Monday, October 29, 2012

All About Singhara in India

I broke the “fruits only” rule to include one of the scariest, weirdest, most demonic looking things in nature. I present: the ling nut. Ling nut is actually its tame name. It also goes by water caltrop, buffalo nut, bat nut, and, my favorite, devil pod.

To be clear, Indians often translate this nut, known as singhara, to “water chestnut.” This nut is not, however, related to the better-known water chestnut often used in Chinese cooking, Eleocharis dulcis.

Origin of Ling Nut
Ling nut has been used for approximately 3,000 years in India and China. Today, however, Taiwan is one of the largest producers. Ling nuts are also found throughout Europe and are considered an invasive species in parts of the US. 

Availability of Ling Nut in India
According to the book, “Tanks in Eastern India,” singharas grow throughout the East of India: West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Bihar are examples of such regions. Bihar in particular cultivates the fruit extensively in its districts of Darbhanga, Madhubani and Samastipur.

Not unlike other shelled nuts, caltrops are an autumn and early winter delight. The “Hanbook of the Economic Products of Punjab” states that singharas are planted in June and bear fruit in November.

Where to Find Ling Nuts in India
Ling nuts are a food more widely consumed in the North. In fact, vendors sell it as a street food when in season. It’s possible to find packaged flour in most of India’s large cities.

Goddess Durga

Cultural Significance of Ling Nuts
Ling nuts are especially popular during Navaratri, a 9-day festival celebrated by North Indians in celebration of the goddess Durga. Durga is an incarnation of Shakti, the one revered as the mother goddess. Indians pray to Durga for the power to maintain balance during times of natural changes, which is precisely what occurs as fall shifts to winter.

Some devout Indians choose to fast for the whole period, while others make delicious dishes. The ground flour of the ling nut is used during religious rituals throughout the festival, and it’s also one of the foods acceptable on the “phalahar diet,” a regimen that shuns cereals and promotes the consumption of fruits.

Taste of Ling Nuts
Like cashews, ling nuts are poisonous in their raw form. Some have nibbled on the nut with no adverse side effects, though it is not recommended.

When cooked, these odd-shaped nuts have a pleasant taste resembling chestnuts, peanuts and brazil nuts with hints of sweetness. Its texture is starchy and crumbly.

Nutritional Value of Ling Nut lists the nutritional value for 100g of singhara as follows:

4.7g Protein
23.3g Carbs
.3g Fat
20mg Calcium
1.35mg Iron

Singhara flour has a glycemic index score of 60 and is gluten free.

Health Benefits of Ling Nuts
Ling nuts have several health benefits touted in Ayurveda. The book, “Health and Harmony in Ayurveda” lists ling nuts as increasing semen, and is thus recommended for fertility.

The scientific community has explored the health benefits of this potent nut with some amazing findings:
--The “Journal of Medical Sciences” published one study touting the ling nut’s strong antibacterial activity
--A study by scientists in Bangladesh and published in “Fitoterapia” indicates that ling nuts have cytotoxic and antimicrobial properties
--The Scholars Research Library reports one study indicating that ling nuts have possible antiulcer activities, as the results were promising when tested in rats.
--The “Indian Journal of Experimental Biology” published a study that states ling nuts have neuroprotective properties that may reverse oxidative damage in the brain caused by aging.

How to Open/Cut:
To open, use a nutcracker and a pick. Ling nuts should not be opened or consumed raw. They can, however, be cracked open after cooking them.

Ling nuts can either be boiled on the stovetop for an hour, or slow dried and roasted at a low heat for an equal amount of time. Because these nuts may spark on an open fire or in the oven, boiling is advised.

Opening and extracting the meat is time consuming and tedious, so expect to devote ample time to the project.

In their hard shell, ling nuts can be kept in a paper bag in the pantry. Store flour in an airtight container away from heat and direct sunlight. If purchased fresh and unpeeled, keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator--they should keep for up to two weeks. If peeled, place them in cold water and change the water daily. Use within three days. 

Singhara barfi from

Ling Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Using powder made by roasting and grinding the nut, make halwa
--Make barfi (Indian marzipan, basically) using ground ling nut as the base instead of cashew
--Add simple oil, salt, pepper to boiled ling nuts and enjoy. These ingredients may be sautéed for additional flavor.
--Make a batter by taking nut flour, salt, and slowly adding water until a paste forms. Dip in veggies such as pumpkin, yam, or sweet potatoes and deep fry.
--Whip up savory pancakes by adding water to the nut flour, oil and spices. They will have the consistency of crepes and can be served with savory potato filling or rasam and coconut chutney.
--Make puri (an Indian version of Indian fry bread) by mashing boiled potato with ling nut flour, oil, and spices. An acceptable ratio of potato to flour is ½ c flour for every 1 medium potato. Add water until a doughy consistency is achieved. Flatten and then deep fry in a shallow skillet. Remove when it puffs up.
--Use the flour as the base for samosa dough
--If boiling ling nuts, add star anise: it will highlight the nut’s sweetness and make the home smell lovely while cooking.

Note: ling nut flour requires much less water than wheat flour. It’s best to go by feel to assess the proper amount of water required.

From a nutritional standpoint, singharas should be regarded as a starch and not so much flour, though it is often used as a flour substitute.

Random Facts:
The pink flour from ling nut is sometimes used as ammunition during Holi, the festival when North Indians pelt each other with colored flour and water.

The “Encyclopedia of Invasive Species” states the plants often cause problems in India’s irrigation systems.

Scientific Name:
Trapa bispinosa (the most common type in India)
Trapa bicornis (the common type in China)

Indian Names:

Pre-peeled Singhara


  1. I like Pani Singada. I am having it almost everyday.

  2. Hello,

    You know, you can eat the singhara "raw". It has a slight watery taste to it, I find it interesting that you mention that it could be poisonous, yet to come across someone who has fallen sick or died from eating them raw.

    Slice it with a knife in half, vertically, that makes it easier to pry away the inner pulp.

    Thank you for the informative posts!Keep up the good work.

  3. Amazing! Not to mention I can't believe I've been following your blog for such a long time. chowringhee karolbagh

  4. Singhara isn't poisonous. I've been eating it raw since I was a kid. It's got a slightly sweet taste.