Fresh water chestnuts at a wet market.
Fresh water chestnuts with remnants of mud still on their purple-brown skins at a wet market in Singapore. (Photo Credit: Christine Cognieux)

Water chestnuts are not the same chestnuts that you roast on an open fire. They are from an aquatic plant native to China and retain their crunchy texture when cooked. If you find some white, crunchy vegetables in your Chinese takeaway, they’re likely to be water chestnuts. 

Fresh water chestnuts can be found year-round in Asian markets. They are those small purple-brown bulbs with some mud still on their skins. If you’re buying fresh water chestnuts, give each one a squeeze and choose only the firmest ones with smooth skin and no soft spots. Experienced shoppers will tell you to always pick up a few more than you need as you may still find some bad spots when you peel them. 

Unpeeled water chestnuts will keep in a brown paper bag in the fridge for up to a week. A quick scrub of the muddy water chestnut will reveal a shiny bulb with dark brown skin, which bears resemblance to the namesake nut.

Tips for Eating Fresh Water Chestnuts:

  • After a quick scrubbing, dry the water chestnuts in kitchen towel so you can have a firm grip on the little bulb when peeling.
  • To get to its bright white flesh, slice off the top and bottom with a small knife. Then you can:
    • peel the sides with a Y-peeler, or
    • cut away the dark brown peel in strips with a small knife (like how you peel an apple). 
  • If you don’t use the peeled water chestnuts right away, store them covered in ‘fresh’ water. They should keep about two to three days in the fridge. But remember to change the water daily to preserve the flavour and texture of the water chestnuts.
  • There are so many ways to enjoy fresh water chestnuts:

Did You Know?

  • If you like canned water chestnuts, you should definitely give fresh water chestnuts a go as they are so much more flavourful. 
  • Fresh water chestnuts are very crunchy and delicately sweet. They are popular snacks in China, where you can sometimes find peeled fresh water chestnuts sold on sticks.
  • Some people are against storing peeled water chestnuts covered in water, as the water chestnuts taste waterlogged and less sweet. 
  • In traditional Chinese medicine, water chestnuts are considered a cooling food. This water chestnut drink with sugar cane is a popular thirst quencher in summer.
  • Have you ever heard of water chestnut flour? Fresh water chestnuts are peeled, boiled, dried, and then ground into flour. Well, it’s more like a starch than a flour. It is used to make water chestnut cake, a very popular dim sum and a Chinese New Year staple. 

If you’re still unsure if you are ready to try these sweet little goodies, check out this short video that shows you exactly how easy it is to peel fresh water chestnuts.

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About Anna de Waard-Leung

Anna loves her heels, wine, and food - in that exact order. Her latest food addictions include Shiraz Mourvèdre, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and ossenworst (a raw beef sausage originating in Amsterdam).


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