Bamboo Shoots vs Water Chestnuts: What’s the Difference?

Written By Acacia Crossley


If you have never cooked with bamboo shoots or water chestnuts, then you may be confused as to how the two ingredients could be mistaken for each other. But water chestnuts are not like the chestnuts you are thinking of and have much more similarities to bamboo shoots than you would initially think. 

Before you go ahead and try to hunt down bamboo shoots or water chestnuts at your local Asian supermarket, it is worth knowing how the two ingredients differ and their similarities so you know which will best suit your needs. 

Fresh bamboo shoots have a little flavour, but that is nothing compared to the fresh sweetness of water chestnuts. Their flavour is the most significant difference between the two ingredients. 

What are Bamboo Shoots?

When you think of bamboo shoots, the first thing that comes to mind is likely that of a panda enjoying a snack, but humans have been enjoying bamboo shoots for thousands of years in many parts of Asia, hence why they can be found used across Asian cuisine. 

Panda Enjoying Bamboo

Like their name suggests, bamboo shoots are shoots (a.k.a. sprouts) of the bamboo plant. They are young bamboo but unlike many young plants, bamboo shoots are not bitter. Instead, they are a little sweet with an expected earthiness. 

Bamboo shoots are not really used for their flavour but rather their texture and bulking qualities. They are a very filling ingredient that keeps their wonderful crunch even when cooked. 

What are Water Chestnuts?

The first thing to clear up about water chestnuts is that they are not the same as the chestnuts you buy around Christmas time.

In fact, they are far more similar to turnips and jicama than typical chestnuts. Their chestnut name only refers to their appearance rather than their other characteristics. 

Water chestnuts are predominantly used in China and have been part of Chinese cuisine for thousands of years.

They are usually sold fresh in China but they are easier to find canned in the West. Both kinds are used in a range of Asian-based dishes like dumplings and stir-fries to provide a crispy texture similar to a pear. 

Fresh water chestnuts are the most flavourful variety, with a sweetness leaning towards fruitiness and a hint of nuttiness. Canned water chestnuts have less flavour but have the same texture. 

Where Do Water Chestnuts Grow?

Water chestnuts need warm, freshwater marshes to grow which are found in abundance in China. Water chestnuts are also grown in a few US states like Florida. 

Similarities Between Bamboo Shoots and Water Chestnuts

Of all the ingredients we have compared so far on this website, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts seem the most different. But they do have some significant similarities: 

Use Of Texture

Regardless of their tastes, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts are mainly used for their crunchy textures.

This is especially true of fresh bamboo shoots and fresh water chestnuts, which retain their perfectly crunchy textures once they are cooked. 

Chinese Classics

You can find bamboo shoots and water chestnuts across Asian cuisine.

However, they are ingredients very traditional to Chinese cuisine due to bamboo shoots and water chestnuts naturally growing and cultivated there for thousands of years. 

Canned Varieties

Though they are mainly found in Chinese cuisine, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts have become increasingly popular worldwide, especially in the West.

This has become possible because they are ingredients that are very easy to can and preserve their texture. 

Differences Between Bamboo Shoots and Water Chestnuts

The reason that bamboo shoots and water chestnuts seem so different is because they are. They have much more impactful differences than similarities, such as: 

Canned Quality

Just because bamboo shoots and water chestnuts can be canned does not mean they share the same quality once they are canned.

Bamboo shoots tend to be softer when canned but keep their crisp once cooked. Unfortunately, water chestnuts lose the vast majority of their flavour once canned, rapidly decreasing in quality. 

Fresh Flavour

Bamboo shoots are not used for their flavour as they are not impactful enough to make much of a difference in a dish. Instead, they are used for their texture and their ability to bulk out a dish quickly. 

When water chestnuts are included in a dish, specifically fresh water chestnuts, they are sought after because of their sweet, fruity flavour. They are sweet enough to have a noticeable impact on a dish. 

Type Of Crunchiness

As you would expect from young bamboo, bamboo shoots are super crunchy. In fact, this is arguably their most significant quality.

The crunch of a water chestnut is more truthfully described as a crisp, much like that of a pear, with a hint of juiciness. At first, this may not seem like a big difference, but the difference is noticeable. 

Physical Appearance

If you were to go into the wild and compare bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, there is no argument about their physical differences.

Water chestnuts are named as such because of their striking physical similarities to a typical tree chestnut. Bamboo shoots grow like, well, bamboo. 

Growing Conditions

Though bamboo shoots grow abundantly in China, they require drained soil to thrive.

The growing conditions that water chestnuts require are the complete opposite. They need marshy lash with enough water to develop their juicy, crisp texture.

So, while plenty of bamboo shoots and water chestnuts can be found across China, you will not often find them growing together. 

Bamboo Shoots vs Water Chestnuts: Which Wins?

Which would you opt for if you could only use one of these two popular vegetables in your cooking? You’ve got to vote between bamboo shoots vs water chestnuts

Do You Prefer Bamboo Shoots or Water Chestnuts?

Bamboo Shoots and Water Chestnuts FAQs

If you still have questions, then have a look through these common FAQs:

Are Bamboo Shoots or Water Chestnuts Best?

If you can only get canned of either, then stick to bamboo shoots which tend to hold up when canned. However, either are amazing when fresh.

Can You Substitute Water Chestnuts for Bamboo Shoots?

Yes! They both provide a little sweetness and crunch to Chinese dishes which is why they can often be used interchangeably.


Where we obtain our information and verify the facts in this article:


What are water chestnuts and the health benefits

Honest Food Talks

What are bamboo shoots

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