Lotus root is the long, tubular rhizome (or stem) of the plant known for its pale pink, white or yellow blooms. The rhizome has an ‘eye’ at one end, from which small roots extend into the ground and an internode at the other, from which numerous tubers can extend. Growing in strands, like links of sausages growing up from the mud, the stem can grow up to four feet in length. Young Lotus root can have a light purple or white skin; when mature, Lotus root has a brown-beige skin and its size can vary from short and squat to longer and narrow. Under the thin-skin, etched into the creamy white flesh of the Lotus root is a series of air pockets patterned in a pin-wheel shape that appear as if they once held seeds. These seed-shaped pockets allow for the foliage to rest buoyantly in water while the plant is alive. The root has a dense, crunchy and starchy texture with a faintly nutty and sweet flavor, similar to that of a water chestnut or taro root. The younger roots are more tender and used for fresh culinary purposes whereas mature roots are preferred in dried form. Lotus root can be found peeled and packed in a brine, frozen or dried.
Lotus root is available year-round, with a peak season in the fall.
Lotus is an aquatic perennial plant, and a member of the Nelumbonaceae family. Botanically knowns as Nelumbo nucifera, Lotus root is also called Sacred Water Lotus, Sacred Lotus, and Chinese Arrowroot. It is cultivated for its seeds, flowers, leaves and tubers, all of which are edible. Nelumbo nucifera grows up from the mud in ponds and rivers. After the Lotus flower has bloomed, at the plant's maturity it breaks apart and releases the seeds (the true fruits of the plant) through the numerous holes in the flat surface of the flower’s pod. The seeds sink to the bottom of the water to establish new plants.
Lotus root is high in dietary fiber and is considered a good food source for energy, as it is high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein. Cooked Lotus root can strengthen the spleen, promote functional activity of the stomach and promote tissue regeneration.
Lotus root can be prepared in a variety of ways, but it is most often cooked prior to consumption. After peeling the Lotus root it should be immersed in acidulated water (using vinegar or citrus) to prevent discoloration. Lotus root can be blanched just slightly to remove any bitterness and cooled to add to salads or crudite. Lotus root is very common in Asian and Indian dishes, whether sliced and braised until sweet and tender in soups, stir fried, or sliced, blanched and chilled to garnish salads. Lotus root is boiled and mashed in India and added to vegetarian kofta, paired with spicy sauces. It can be thinly sliced or shredded and fried for a crispy garnish. Lotus root pairs well with traditional Asian flavors such as soy, sesame, and ginger. A traditional Korean dessert is made with Lotus root, soy, and honey and sesame seeds called Yeongun bokkum. Lotus root can be stored peeled in the water solution for a couple of days, or frozen for long-term storage. Lotus root can be stored fresh and whole in a cool, dry place for up to two weeks. Dried Lotus root can be powdered and used as a starch.