An iconically beautiful, delicious tasting plant with numerous health benefits, the lotus is well known from its appearances on Asian ponds. It has charming blossoms, bizarre seed pods, large leaves, and a ridiculous root (but more on that later), and every part of the plant is edible.
It is actually not the flower but the rhizome – the underground stem that sends out roots – of the lotus which is the symbol of beauty and purity in Japan. It grows quite long under the water in a strange shape like a sausage, but has nothing in common with this meat product. The root has a light brownish surface while the flesh is greyish white, and the tubular shape hides big holes that allow oxygen to provide the plant with buoyancy.
Everything on the plant is edible and the many varieties are classified according to their use. Leaves and flowers appear on the plant just three months after planting and can be picked every two or three days for about a month. Four to eight months after planting, the seeds and seed pods turn black, indicating they are ready to harvest. They are extremely nutritious but are usually processed (e.g. sun-dried, frozen, fermented) due to their vulnerability to microbial contamination, and many of the abundant nutrients are significantly reduced. Finally, the rhizomes mature; early varieties are ready in July and available till September while late varieties can be harvested from October till March.
The flavor profile of the lotus root is similar to other cooked ingredients except for an extra fruity spicy smell, thanks to ethyl cinnamate. This is the same compound that gives fragrant notes in versatile beverages like mirin, gin, tequila, Kentucky Straight Bourbon whisky, or smoked black tea, as well as different fruit and vegetables like apricot, blueberry, blackberry, durian, tamarind and Peruvian aji. Two other compounds – 2,3-butanedione and 3-hydroxy-2-butanone – give the lotus root smooth buttery undertones. These also are found in many cheeses (Camembert, Gouda, blue d’Auvergne, Parmesan), cheesecake, diverse breads (wheat or rye one, brioche) and double cream.
Lotus root is commonly used in Japanese cuisine, especially by vegetarians. You can prepare it in many different ways: raw, cooked, stewed, braised, fried, and even candied. Unfortunately, they turn brown quickly after being cut. It’s typically used as an ingredient in savory dishes but it can also be used in sweet treats; for example, stuffed slices of lotus with sticky rice, or deep-fried lotus coated in a juicy batter. With its crispy texture, it provides a perfect snack. As it contains a considerable amount of starch, it can be used to thicken soups and stews. There is even flour that is made from the tuber after it is dried and milled. One more common usage is pickled lotus in vinegar with sugar, garlic and chili.
Benefits for health
The lotus root is a healthy ingredient thanks to its rich nutritional composition. It contains a lot of vitamins (A, B6, C) and minerals like potassium, copper, iron, zinc, manganese and phosphorus. It can stimulate blood circulation and reduces the risk of anemia. The rhizome also regulates blood pressure and reduces stress due to pyridoxine – a compound that influences mood and mental states by interacting with neural receptors to provide a sense of tranquility. Lotus is packed with fiber and is great for improving digestion as well as aiding in weight loss. Finally, lotus is a good source of vitamin A, which provides antioxidants known to be helpful to vision and the regeneration of hair and skin cells.