• Sumo

Perhaps you’re familiar with today’s spotlighted ingredient, but like me, have very little experience with it. There are certainly food items that crop up that everyone knows of but few of us really have an opinion of either way. I’m entirely that way with water chestnuts. I don’t seek them out when they’re an option on the menu, but I also don’t necessarily do away with them if they come across my life. They just sort of exist, and I’m fine with that. But like all things that exist, they must have some nutritional value to talk about, and thus, we have today’s nutrition facts article about water chestnuts. So let’s learn a bit more and give some real character to these nuts!

Water Chestnut Culture and History

If one thing was going to shift my perspective just a bit on the importance of the water chestnut, it was the knowledge that they were part of human history back in the prehistoric era. What we’re learned is that the peoples originally living in southern Germany relied quite a bit on water chestnuts to get them through the days as they were a supplemental bit of their diets, even making them the main parts when cereal crops were in short supply. Simply put, water chestnuts seemed to have saved early humans…at least those living in southern Germany.

If we jump over to China and skip ahead a few years (maybe a few thousand), we find that the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) included water chestnuts in worship prayers as a key offering food. There’s even a full ritual that needs to go into offering them as you can’t just drop them into a pail and say, “Here ya go.” But beyond worship, doctors of the time saw their use as fever reducers and drunk fixers. India also includes water chestnuts in spiritual rituals and are actually a food that can be eaten during certain days of fasting. I just find it fascinating that something can be considered so neutral that it doesn’t count on a day of fasting. That’s kind of cool.

Seems that the United States got water chestnuts in 1874, just a few years before Europe at large had a rise in water chestnut consumption and growth. Interestingly though, southern Germany, the apparent birthplace of the water chestnut, has very few of the trees left, making them an endangered species. Meanwhile, they’re so prominent in other places of the world that both Australia and the US have locations where water chestnuts are consider noxious weeds. To each their own I suppose! Time to take some of those noxious trees and transplant them to Germany already!

Health Benefits of Water Chestnuts

I’m really starting to see water chestnuts as the neutral food that they are. Part of this comes from their utter devotion to the middle line when it comes to nutritional benefits as they’re certainly not bad for you, but they don’t have anything spectacular in their favor either. They are a good source of potassium and fiber, plus they’re nearly devoid of fat while still also being low in calories. But they are high in carbohydrates, so they’re not completely without some guilt to them. All in all, they’re just sort of…there.

Water chestnuts are simply a basic food, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. They’re almost like the water of the nut world, nearly flavorless and acting as a blank slate in most cases. But that’s never a bad thing. A handful of water chestnuts have a time and a place, and added to a meal end up being fairly inoffensive, nutritionally speaking.

However, the dark side of water chestnuts comes from fasciolopsiasis, a type of parasitic fluke or flatworm. When these flatworms are still in their larval forms, they go ahead and find water chestnuts and other water plants and form cysts on the plants themselves, including leaves and fruit. Consuming an infected water chestnut while raw or uncooked could very easily result in the flatworm getting transferred to your stomach where it does its thing and sits in your intestines, growing up to 7.5 cm in length. Okay, water chestnuts suck now! Blech!

Eating More Water Chestnuts

Assuming you really want to eat more water chestnuts after my wonderful description of the flatworm, adding them to meals isn’t overly complicated, and most likely you’ll be getting them from a can anyway which removes the risk entirely. Usually you’ll find water chestnuts in Asian dishes like noodles and stir-fry, but for me my favorite is without a doubt hot and sour soup. A good bowl of hot and sour should pack a spicy kick, get your eyes watering, and smell like an elephant’s backside. I don’t know why, those are just the rules.

Beyond the best choice for water chestnut consumption (hot and sour soup), you can cook them up and eat them by themselves, chop them into a salad, chop them into a salad wrap, chop them into some pot stickers or eggrolls or veggie rolls or whatever, basically they can be chopped up and put in so very many things, so there’s no shortage of places that they easily fit in.

I’m sort of at a loss for really inventive ways to eat water chestnuts since they are, without a doubt, blank slates needing you to fill them with flavor and meaning. All that means is that I need your help figuring out the best way to eat them! How do you typically prepare them to turn them from simple crunchy additives to really flavorful treats? Leave a comment and let me know! Let’s find a way to turn water chestnuts into something I can’t wait to eat again!