Water Chestnut, Chinese

Eleocharis dulcis

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Also waterchestnut, ma tai (Chinese)

Not a chestnut—not even a nut—this delicacy needs its botanical name to define it, as several plants claim the name “water chestnut.”

Without the genus, Eleocharis, to help, English-speaking authorities add “Chinese” to the water chestnut pictured in order to distinguish it from the others. According to Frederic Rosengarten’s invaluable work The Book of Edible Nuts, the characters for “ma tai” mean “horse’s hoof”, one apt way to describe the distinctive little mahogany corms (not nuts, not tubers, not roots). Because these natives of the Old World tropics require a lengthy stay in a frost-free environment to develop fully, they are imported from warm climates. There has been experimentation with plantings in the southern United States, but little has come of it.

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