I’ve personally taste tested a variety of water chestnuts substitutes to find the best one for every cooking or baking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
In a rush?
Jicama is the best substitute for water chestnuts. It tastes very similar and has the same crunchy texture. Bamboo shoots are a great alternative but will have a more tender bite. If you don’t mind an added peppery note, radishes are a tasty substitute that works in stir-fries and dumpling fillings.
I made small batches of chicken stir-fry to try different water chestnut substitutes.
Despite their name and appearance, water chestnuts aren’t related to regular chestnuts. They’re an aquatic vegetable with a crisp, juicy texture and a mildly sweet flavor. Fresh water chestnuts have much more flavor than the canned ones, but canned ones are much easier to find.
Water chestnuts are a staple in Chinese cooking and are often used in stir-fries, dumplings, curries, and salads. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Hearts of Palm
|Full of nutrients
|Okay in a pinch
|Sweet and nutty
Jicama might fool you into thinking it’s an odd looking potato from the outside. But when you slice it open, you’ll find crisp, juicy flesh that can seamlessly replace water chestnut.
It has the same lightly sweet flavor as water chestnuts with a slight nutty twist, and jicama will also keep its crunchy texture when you cook it.
Jicama is native to Mexico and Central America, but you can generally find it in regular grocery stores. If not, you can try a specialty Mexican store or a farmer’s market.
How to substitute: replace water chestnuts in a 1:1 ratio with chopped jicama.
Bamboo shoots are more tender than water chestnuts, but they still have some crunch. Similarly to water chestnuts, you’ll get the best flavor with fresh bamboo shoots. But fresh bamboo shoots aren’t easy to find in the West!
Luckily, the canned variety holds its texture well.
Bamboo shoots flavor is slightly sweet, but overall it’s very mild. So it works best as a substitute in dishes like stir fries or curries, where it can soak up the flavors of the sauce.
Psst… if you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh bamboo shoots, remember to peel and boil them first to remove any bitterness.
How to substitute: replace water chestnuts in a 1:1 ratio with chopped bamboo shoots.
Lotus root is another Asian vegetable with a mildly sweet flavor. In fact, when you google ‘what does lotus root taste like’, you’ll find sources comparing its flavor to water chestnuts!
The texture is crisp and starchy (like a cross between jicama and celery), but it will lose some of its crunch when you cook it.
You can often find fresh lotus root in Asian markets, or you can buy it frozen in regular grocery stores (it won’t be cheap though).
Pro tip: got some leftover lotus root? Slice it up and deep fry it for a tasty snack.
How to substitute: replace water chestnuts in a 1:1 ratio with chopped lotus root.
Hearts of palm
As the name suggests, hearts of palm come from the core of certain palm trees.
They have a bit of crunch, but they’re not as crisp as water chestnuts. Instead, they’re tender and juicy (which is why they’re a popular meat substitute). Hearts of palm are packed with nutrients, as well as providing a decent dose of protein and fibre. And they’re low carb!
They have a very neutral flavor, so like bamboo shoots they work better in dishes where they can take on the flavor of a sauce or marinade.
How to substitute: replace water chestnuts in a 1:1 ratio with chopped hearts of palm.
Radishes are great substitute if you want something with a bit of flavor. Traditional red radishes have pronounced peppery flavor, and none of water chestnuts sweetness.
But they were still delicious in my chicken stir-fry!
For the crunchiest texture, opt for smaller to medium sized radishes that don’t feel soft to the touch. Larger radishes start to lose their crispiness. Also, the more vibrant the color, the stronger the taste will be.
If you find regular radishes too flavorful for your dish, try daikon radishes instead. These white elongated radishes boast the same texture, but with a mellowed out flavor.
How to substitute: replace water chestnuts in a 1:1 ratio with chopped radish.
While celery might not resemble water chestnuts visually, it’s an okay stand-in for bringing a crisp texture to your dish. Celery has an interesting flavor, because it can range from very mild to pretty bitter and some people absolutely hate it (similar to how some people hate cilantro).
If you’re serving your food to guests, I’d check if they like celery first before including it!
One massive advantage of fresh celery is its availability. While some of the other substitutes can be hard to find and expensive, celery is cheap and available everywhere.
How to substitute: replace water chestnuts in a 1:1 ratio with chopped celery.
Sunchokes are also known as Jerusalem artichokes, but this is kind of confusing because they’re not related to artichokes at all.
They actually belong to the sunflower family and have white flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor and a crunchy texture (when raw). But when you cook them, the flesh of the sunchokes turns tender and creamy.
Since I was looking for crunch in my stir-fry, I held off adding the sunchokes until the final stages of cooking.
How to substitute: replace water chestnuts in a 1:1 ratio with chopped sunchokes.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks for water chestnut substitutes. But they aren’t the only options. Here are some other substitutes you can try if you have them to hand:
- Hazelnuts: Hazelnuts have a mildly sweet flavor like water chestnuts, and if you soak them in water for a few hours, the texture softens and they become crisp and juicy.
- Apples: Apples aren’t a perfect substitute for water chestnuts, but they can work well in salads or other raw dishes. They’re not great for cooking with though because they’ll disintegrate.
Substitutes To Avoid
I came across loads of suggestions for water chestnut substitutes, but not all of them worked out.
Fresh ginger is a tuber vegetable like water chestnuts, but it tastes nothing like them. It has a very strong peppery flavor that borders on spicy; you do not want to be adding chunks of ginger to your stir fries!
And as much as I love pecans, I found their flavor too rich to stand in for water chestnuts.
Best Water Chestnuts Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 1 cup chopped jicama
- 1 cup chopped bamboo shoots
- 1 cup chopped lotus root
- 1 cup chopped hearts of palm
- 1 cup chopped radish
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped sunchokes
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen water chestnuts substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe