In my constant search for flours that are suitable for specific dietary requirements, I have come across water chestnut flour, also known as singoda or singhara flour.
Water chestnut flour is made by peeling, boiling, drying and then grinding the nuts. Contrary to its name, the water chestnut is not a nut. but an aquatic vegetable . It is often grown underwater in marshy and muddy areas. It is the small round corn, that is cut from the plant and eaten raw or cooked, that is generally termed the water chestnut.
Water chestnut flour is used in Asian cooking. Its ability to be used in place of grain flours means that those in India use it on fasting days to make pancakes known as dosa. The flour is also used in Chinese cooking as a batter and a medium to thicken sauces.
Water chestnuts are a nutrient-dense food and contain high amounts of fibre, potassium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6 and riboflavin. The USDA nutrition database, rates 100-grams of water chestnuts to have 4 grams of fibre, 3 grams of protein and 23.9 grams of carbs, making them a low carb vegetable. However, the drying and grinding process in making flour increases the carbohydrate value, although it remains high in fibre and nutritional value. One website lists the glycemic index of water chestnut flour as 60, whereas the glycemic index for wheat flour is above 70. The high fibre content in singoda flour also helps to off-set the carb load.
A particular benefit of water chestnut flour is that it is a low oxalate food, providing just 4.8g of oxalate per100g of the flour. This is immensely helpful for anyone needing to minimise their intake of oxalates. Remember, oxalate is found in most plant foods as a natural pesticide. For the majority of people, oxalate passes through the digestive tract causing no problems, but for some, particularly those who have a history of Candida overgrowth, oxalate might be absorbed into the body. It can then cause issues associated with pain, in joints, muscles and soft tissues. Wholewheat flour contains 76g of oxalate per 100g, so you can see that in comparison, singoda flour makes a very attractive alternative with its 4.8g per 100g.
Anyone who has worked with gluten-free-grain flours will know that they are completely different to using wheat flour. The gluten in wheat holds the baking together, and without it, gluten-free baking can be rather crumbly. Singoda flour however, possesses good binding qualities. This means that baked goods hold together well, reducing the need to add eggs for binding, if there is an egg sensitivity.
The flour can be purchased in Asian supermarkets or online, but I have found that there can be considerable variation in the taste between brands. The beige colour flour has a distinct smell and flavour during and after cooking. I find it hard to describe, and am tempted to call it slightly ‘musty’ but that probably does it a disservice! However, I have discovered that the strength of this taste varies greatly between suppliers. The brand I am currently using is much milder, and therefore more readily usable in recipes.
Apart from a few Asian recipes, and some of these have a lot of added sugar, there are not many recipes online for water chestnut/singoda/singhara flour. Be brave and experiment! Especially if your diet is limited in not being able to use grain flours.
Here is a simple recipe for pancakes to get started with. I hope to add more blogs with recipes using this flour in days to come.
Whisk all ingredients together. Pour ¼ of the batter into a medium-hot frying pan with a drop of extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil. Cook for 1-2 minutes until set, and then carefully flip over with a spatula. Cook for a further minute, and slide onto a plate
Serve with plant yogurt or top with cream made from sunflower seeds blended with a little water. Alternatively, use as a wrap for mashed avocado and salad.