If you love eating Chinese food, you would have probably come across the Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) already. It is commonly used in Chinese cooking and is well-liked for its mild taste and crunchy texture. What is quite interesting about it is that the crunchiness remains even after it is cooked. Don’t be fooled by the name water chestnut because it is not a nut at all. Although they have the similar color and shape of an actual chestnut, water chestnut is a vegetable that grows in water. The stems of this plant are slender and long and grow above the water, while the water chestnuts that form the food source of the plant grow below water. Fresh water chestnuts have a mild sweet taste. However, they taste quite bland when they are canned. Low in fat, cholesterol and calories, this vegetable forms a wonderful addition to many dishes. Being nutritionally sound, water chestnut also has the reputation of having many health and medicinal properties.
Don’t get confused with water caltrop, which is also known as water chestnut or língjiǎo (Chinese) or Singhara / singada in India. These are plants of genus Trapa which bears starch filled fruit and also commonly cultivated in India and China.
Nutritional value of Chinese water chestnut
Chinese Water chestnut is a rich source of carbohydrates and fiber. It provides good amounts of vitamins like vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and B complex vitamins. Water chestnut is also an excellent source of many essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. But what sets apart this amazing vegetable is the presence of phenolic compounds and flavonoid antioxidants (quercetin, kaempferol, luteolin, catechins etc) that have the power to destroy free radicals and fight disease causing pathogens.
Health benefits of Chinese Water chestnut
Chinese Water chestnut provides a good amount of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients like fiber and antioxidants. These nutrients provide very important health benefits and also lower your risks of many diseases. In addition to the health benefits, they are also highly beneficial for your skin and hair.
Skin benefits of water chestnut
Water chestnut is an excellent detoxifier. It helps in removing harmful toxins from your blood, as a result of which your skin looks healthy and glowing. Studies reveal that this vegetable has antimicrobial properties and also contains an antibiotic compound known as puchin. The antibacterial and antimicrobial properties are very helpful in destroying the bacteria on your skin that may cause acne breakouts and other skin infections. As discussed before, water chestnut is a rich source of many antioxidants, which are powerful enough to scavenge the free radicals and neutralize the oxidation damage caused by them to your cells. This helps in preventing early aging and also in reducing wrinkles, fine lines and age spots. To reduce swelling and inflammation, powder the skin of water chestnut, make a paste of it and apply it on the affected area. Applying the paste made from powdered water chestnut seeds and lemon juice on your skin is an effective remedy for eczema.
Water chestnut benefits for hair
Just like the other parts of your body, proper and adequate nutrition is required for the healthy growth of your hair. Water chestnut is rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, B complex vitamins, potassium and zinc that ensure your hair remains healthy and beautiful with less damage.
Protect your heart with water chestnut
Water chestnut reduces the risk of heart diseases by lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure. This vegetable is a rich source of soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fiber has been found to be beneficial for lowering blood cholesterol. Water chestnut is also a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps in lowering high blood pressure by balancing the sodium in your body.
Water chestnut and digestion
The insoluble fiber in water chestnut adds bulk to your stool and aids in its easy removal. It also supports the healthy bacteria in your intestines and promotes digestion and better absorption of nutrients by your body. By regularizing your bowel movements, it prevents constipation and other digestive disorders. The juice of water chestnut has been found to be effective in controlling dysentery and diarrhea.
Water chestnut and diabetics
Being a low calorie and high fiber food with low glycemic index, water chestnut is a good option for people with diabetes. It helps in controlling your blood sugar levels and in managing your diabetes effectively.
Water chestnut and weight loss
The low calorie, low fat and high fiber content in water chestnut makes it a great addition to your weight loss diet. The fiber gives you the feeling of fullness and satiety, which in turn prevents you from overeating and snacking in between meals.
Water chestnut and cancer
Water chestnuts are considered to be effective in reducing your risks of developing cancer. The powerful antioxidants in this vegetable reduce the incidence of oxidative cell damage and DNA mutation by eliminating the harmful free radicals.
Water chestnut cools your body
Water chestnut is a wonderful coolant that helps in cooling down your body. So when it’s hot, try munching on this vegetable to quench your thirst and to get a cooling effect.
Water chestnut for thyroid health
The presence of iodine and manganese in water chestnut makes it effective in promoting healthy functioning of your thyroid gland.
Urinary infections and water chestnut
Water chestnut has excellent diuretic properties. It helps in relieving urinary tract infections by increasing the production of urine and flushing out the infection causing bacteria.
Water chestnut is a remedy for jaundice
Water chestnut has potent detoxifying properties and hence is highly recommended for people suffering from jaundice.
Water chestnut relieves symptoms of cold
Drinking the juice of water chestnut gives your relief from cough, sore throat and common cold.
Water chestnut improves bone health
Water chestnut is a good source of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium that help in strengthening your bones and in protecting them from breakage and other damages.
Water chestnut in treating measles
Drinking water boiled with water chestnuts is found to provide relief from measles. This drink is usually given to the patients from the third day to the ninth day of the cycle.
Side effects of water chestnut
Water chestnut is generally very safe to consume. However just like most other foods, some people may experience allergic reactions such as nausea, itching, stuffiness and difficulty breathing. In such cases, the consumption of water chestnut should be avoided and medical attention should be sought for immediately.
Selection and storage of water chestnut
While selecting fresh water chestnuts choose the ones that are firm with smooth skin. Make sure that there are no wrinkles or soft spots on the skin because such water chestnuts would have softened and become squishy on the inside. Before using them, you need to peel off the skin. Although water chestnuts are available both in the fresh and in the canned form, the fresh ones are far more superior and tastes better too.
Fresh water chestnuts that haven’t been peeled, if placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated will keep fresh for up to 2 weeks. Before cooking, make sure to cut the top off and peel the skin. Peeled water chestnut should be stored in cold water and refrigerated. It is important to change the water every day. Canned water chestnuts should be stored in a cool and dry place. It is better to use the canned ones within a year. Once you open the can, store the water chestnuts inside an airtight or sealed container in the refrigerator. Make sure to use them within 2 or 3 days.
Culinary uses of water chestnut
Water chestnuts are favored mostly because of their crunchy texture and their nutty flavor. They can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. The best thing about this vegetable is that it doesn’t lose its crunchiness even after it is cooked. As such they make a perfect ingredient in salads and stir fries. Cut the water chestnut into very thin strips and add them to any salad. A great way to make a stir fry is to fry water chestnuts along with mushrooms, spring onion, bean sprouts, ginger, garlic and bamboo shoots. Add water, corn starch and soy sauce to this stir fry, cook for a few more minutes and devour the exquisite taste. Water chestnuts can be used as a garnish to soups, to make sauces and also as a crispy filling.
You can add raw or cooked water chestnuts to any dish and they impart a sweet taste and crispness to that dish. They are highly versatile with a mild taste and so adding them to other dishes will not change the flavor of the dishes drastically. Water chestnut is more than just a tasty and crunchy vegetable. It has several health promoting qualities and also has the potential to fight many diseases. For those people who want good nutrition but are concerned about weight gain, water chestnuts, with their low fat content are perfect to be included in a healthy weight loss diet.Image Credits: Rochedale CG