Are Water Chestnuts The Same As Chestnuts Using Water Chestnuts in Chinese Cuisine

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In This Article

  • Fresh vs. Canned
  • Uses
  • Cook
  • Taste
  • Recipes
  • Buy
  • Storage

Water chestnuts are a prominent ingredient in Chinese cuisine. Indigenous to Southeast Asia, they have been cultivated in China since ancient times. The name “water chestnut” comes from the fact that it resembles a chestnut in shape and coloring (it has papery brown skin over white flesh), but the water chestnut is actually not a nut at all—it is an aquatic tuber (rootlike part of a plant) that grows in freshwater marshes.

Water chestnuts require a long frost-free growing season (about seven months), which means that they are only grown in semitropical areas, including a few states such as California and Florida. They can be eaten raw or cooked.

Fast Facts

  • Varieties: fresh and canned
  • Place of origin: China
  • Common preparations: roasted and stir-fried

Fresh vs. Canned Water Chestnuts

Water chestnuts are sold both fresh and canned, but canned is much easier to find. Fresh water chestnuts, however, are worth searching for as they have a sweeter flavor and are very crisp with a slightly juicy finish. Use fresh water chestnuts for dishes where the water chestnut is the main ingredient. 

Canned water chestnuts may have a similar texture but are practically void of any flavor. They are best incorporated into a dish mainly for texture, as in stir-fries, stuffings, soups, and dumpling fillings. Fresh water chestnuts are more expensive than the canned.

Water Chestnut Uses

Water chestnuts are most often used in Chinese recipes in a stir-fry along with other vegetables, but they can also be part of a classic bacon appetizer, and add a welcome crunch to a creamy spinach dip. To bring a vegetable side dish from average to interesting, add sliced water chestnuts toward the end of the cooking time. Depending on whether the water chestnuts are fresh or canned will determine how they are prepared.

Water chestnuts

PhotoAlto / Isabelle Rozenbaum / Getty Images
Man cutting water chestnut, cropped

PhotoAlto / Isabelle Rozenbaum / Getty Images
Chinese Pork With Red Peppers

Paul Brighton / Getty Images
Stir-fried vegetables

C Yung / Getty Images
Vietnamese traditional food for Tet from vegetables; closeup homemade sweet water chestnut jam

Xuanhuongho / Getty Images

How to Cook With Water Chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts need to be prepared differently than canned. Prior to cooking with fresh, the top and bottom of the water chestnut need to be cut off, the skin should be removed with a vegetable peeler, and the water chestnut should be rinsed with cool water. They can be peeled ahead of time but need to be stored in cold water in the refrigerator, with the water changed daily.

Before using canned water chestnuts, rinse them under warm running water to remove any “tinny” taste. It is best to add water chestnuts, whether fresh or canned, toward the end of cooking to retain the crunchy texture. 

What Do They Taste Like?

Fresh water chestnuts taste differently from the canned—or, it should be said, the fresh have a taste, while the canned do not. Fresh water chestnuts are very flavorful and are fruity, nutty, and delicately sweet. They are like a cross between an apple and a coconut with the texture of a pear. Canned, however, barely have any flavor.

Water Chestnut Recipes

Fresh water chestnuts should be used in recipes where they will be the star, like in the appetizer, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. Canned, on the other hand, are better used for their texture, as in a recipe for sweet and sour meatballs.

  • Chinese Shrimp Balls
  • Chinese Chicken Salad
  • Dim Sum Shrimp Toast With Water Chestnuts

Where to Buy Water Chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts are available year-round in Asian markets, either in packages or in bins. Unless you live in an area where they are grown locally, fresh water chestnuts are generally not available in neighborhood grocery stores. Canned water chestnuts, however, are available year-round at most supermarkets.

When choosing fresh water chestnuts, look for firm ones with unwrinkled skin and no soft spots—otherwise, when you peel the water chestnut, you may find it has turned mushy. Generally, it’s best to buy a few more chestnuts than needed, just in case a few have spoiled.

Canned water chestnuts are offered either whole or sliced. If you don’t mind cutting them yourself, buy the whole as they will have a crunchier texture.


Unpeeled, fresh water chestnuts will keep for seven to 10 days in a plastic bag in the produce drawer of the refrigerator. Store canned water chestnuts in a cool, dry place and use within a year. Once opened, store the canned water chestnuts in a sealed container in the refrigerator and use within three days.

Video about Are Water Chestnuts The Same As Chestnuts

Water Chestnut Harvest & Storage 2016

Hi folks. Harvested this seasons crop of water chestnuts & prepared them for storage during the week & thought a few friends might like to have a closer look.
These crunchy little morsels are used in a lot of Asian dishes including some of our favourite Chinese & Thai meals. Some of the smaller corms from this batch have been put aside for next seasons crop.

Subscribing to our family here on Rob’s Backyard Farming Channel is as easy as clicking the link below,
Would be great for you to come along & say “G’Day” when we post a clip.

You can also find us on Patreon & various social media platforms where mini updates on the aquaponics, chooks, worms, wicking bed gardens & other small tidbits are posted daily. @bits_out_the_back @RobsUrbanFarm

Have a great one everyone.

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