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Sep 14, 2011 04:43 PM

Chinese Chowhounders - Help! Strange Black Horn-Type Thing...What is it??

I was recently in a Chinese grocery and I saw a bin of these very hard things next to root vegetables that look like the horns of some kind of animal. They are about 3 inches across. I bought a few because they looked so bizarre and I wanted to investigate further.

Any ideas??

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  1. Sorry I am not Chinese but what you bought is a water caltrop also called “Bull’s Horn” (菱角)or Trapa bicornis among many other names.
    They need to be cooked before you peel them to kill a potentially dangerous parasite.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chefj

      Yes, the water calthrop is seasonal and usually available around this time of the year (near the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival).

      I tried some steamed ones at a night market in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a year ago - the water calthrops were steamed and tasted like a cross between chestnut (texture-wise) and ginseng (in its scent).

    2. Yes, that's what they are. They're often eaten steamed, as a snack, but as chefj said they have to be cooked thoroughly to kill parasites.

      3 Replies
      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

        Thanks everybody. Mystery solved. I don't think I even want to eat it....just have it...

        1. re: kellyhay

          I knew a friend who found them so spookily cool she used to draw demon faces on them.
          The related Trapa natans (which grows as a weed in some rivers in the US and Europe) looks nearly as odd. It has four spikes (two at the top two at the bottom), set perpendicular to each other) and these pleat like marks at the top of each side. So when they fall off the plant, the apperace (to me at least) always reminded me of a stylized little statue of a decaptiated male ballerina! (the pleats on the sides were his blouse, the top two spikes his arms, the bottom two his legs (in mid leap) and the flat spot at the very top with the hole in it, his neck)

          1. re: jumpingmonk

            Cool!! Yeah I've been trying to think of something creative to do with them. They hardly even NEED demon faces drawn onto them they look so demonic already.

      2. There's a thread on these every couple of years

        1. Bought some in Toronto some years back, have displayed in a little dish even now.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            That's actually not all that inapporpriate. I think they are considered a lucky food in China. Most likey this is becuse the nuts look a bit like a bat (remember bats are good omens in China). In fact, I am fairly sure I have seen stylized carvings of the things done in Jade worn as amulets (though at the lever of stylization I am thinking of, the differece between a water caltrop, a bat, and a sychee (those boat shaped gold ingots used to indicate prosperity) would be hard to tell.

            1. re: jumpingmonk

              but the English caltrop has a very different meaning - it's a spiked device intended to maim enemy war horses and solders.

              1. re: paulj

                That's true, but if you recall, the other species (T. natans) has 4 spikes and is indeed very very painful to step on (trust me on that point). It is that species that the Europeans were familiar with. They are the ones who gave it the caltrop name, and then it was also applied to the Chinese species.

                1. re: jumpingmonk

                  Right; this Chinese species only has 2 horns.

                    1. re: jumpingmonk

                      By the way, it's regarded as a weed or invasive plant in some of the American states.