, and kept in the fridge. Stored this way, water chestnuts should be used within a few days of opening.

Prepping Water Chestnuts

Canned water chestnuts should be rinsed under cool, running water. To remove the "tinny" taste, soak the rinsed water chestnuts in fresh water with 1 teaspoon of baking soda for 10 minutes before slicing or chopping for various recipes.

To peel fresh water chestnuts, slice off the top and the bottom and remove the skin with a vegetable peeler. Rinse with cool, running water. Chop, slice, or dice into your desired shape and size to use in your next recipe.

How to Cook With Water Chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts can be eaten raw after they've been peeled. They're a favorite snack in Asia, served by street vendors. When cooking with fresh or canned, add both toward the end of the cooking process so they retain their maximum crunch. Because they have a more neutral flavor they are prized for their crunchy texture in a wide range of preparations from appetizers to desserts.

Top-Rated Recipes with Water Chestnuts

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