Fresh Water Chestnuts and 4 Ways to Cook With Them

November 28, 2013

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: It’s true -- water chestnuts don’t just come in a can.

All About Fresh Water Chestnuts, from Food52

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Just to be clear, water chestnuts are not the same chestnuts you roast on an open fire: Those grow in a tree. Water chestnuts come from an aquatic plant native to China, and they aren’t nuts at all -- the part we eat is called a corm. Fresh water chestnuts can generally be found year-round in Asian markets, and when you find them, select rock-hard specimens with a slight sheen to them. Pick up a few more than you think you need, too -- even after choosing firm, bruise-free specimens, you might find bad spots when you peel them, so it pays to be prepared.

Keep them unpeeled in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Diane Morgan advises against storing peeled water chestnuts covered in water -- she finds they taste waterlogged, and recommends waiting to peel them until right before using them. When it's time to peel them, channel your best apple-peeling skills; with a small knife, slice off the top and bottom, and then cut away the dark brown peel (2) in strips -- they should be bright white inside (1).

More: Another ingredient you should try fresh? Horseradish.

All About Fresh Water Chestnuts, from Food52

Make take-out favorites at home
Canned water chestnuts can taste like, well, can. Fresh water chestnuts are sweeter, nuttier, and retain more of their crunch after cooking -- they'll make your favorite take-out-style dish taste even better. Try fresh water chestnuts in a stir fry with spicy pork or savory greens. Use them in a filling for lettuce wraps or vegetarian egg rolls. Make orange chicken or Asian lemongrass kebabs on fresh sugarcane skewers

Use them raw in a salad
When a question came up on the Hotline asking what to do with fresh water chestnuts, ALittleZaftig recommended julienning them with fresh lotus root, tossing them with some fresh cilantro, and dressing the salad with a blend of smashed lemongrass, a nut oil, and a light vinegar.

How to Use Fresh Water Chestnuts, from Food52How to Use Fresh Water Chestnuts, from Food52

Improve a classic
Take your hors d'oeuvres up a notch and serve fresh water chestnuts wrapped in bacon with brown sugar and Dijon mustard -- so good they're genius. Add fresh water chestnuts to a homemade green bean casserole, and convert your relatives from their version where every ingredient comes out of a can. Chop up fresh water chestnuts and add them to your favorite stuffing recipe for a nice texture contrast, or try this pecan stuffing with rosemary, fennel and blue cheese.

Enjoy them for dessert
Fresh water chestnuts don't have to be relegated to savory dishes -- their slightly sweet flavor is perfect in sweet treats too. Try them in a fruit salad or in fruit fritters. Make a water chestnut cake, or get fancy and make this orange ginger dessert with toasted pine nuts and Thai basil.

How do you use fresh water chestnuts? Let us know in the comments! 

Green bean casserole photo by Joseph De Leo, all other photos by James Ransom 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Heidi C Schwa
    Heidi C Schwa
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    Gwen Gonzalez
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  • Michael Pham
    Michael Pham
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Heidi C. January 26, 2021
I really like it in meatballs or dumplings.
Gwen G. April 18, 2016
Okay, so I have fresh water chestnuts...they are fibrous! Have I not cut off enough of the exterior? They taste like and have the texture of COCONUT. Even sweeter than coconut,
MelissaH November 28, 2013
I've given up on fresh water chestnuts: they're more of a PITA than it's worth. Instead, I use fresh jicama: similar texture and taste, and SO much easier to deal with!
Michael P. February 29, 2016
never thought of that! i love jicama and have some in my pantry this very moment! love, love, love, fresh veggies but if water chestnuts are really that much of a pain i might give em a pass and just keep using canned.