Crunchy, delicate flavored, lotus root is an edible rhizome (root) of lotus plant. Almost all the parts of the plant: root, young flower stalks, and seeds are being employed in the cuisine.
Lotus is herbaceous, perennial aquatic plant belonging to Nelumbonaceae family. Scientific name: Nelumbo nucifera. It is popular as renkon in the Japan. Since centuries, lotus has held high esteem in the far East regions, especially in Chinese and Japanese cultures.
|Peeled cut section of root lotus (Nelumbo nucifera).
Lotus root is grown as annual root vegetable crop in customized ponds. Although lotus can be raised from seeds, commercially, its rhizomes with meristems (growing points) are preferred for implantation since it takes overall less days for crop production. Rhizome formation in the plant usually coincides with the appearance of large floating leaves on the surface of water about 5-6 months after its plantation.
Its edible rhizomes grow in swampy underwater environments. Lotus root is actually a modified tuber storing energy in the form of starch. It develops into sausage-like three to five joint nodes of about 2-4 feet length. Each rhizome segment features smooth, grey-white tube measuring about 10-20 cm in length, 6-10 cm in diameter. Internally, the root has white, crunchy flesh with mild sweet, water-chestnut like flavor. Its cut sections reveal visually appealing display of symmetrically arranged air canals (holes) traversing all along the length of the root.
The lotus fruit is an enlarged receptacle akin to sunflower head wherein numerous edible seeds embedded in its head.
Lotus root is one of the moderate calorie root vegetables. 100 g root-stem provides about 74 calories. Nevertheless, it composed of several health benefiting phyto-nutrients, minerals, and vitamins.
Lotus rhizome is very good source dietary fiber; 100 g flesh provides 4.9 g or 13% of daily-requirement of fiber. Dietary fiber together with slow digesting complex carbohydrates in the lotus root help reduce blood cholesterol, sugar, body weight and constipation conditions.
Fresh lotus root is one of the excellent sources of vitamin C. 100 g root provides 44 mg or 73% of daily-recommended values. Vitamin C is a powerful water soluble anti-oxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis inside the human body. Collagen is the main structural protein inside the body, required for maintaining integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body protect from scurvy, develop resistance against viral infections, boosting of immunity, wound healing and to scavenge cancer causing harmful free radicals from the body.
In addition, the root contains moderate levels of some of valuable B-complex group of vitamins such as pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), folates, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and thiamin. Pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) acts as a coenzyme in the neuro-chemical synthesis in the brain which influences mood. Adequate pyridoxine levels help control nervous irritability, headache, and tension. It also cuts heart-attack risk by controlling harmful homocysteine levels in the blood.
Further, the root provides healthy amounts of some important minerals like copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese. Copper is a cofactor for many vital enzymes, including cytochrome c-oxidase and superoxide dismutase (other minerals function as cofactors for this enzyme are manganese and zinc). Along with iron, it is also required in the production of red blood cells.
Crunchy, neutral yet delicate flavor of root lotus is because of its optimum electrolyte balance. It composes agreeable ratio of sodium to potassium at the value 1:4. While sodium gives sweet taste to the root, potassium acts to counter negative effects of sodium by regulating heart rate and blood pressure.
|Lotus field in China.
Photo courtesy: Nicolas Elvemo
Lotus root (renkon) harvest begins by August and last until fall. Traditionally, farmers sink thier legs in knee-deep ponds and try to feel for the rhizome guiding their toes, which are then dug out by hand. Southeastern region of China and lake Kasumigaura in Ibaraki prefecture in Japan are known for renkon production.
From a distance, lotus rhizomes appear as big size bananas arranged in sausage pattern. While buying, look for clean, firm roots with smooth unblemished skin. Fresh roots are readily available year-round in major cities in the USA. One can also buy sliced, canned, and freeze-dried roots in the supermarkets or Japanese and other Asian stores.
Once at home, place the roots in cool, dark place away from humidity for 3-4 days. Uncut rhizomes can stay fresh for up to 2 weeks inside the refrigerator.
Lotus root, known as renkon in Japan and Lián ou in Chinese, hold a special place since older times in their cultures. The roots as well as lotus seeds, raw or cooked, have found application in variety of oriental recipes in East, Southeast Asian, and Pacific regions.
To prepare, break the root at nodal intersections into individual parts. Wash it thoroughly in cold running water before use. Trim the ends. Peel its inedible outer tough skin using a paring knife to expose ice-white, daikon (radish) like flesh underneath. It can be cut into cubes, or chopped to fine sticks in a ways desired as in other vegetables. Rinse the slices immediately in the vinegar or acidulated (lemon) water to prevent from discoloration.
Here are some serving tips:
|Lotus root salad with chili peppers.
Photo courtesy: VirtualErn
|Tempura style lotus root with camembert cheese.
Photo courtesy: jetalone
Young, clean and tender rhizomes can be added raw in salads. However, mature rhizome taste bitter and can be eaten only after cooked.
In Japan, renkon is one of the root vegetables used in tempura and kinpira style cooking. Its slices are sautéed in soy sauce, mirin (rice wine) and chili peppers. Lotus root chips are popular snacks in Japan.
The root, popularly known as kamal ki kakari or bhe in India and Bangladesh, features in variety of curry, stews, and stir-fries.
Chinese uses the root in soups, stuffing, stir-fries, etc., especially in Cantonese style cooking.
In China, lotus seeds are eaten as snacks, in condiments and as candied.
Lotus root may harbor parasites like Fasciolopsis buski, a trematode that commonly infests in aquatic plants like lotus, water caltrop (Trapa natans), Chinese water-chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) etc. The symptoms of infestation may include stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and intestinal obstruction. Thorough washing and cooking under the steam destroys its larvae. (Medical disclaimer).
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