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Lotus seeds is superfood in Chinese cooking

Updated: 23 Dec 2009
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Lotus seeds come from the lotus plant, which is found throughout the Middle East and Asia. The typical lotus seed is small, round and white or off-white in appearance. In China, lotus plants are grown in the Hunan, Fujian, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. The seeds are usually collected in August and September, and are dried in the sun (after having the skins of the seed removed).
 
    
Lotus seeds and dried seeds 
 
There is substantially less weight of the dried seeds per plant than the weight of the fresh rhizomes, so the total production quantities may be on the order of a few thousand tons. Additionally, lotus leaves are used as a flavoring and a wrapper for rice preparations in making dim sum; the plumules (large seed cases) are dried for use as decorations. Lotus stems are used in preparing salads and the dried flowers are used in cooked dishes, such as Mandarin Duck and Lotus Flowers; the fresh flowers are a common decoration. The bitter lotus embryos within the seeds, and the lotus stamens are primarily used as medicines rather than foods.
 
In traditional Chinese medicine, lotus seeds are considered sweet and neutral, and are associated with the Spleen, Kidney and Heart meridians. They contain asparagin, fats, proteins and some starches, and trace elements of calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. They are taken to tonify the spleen, reinforce the kidneys and nourish the blood. Lotus seeds have astringent properties, and are consumed to help relieve the symptoms of diarrhea and improve appetite. Other conditions treated with lotus seeds include palpitations, insomnia and irritability. Among the herbs with which lotus seeds are used are ginseng, poria and dioscorea.
 
Lotus seed as food

 

Moon cakes with lotus paste

 
The seeds are roasted or candied for eating directly; made into a paste for producing sauces and cake fillings (in mid-Autumn it is customary to serve "moon cakes" which have a filling made of lotus seeds and walnuts); and cooked in soups, usually with chicken or beans. An example of the latter is a soup presented at banquets for newlyweds, made with red beans and lotus seeds. Red beans (hongdou) represent strength, while lotus seeds (lianzi) symbolize the newlyweds being blessed with a child each year. The soup is also presented at the New Year's festival.

 
 
Lotus seeds dessert & chicken soup with lotus seeds
 
Red Bean and Lotus Seed Soup
14-ounce package red beans (also known as adzuki beans)
1.5 ounces lotus seeds
1 piece dried tangerine skin, soaked in hot water 10 minutes until soft
3/4 cup brown sugar
In a large pot, combine 7 cups cold water, red beans, lotus seeds and tangerine skin. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and simmer, covered, with pot lid slightly ajar, for 1 and 1/4 hours to 1 and 1/2 hours or until beans become tender. When beans are tender and open, and lotus seeds soften, add sugar; stir. Turn off the heat, pour into a heated tureen and serve. Makes 6 servings. Because the soup is sweet, it is also served as a desert. Another desert preparation is:
 
Cream Lotus Seed Soup
8 ounces lotus seeds
8 ounce can of crushed pineapple
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup of sugar
8 maraschino cherries
Soak the lotus seeds in water overnight; combine drained lotus seeds and 3 cups water and bring to boil over medium heat for 15 minutes; remove from heat and drain. Smash the cooked lotus seeds in a blender and pour the resulting paste into a big bowl. Dissolve the cornstarch in four tablespoons of water, pour into a small cup and set aside. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil over medium heat in a non-stick pot, then add the sugar, salt, pineapple, and lotus paste. Return to a boil and mix in the cornstarch liquid. Stir constantly until smooth and thickened. Reduce the heat and simmer for one minute. Remove from heat, pour into a large bowl, place pieces of the cherries on the top and serve hot. Makes 6 servings.
 
Yet another example is this one with lotus and longan:
 
Sweet Lotus Seed Soup Dessert
9 ounces lotus seeds
3.5 ounces longan
3 ounces rock sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
Put dried lotus seeds into a basin. Put just enough cold water to cover the lotus seeds and add bicarbonate of soda. Set aside for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Drain, then wash thoroughly. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add soaked lotus seeds and cook until the seeds turn soft. Add dried longan and rock sugar. Simmer until longan turns soft and sugar dissolves. Serve this dessert either hot or cold. In Asia, this mixture is flavored with pandan leaves (two leaves are added during the last few minutes of simmering the longan and sugar).
 
Nutritional value

Lotus seeds have been analyzed to determine their nutritional value. In 100 grams (yielding about 350 calories of energy), there are 63-68 grams carbohydrate (mostly starch), 17-18 grams of protein, and only 1.9-2.5 grams fat; the remainder is water (about 13%), and minerals (mainly sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus). As a protein source, lotus seeds are relatively good, with a one ounce serving (of dried seeds) providing 5 grams. The seeds are low in fiber and not a good source of vitamins. All the recipes given above are very low in fat, but high in carbohydrates.
 
Medical uses of lotus seed and other lotus plant parts

Lotus seeds are classified as astringents, being sweet and neutral, and benefiting the spleen, kidney, and heart. The sweet taste and nourishing qualities of the seed are responsible for the benefit to the spleen; this helps stop diarrhea associated with qi deficiency. The astringent quality helps prevent loss of kidney essence, so the seeds are used to treat weak sexual function in men and leukorrhea in women. The seed also has calming properties that alleviate restlessness, palpitations, and insomnia (more so in the whole seed with embryo). The medicinal dosage is 6-15 grams when it is combined with other herbs that have similar applications and double that when used as the main ingredient (the amount in the bean and lotus soup is about 7 grams per serving and in the cream lotus soup and sweet lotus desert about 37-40 grams per serving).
 
As an example of a therapy for diarrhea, one ounce of lotus seed is soaked in warm water for a few hours, then an adequate amount of rock sugar is added (to taste), and the mixture is simmered until the lotus seeds are well done. To this thick soup a cup of tea-made by steeping 5 g of black tea in boiling water-is added to yield the medicinal food. Traditional herb formulas for diarrhea are described in the next section.
Inside the seed there is a green embryo that is quite bitter; it is usually removed before the seed is provided as a food product. The embryo (lianzixin; heart of the lotus seed), is classified as bitter and cold and benefiting the heart; it dispels pathogenic heat from the heart to treat fidgets and spontaneous bleeding due to heat. The bitter components are isoquinoline alkaloids with sedative and antispasmodic effects. The alkaloids dilate blood vessels and thereby reduce blood pressure. Small amounts of the alkaloids are found in the seeds with embryo removed, and these may contribute an antispasmodic action for the intestines, helping to alleviate diarrhea.
 
The lotus leaves (heye) are also bitter, but neutral, and are said to benefit the stomach, spleen, and liver. They are used for treatment of summer heat syndrome and dampness accumulation; they also contain the lotus alkaloids with hypotensive effect. Lotus leaf has become popular for lowering blood lipids and treating fatty liver; it is commonly combined with crataegus, which promotes blood circulation and lowers blood fats, for that purpose. Lotus stems (hegeng) are used medicinally in the same way as the leaves for treatment of summer heat and are used also to treat tightness in the chest due to obstruction of qi circulation.
 
Lotus stamen (lianxu) is sweet, astringent, and neutral, benefiting the heart and kidney; it is mainly used for preventing discharge, such as treatment of leukorrhea or for frequent urination. It contains flavonoids and a small amount of alkaloids. Lotus nodes, the rhizome nodes (oujie), are astringent and neutral, benefiting the liver, lung, and stomach. They are mostly used to control bleeding. All the parts of the lotus have some antihemorrhagic effect, but the rhizome nodes are relied upon for that purpose specifically. The active component for reducing bleeding is not yet established, though quercetin and other flavonoids may play a role by improving capillary wall strength. By charcoaling the lotus plant parts, as is sometimes done, a hemostatic effect is assured, as charcoal itself has this effect (it promotes blood coagulation).
 

 

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