Explore the possibilities with this Instagrammable vegetable.

If you’re looking to add dimension to your diet, or perhaps make your meals more Instagram-worthy, renkon might just be the perfect ingredient. Known in English as lotus root, this cream-coloured vegetable’s shape and distinctive appearance make it an easy way to add visual intrigue to any dish.

As the name implies, lotus root is the underwater root of the lotus flower. Renkon can actually grow quite long underwater, and its shape is similar to that of a chain of linked sausages. But what you will find in the grocery store are the shorter portions that are easier to handle. The distinctive holes are air chambers that form during growth and are what gives renkon its intriguing appearance. Renkon is an auspicious food and is often eaten at the dawn of the new year to bring luck for the upcoming year.

Beyond the visual appeal and spiritual symbolism of renkon, there are a number of health benefits to consuming this eye-catching vegetable. It is believed that renkon has the ability to improve digestion, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and improve circulation, and even prevent some cancers. Some also claim it has benefits to mental health, as they believe that eating renkon can reduce depression. Renkon is also known to be rich in a number of vitamins and minerals including potassium, iron, zinc and manganese, as well as vitamins A, B6 and C.

Renkon can be prepared in a number of ways. Its potato-like texture and light flavour faintly similar to coconut make it versatile and suitable in most Asian dishes. Like a potato, it is best consumed cooked, but the length of its cooking time can be adjusted depending if you prefer a firmer or softer bite. It can be used in soups and stews, making it handy to throw into the pot in winter, or it can be stir-fried with other vegetables. It can also be sliced and then pan-fried or deep-fried, with its pattern of holes making it an attractive addition to your plate. Renkon is often served alongside other veggies on a plate of tempura.

Renkon is available year-round but is at its peak in autumn and winter. When shopping for renkon, look for a piece that is heavy and firm, light brown in colour, and free of blemishes and cracks. At some grocery stores you may be able to find renkon that is prepackaged, canned or freeze-dried. Keep your renkon in the fridge to keep it fresh, and make sure to wash it well before using. And for that Instagram-worthy photo, soak the renkon in vinegar after washing and peeling to help maintain its fresh colour.

If you ever visit Kumamoto Prefecture, be sure to sample the local renkon specialty known as karashi renkon. It is prepared by filling each of the holes in a piece of renkon with a blend made with karashi, a very spicy mustard, and covering the outside with bat- ter before the whole thing is deep-fried. Just be sure to take small bites!