Water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) grows in many parts of India, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Northern Australia and Polynesia. Some varieties are not sweet and are grown for starch and pig food etc. The native Australian variety is small but quite sweet and it is one of the main foods of the six and a half million Magpie Geese in the Northern Territory. Logs of the explorer Leichhardt noted that "it was the tastiest native food offered to him by the Aboriginals". Hon mati is a variety which comes from China with superior in size and sweetness.
They are as much appreciated for their crisp texture as for their delicate sweet flavour. After cooking they retain their crisp texture even after leftovers are re-heated. They should be thoroughly washed then pealed by first cutting of the top and bottom and then pealing the remaining skin. They can be eaten raw or added raw and sliced to salads and clear soups. In Asia they are made into a drink by either blending raw chestnuts in water or boiling them or their skins in water for 15 to 30mins and adding a little extra palm sugar to enhance the flavour. The drink tastes like water that has have sweet corn boiled in it and it is reputed to have cooling properties, popular on hot days in Asian cities.
Cooking, and it need only be brief, either by boiling or frying improves the flavour and texture. They can be added to stew, soup, curry, stir fries and almost anything. They are a common ingredient in many Asian dishes. They can be bought fresh or in cans.
To store water chestnuts, harvested corms can be stored in the bottom of the fridge in sealed plastic bags or containers to prevent them from drying out. There are always a few that rot during storage and need to be sorted out from time to time. This rot is often due to even slight damage to the skin during harvesting & later handling. They keep quite well in the ground where they grew while the temperature stays low enough to maintain dormancy. Dried out corms or ones that have been frozen will not grow. They also keep very well in cool damp sand. We have kept corms like this for well over a year in perfect condition.
EATING WATER CHESTNUTS -