Water chestnuts are aquatic tubers that look like their namesake, the chestnut. They grow in water, are the same size as chestnuts, and have a thin brown skin.
The tubers have a subtle flavor with a delicate crunch, making them an excellent addition to multiple foods, especially, Southeast Asia dishes. However, these tubers are not easy to find.
So, what do you do when you need a substitute for them?
The good thing is, there are many easily available substitutes for water chestnuts. These include white turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, celery, and jicama. They are not identical to the water chestnut, but they possess the same crunchy texture and delicate flavor profile as the aquatic tubers.
Let’s find out how you can use them in your dishes and how they compare to water chestnuts.
White turnips are the best substitutes for water chestnuts than any other turnips. That is because they don’t have the strong pepper flavor that the other turnips have. Their flavor is more subtle and will not overshadow your dish.
They come in season in the winter months, but you can find them in grocery stores throughout the year.
When substituting, you will only need the turnip bulb hence, you need to remove any greens or roots attached to it. You don’t have to throw the greens away, as you can save them for other dishes.
To cook using the turnips, chop them up into small sizes and use them just as you would when using water chestnuts. You can sauté the greens and add them to your dish for an extra boost of taste. The turnips have a little sweetness to them, but it will not affect your recipe. In case it does, you can also adjust the seasonings to reduce it.
Also known as sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes are a part of the sunflower family. In case you are wondering, they are not related to the similarly named artichokes.
The Jerusalem artichokes’ roots are what we eat and what works as a great stand-in when substituting water chestnuts. They turn soft when cooked, and their taste is like that of a mild artichoke heart. When substituting, however, you will want to use them raw. In this state, they have a crunchy taste that is like that of a water chestnut. Because of that too, they are good to substitute in dishes that are served cold.
The Jerusalem artichoke you pick should have smooth skin and a firm texture. If they have wrinkles in the skin, it is a sign that they have started to soften and will not be as crunchy. A fresh Jerusalem artichoke will look like a ginger root and should have a similar feel.
Peel the skin off with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, dice the root into small pieces, and serve them raw. They have the same mild flavor and a similar texture and color as a water chestnut. That, plus the crunchiness, makes them an excellent stand-in.
It is the best substitute for water chestnuts than anything else on this list. Its flavor and texture are almost exactly the same, and they are easier to find than water chestnuts. It is great for dishes that need many water chestnuts or only their mild flavor.
Jicama is a root vegetable, similar to turnips and potatoes. They have the same texture as potatoes when raw but with fewer carbohydrates and more proteins. When substituting it, you will dice up the root into small pieces, and it will have the same color, texture, and flavor as a water chestnut.
Ensure you do not overcook the jicama to get the same crunchy texture. When cooked for too long, jicamas turn soft, and their flavor becomes more pronounced. They have natural sugars that caramelize when cooked for long, and that might interfere with some dishes.
The best way to cook it, to resemble a water chestnut’s texture, is on high heat instead of a slow cook time. Do not serve jicama raw because they have a starchy texture that is unpleasant, much like eating raw potatoes. Jicama is better than a Jerusalem artichoke because it has almost the same flavor, texture, and color as water chestnut, and it can hold its texture for longer.
There are many conflicting opinions about celery, on whether it is a suitable substitute or not. Regardless, it is something you can use as a last-ditch effort, and it is also more available in almost all grocery stores.
Celery is not a great substitute for color and flavor, but it has an almost similar crunch and body, which is good if your dish needs more crunch than flavor.
When using it, make sure you only use the lower portions of the celery stalk. The white part has a less distinct green celery flavor, which blends in even better when cooking. You can slice or dice the stalks and add them to the dish when it is almost ready. Cooking celery for a while turns them soft, and that takes away from their crunchiness.
Celery has tough fibers along the length of the ribs, which can ruin the taste. Cutting it crosswise divides the fibers into smaller sections that are less noticeable. While not a great substitute, celery makes a good play with the crunchiness and makes a nice addition to dishes that need the texture and not the flavor.
1. Are chestnuts substitutes for water chestnuts?
Although chestnuts and water chestnuts look similar, they are different. Water chestnuts have a more subtle flavor, a delicate crunch, and a mild sweetness instead of the nutty chestnut flavor.
Regular chestnuts are nuts that grow on a tree and, therefore, have a nutty flavor. They do not make suitable substitutes for water chestnuts because they have a stronger and more overpowering nutty taste and texture that might outdo other ingredients in the dish.
2. What is the taste of water chestnut?
Water chestnuts have the same taste as other root tubers, where they are sweeter and snappy when fresh, but the canned versions taste like crispy potatoes.
Their flavor is like a cross between an apple and a coconut with a mild nutty, sweet, and tart flavor at the same time. They are also crunchy with a texture resembling an Asian pear.
3. Are canned water chestnuts as good as fresh ones?
Yes, they are just as good as fresh ones. It is very hard to find fresh water chestnuts, and even once you find them, they require a lot of work. Just peeling them can take up a lot of your time. Besides, most recipes do not even specify whether you should use canned or freshwater chestnuts, so any can do.
The canning process does not really change the water chestnut taste as much. It does not affect the color or the texture either; therefore, the taste will be the same. The canned version might be a little duller in flavor but not by much, and you can use them in any recipe – even those that call for fresh ones.
4. Are bamboo shoots substitute for water chestnuts?
Bamboo shoots are also another great substitute for water chestnuts. However, this only applies if you use fresh bamboo shoots because canned bamboo shoots are quite soft, and will not give you the same crunchiness. The unique texture of water chestnuts is part of what makes them popular in most recipes.
Canned bamboo shoots also have a different taste; fresh shoots have a better texture and flavor. If you are not picky about the taste, you can use either version, but we strongly recommend the fresh version. However, like water chestnuts, fresh bamboo shoots are hard to find in most grocery stores, so you might have to settle for the canned ones.
It is quite comforting to know that there are multiple things you can use as water chestnut substitutes. We strongly recommend using jicama if you have some because they closely resemble water chestnuts in almost all fields.
You can also try all the other substitutes and find out which one you like more. Whether you use Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, celery, or jicama, remember not to cook them for too long to avoid turning them soft and ruining the crunchy texture. Do not cook Jerusalem artichokes at all.
Let us know which substitute works perfectly for you, and if you feel generous, please share some of your recipes below.
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