Natural health tonics were popular with the Chinese Imperial crowd centuries before SoCal urbanites started touting the benefits of kale and quinoa. But while ginseng and cordyceps can cost more than their weight in gold, you don't have to burn a hole in your pocket to eat healthily in China. Here are five of our favourite Chinese superfoods commonly found at the local vegetable market.
There's a bit of an obsession
with these in China. Jujube
dates can be found in all
forms at the supermarket,
ranging from dried fruits to
juice and even crisps (though
they're definitely not our favourite
flavour). The dates either come in
red or black and contain a laundry-list
of vitamins and minerals. Red dates supposedly help
fight cancer and improve the
immune system by stimulating the
production of white blood cells. This
cure-all is also known to balance
body fluids, nourish the blood, and is
good for the liver and stomach.
Chinese name Hongzao (红枣).
Eat with Porridge, soup, cake.
Legend has it that these
antioxidant rich wolfberries were
the equivalent of a Philosopher's
Stone for herbalist Li Ching-Yun, who
reportedly lived to the ripe old age of
256. Whether you believe the claims
or not, there's
no doubt that these tiny orange berries
pack a huge punch. Goji berries the second richest
source of vitamin C in the world,
they also boost the immune system
and lessen hypertension.
Chinese name Ningxia gouqi
Eat with Yoghurt, smoothies, tea,
as dried fruit.
Also known as Chinese cabbage,
this all-star vegetable is ranked
in the top five on the Aggregate
Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), which
evaluates foods based on their 'vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals
and antioxidant capacities'. Basically, this means that the unassuming cabbage packs
maximum nutrition into minimum
calories – until it's cooked in a vat of
oil, of course.
It's a great source of calcium,
iron and potassium – not to mention
about 20 other nutrients. Other
benefits include improving skin,
bone and heart health.
Chinese name Xiaobaicai (小白菜).
Eat with On its own, sautéed,
braised or stir-fried. Bonus points for
adding goji berries.
Also known as bitter gourd, this oddlooking
vegetable was introduced
to China as long ago as the 14th
century and is a common ingredient
in Chinese cooking, easily found
at most markets and shops.
While it might look suspicious to
the untrained eye – resembling a
contorted cucumber complete with
warts – and divide the crowd with its
bitter taste, its health benefits are
rarely in doubt. Its pods are packed
with a load of antioxidants, vitamins
and minerals: beta carotene, iron and Vitamin C to name a few. It's celebrated for its healing properties,
allegedly helping to boost the
immune system and lower blood
pressure. Some studies even
suggest that it might play a part in
preventing certain types of cancer.
Bitter melon's biggest claim to fame,
however, is its use in the regulation
of diabetes; it's said to contain
anti-diabetic properties that reduce
Chinese name Kugua (苦瓜).
Eat with Meat and sauce to lessen
the bitter taste.
The small-but-mighty green tea
leaf has long been touted for its
health benefits in TCM, prescribed
for all maladies from headaches to
depression and fighting fatigue to
encouraging post-feast digestion.
While green and black tea are borne
from the same plant, green tea is
less processed after picking, and
so retains the maximum amount of
its naturally occurring antioxidants
– aka good bits that are supposed
to keep you healthy. One such
antioxidant found in green tea is
EGCG (look it up), which is said to
reduce the risk of cancer among
other illnesses (though studies
are somewhat inconclusive). Other
purported benefits of green tea
include helping with weight loss,
lowering blood pressure, lowering
cholesterol – the list goes on.
Chinese name Lucha (绿茶).
Drink with Brew dried tea leaves in
hot water (duh). Steep with fresh fruit
for extra flavour.