Water chestnut — this not-so-appealing fruit has countless dietary benefits

Water chestnut — this not-so-appealing fruit has countless dietary benefits

From boosting immune system to a nutrient powerhouse singhara or water chestnut is your ultimate solution to many issues
Updated 29 Nov, 2015

It doesn’t look very appealing nor does it taste ‘yummy’ and most of us just ignore the knobby triangular thing with a blackish brown peel being sold along roadside on pushcarts, close to winter.

Yet, some relish it for its crispy-crunchy texture and delicate sweet coconut like flavour. Though, if people were to know of its dietary benefits few would be able to push it aside.

The Hallmark of Southeast Asian cuisine, it’s known as ‘singhara’ locally, though it has other names such as water chestnut, pani-phal, devil pod, caltrop, ling-nut, trapa natan and so on. It grows in slow moving water that is up to five metres deep and is native to warm temperate parts of Eurasia and Africa.

Singhara or caltrop is great for winter season snack. As it grows in slightly runny water, the fruit may have some toxins when sold fresh, and so after washing properly, it should be neutralised by blanching, boiling, steaming or roasting for at least seven minutes prior to peeling or slicing for blending into a drink, adding to salads, clear soups, stew or curry, stuffing for wraps or in whole chicken, or as pizza toppings, making its powder (used as a gravy thickener), mincing it to make puddings or cakes and storing as pickle.

After cooking, it retains most of its crunchiness which is even retained when leftovers are reheated.

Few know of it and fewer eat it, though it has many health benefits.

The fruits are eaten raw or boiled. The dried fruit is ground to make flour called singhare ka atta which is used in many religious rituals and can be consumed as a phalahar (fruit diet) on the Hindu fasting days, such as the Navratari.

Powerhouse of nutrients

Fresh singhara is rich in carbohydrates, proteins, iron, iodine, gives double the amount of magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper and multi-vitamins in comparison to the canned varieties that are available round the year.

A balanced meal

It is a perfect food for a healthy life; half a cup of singhara carries just 0.1 gram fat, 14.8 grams of carbohydrates, 0.9 grams of proteins, 22 per cent more micro and macro elements and minerals as compared to buffalo milk, only 60 calories, zero cholesterol, low sodium and 10pc of the daily value of vitamin B6 and B7 to support healthy brain and immune system function, while thiamin and riboflavin portion help body to convert food into energy. Zero fat content assists in maintaining healthy body weight.

Anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-cancer

Being rich in polyphenolic and flavonoid antioxidants, it has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties that help in strengthening the stomach and spleen, and thus removes the symptoms of weak spleen, such as bad taste, insomnia, feeling sick, fatigue or swelling and urinary infections.

Fights jaundice and other diseases

Loaded with detoxifying properties, it is advantageous for people suffering from jaundice, aids in proper functioning of the thyroid gland, acts as sterling coolant for the body, promotes salivation and quenches thirst, potent in treating urine infections, eradicate inflammations and blood impurities.

It drives away tiredness as energy booster, and checks the flow of blood from wounds, regulates water retention and blood pressure by balancing sodium. Juices and extracts of singhara seeds are effective in treating conditions like measles, aid in curing the disorders of nausea and indigestion, eliminate bile residues properly, cure phlegm and plethora, controls diarrhoea and dysentery, treats sore throats, anaemia, fractures and bronchitis.

Helps in pregnancy

A porridge made with singhara flour is much creamier and is given to pregnant women after delivery to check haemorrhage. The dried seeds stop bleeding and alleviate miscarriage issues in childbearing women, and also promote secretion of milk. The singhara gruel is beneficial for the intestines and for removal of internal heat.

For better skin and hair

A paste made from powdered singhara skin can be applied to the swollen areas of the skin for relief, seed powder mixed with lemon juice helps to cure eczema if applied regularly. Their nutritional value has a lot to contribute for healthy hair. It has been widely used in Ayurvedic and Greek systems of medicine.

Post and pre singhara cautions

Despite all these benefits, some cautions are still needed; depending upon one’s digestive system, a healthy person can eat 10 to 15 grams of singhara daily, excess can cause bloating or stomach ache as they are quite addictive; people suffering from constipation are advised to avoid it.

Avoid drinking water for at least half an hour after eating it. Diabetics should take them in moderation, as the fresh fruit consists mainly of starch and has a carbohydrate content almost similar to that of potatoes.

Buy firm ones with an unwrinkled skin and no soft spots, otherwise after peeling you will find softened and mushy brown edible part. Do not eat the one that looks mouldy as its taste will permeate within it.

Keep the crunchy, crispy game on this season, and build up your the energy levels without adding pounds to body weight and with paying very little from your pocket.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015


M. Emad Nov 29, 2015 02:31pm
Water chestnut ('pani-phal'/ 'singhara’) was the favourite fruit of my late maternal grandmother. She used to bring lots of water chestnut whenever visiting us.
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Amer Rao Nov 29, 2015 02:31pm
Thanks for sharing wonderful information.
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Naxalite Nov 29, 2015 02:50pm
Sighara - I Love It!
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Naxalite Nov 29, 2015 02:50pm
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Asad Nov 29, 2015 02:51pm
I have never seen it in my life - gosh I'm missing so much!
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Rajiv Nov 29, 2015 03:36pm
"It doesn’t look very appealing nor does it taste ‘yummy’ " Enough for me not to read further... its one of my favorite one to eat(Not sure if we can categorise it as a fruit or vegetable though), How many of you guys really think sangarha is not yummy...
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Adnan Aziz Nov 29, 2015 03:58pm
An informative article. However, what is the source of this information?
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S. A. M. Nov 29, 2015 04:21pm
very useful post. thanks to Dawn.
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Sajid Syed Nov 29, 2015 04:23pm
Singhara is one of my favourite fruit. Gauvava is the other one. Miss it and once saw this heading could not resist reading it first even before world news, political news and so on which are my first read.
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ROHIT PANDEY Nov 29, 2015 04:43pm
Actually, toasted water chestnuts are YUMMY!
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NHM Nov 29, 2015 07:13pm
the articles says that one should eat only 10-15 grams of singhara in a day. There has to be a mistake here as one bite from a single singhara exceeds this grammage. The author is requested to clarify
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rana1 Nov 29, 2015 08:23pm
My favourite nut.Thanks for compiling an insight to the benefuts of this natural power nut.
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SBB Nov 29, 2015 10:38pm
Wow.. I had no idea. Vey informative.
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M.Saeed Nov 29, 2015 11:58pm
Singhara Burfi is a delicacy in sweets. Even our Khoya, the essential base of many sweets, cannot be made without a pinch of Singhara flour in the evaporated milk.
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Marl Brando Nov 30, 2015 01:52am
I LOVE singharas.
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Isra Nov 30, 2015 02:16am
Humm, Never thought of so many benefits it carries. Can't imagine if any other fruit or vegetable comes close to it. Really ?
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Ravi Krishna Nov 30, 2015 05:30am
Chinese dishes use water chestnut very well and it taste so good.
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Babar Nov 30, 2015 07:36am
Water Chest Nut
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Kiran Razzaq Nov 30, 2015 05:45pm
@Sajid Syed hope to write for Guava soon !!!
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Kiran Razzaq Nov 30, 2015 05:47pm
@Adnan Aziz as a clinical dietician , from books and even my practice with food i shared this Thanks
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Kiran Razzak Nov 30, 2015 05:47pm
@M.Saeed thanks for more info :)
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Kiran Razzak Nov 30, 2015 05:49pm
@NHM agreed not more than 100gms a day , not a publishing mistake my mistake !!!
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Ra Dec 02, 2015 06:47pm
I just love this fruit.Thanks for the article!
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Abid Haferz Dec 02, 2015 08:11pm
Informative. Often ate in my childhood but never knew of its usefulness.
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