There are two kinds of lotus varieties; one with pink or white flower (Chinese lotus), Nelumbo nuceifera, which is found in Asia and northern Australia; another kind with yellow flowers (American lotus), N. pentapatala, found in the Americas.
The existence of lotus root in China can be traced back 7,000 years, according to Auburn University’s LOTUS project, and Dr. Hongwen Huang, Director of the Wuhan Botanical Institute. Although it grew along the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers before that time, scientists are still divided as to the origins of the humble root; some claim India and others China.
In addition to the “common” lotus root (京塘莲藕京塘莲藕) just discussed, one other variety also exists; the Jingtang lotus root, said to likely originate in Jintang, Guangzhou. However, for the most part of your culinary adventure in China, the former will be that you consume.
Chinese and Indian people have a strong symbolic connection with both the flower and the root, and as an aquatic plant, needing sunlight and water to grow. Flowers are grown and harvested in Wuhan, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Suzhou.
Along with its tantalising crispy, tangy taste and the many health benefits associated with the plant, not to mention that which it symbolises, together pretty much make it the top super food out there! The many benefits of lotus root include improving blood circulation, reducing stress, regulating blood pressure and improving digestion. It is also rich in vitamins A and C, improves heart health and helps manage weight.
Lotus root functions in very much the same way a potato does; however, it feels less starchy and heavy, and produces more flavour (although that’s dependent on one’s taste buds!). In China, as with many other things, lotus root can be presented to you in a variety of ways. As a seasoned lotus root eater, here is my pick for the most commonly found lotus root dishes in China.
- Yunnan Fried Lotus Root Chips, with Pork and Chili
- Sichuan Kung Pao Lotus Root
- Spicy Lotus Root
- Stir Fried Lotus Root with Vegetables
- Crispy Stuffed Lotus Root with Pork
- Lotus Root Congee
- Steamed Lotus Root
- Stuffed with Glutenous Rice
- Stewed Lotus Root with Pork Belly
- Pickled Lotus Root
- Lotus Root Meat Balls in Gravy
- Lotus Root Soup
- Shredded Lotus Root
Serving as the muse of poets and scholars for thousands of years, it is often associated with peace, tranquillity and economic prosperity. The Chinese have not only been cooking with lotus for 3-5 thousand years, but all parts of the root are also used in Chinese medicine.
For the Shanghai Daily, Zhang Qian wrote, “An emperor in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) had diarrhoea after eating too many hairy crabs. No medicine prescribed by royal doctors relieved the symptoms, so the emperor’s father travelled in disguise among ordinary people to find a cure. He was surprised to see a bunch of lotus root nodes quickly sold out at a TCM pharmacy. The pharmacist told him that the lotus root nodes were a perfect medicine for diarrhoea, prevalent at the time. The father invited the pharmacist to treat his son. The emperor followed their advice to drink fresh juice from lotus root nodes, and quickly recovered”.
In Chinese, medicine lotus root is “cold”; when cooked, it becomes “warm” and is used to cure such ailments as nose bleeding, abnormal uterine bleeding, coughing up blood, vomiting blood and blood in the urine and stool. It nourishes nerves, dispels pathogenic heat, moves bowels and removes blood stagnation.
Go out there and brave the menu; choose a lotus dish you have not yet tried. Send us a picture and let’s see how many different ways we can enjoy lotus.