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Fruits. Part III: Hawthorn and Beyond
Chinese Food in the Middle East
Spring Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(1) pages: 15 to 19
This series about fruits began in Volume 23-4 and featured apples, apricots, bananas, chayote, cherries, and coconuts. Part II continued with the citrus family and included dates, durian, figs, gingko nuts, goji berries, the gooseberry, grapes, and guavas. Each fruit does include one recipe. In this, the third article, we continue with more fruits common in the Chinese cuisine. In the next issue, information about nuts and berries will follow.
Do note often but not always, one fruit can substitute for another one. A reminder, there are additional fruit recipes in this magazine’s index to be enjoyed by those who prepare them.
Hawthorn is in the genus Crataegus, species rhipidophylla. These local small fruits grow on shrubs or small trees, and often these have thorny branches. You may have seen them sold candied and on sticks in open air markets in early summer. Year round, they are found dried as wafers sometimes called haw or flakes. They come wrapped in paper and look like thin reddish coins. Found in Asian markets, this fruit is also sold as a drink, in alcoholic beverages, and preserved or canned. When fresh, they are sweet and bright red or blackish-brown.
Considered delicacies, they are eaten raw, cooked, and in many other ways. The Chinese call them shan zha; in English they are known as hawthorn or mountain red fruits. Made into assorted snacks with different names, they are very high in vitamin C, have many phytochemicals, tannins, and phenolic acids. TCM or traditional Chinese medical practitioners say they have many uses. These include relieving indigestion, reducing diarrhea and high blood pressure, and removing pain from a hernia when mixed with ground fennel seeds. They also ease the itch of a rash, reduce dizziness and symptoms from dysentery.
KIWI is a fruit whose botanical name is Actinidiaceae, and is one with many species, some say four hundred or more. Most are called yang tao, years ago all called Chinese gooseberries. They are also known botanically as Souris vegetale, and were known and eaten by the Chinese for thousands of years. However, they were not as popular as they are today since being called kiwi fruit. Current varieties did develop from a single seed brought to New Zealand where they were popularized after their name kiwi was adopted.
One mature vine can produce some two hundred fruits. They store well in the refrigerator, and can be frozen then defrosted keeping their texture and taste undiminished. Their hairs eventually disappear after they ripen, though few consumers seem to know this; they eat them before fully ripened.
Technically a berry, without fertilization, these fruits grow to be about the size of a hen’s egg.
Their black seeds are edible and not tough. In years past, these fruits were pickled. They were and still are a good source of antioxidants, have many vitamins and minerals, and are a particularly good source of Vitamin C.
TCM practitioners tell us these fruits are good to aid digestion, and can be a heart tonic. Boil their branches and they are used to treat mange in dogs, their vines when young make great rope.
LI ZHI are tree fruits native to Guangzhou. They are a member of the soapberry family called Sapindaceae; its botanical name is Litchi chinensis. These fruits are very sweet and very juicy. They have a thin membrane under their warty exterior skin. Inside is a hard dark pit, this seed is in its center. Usually red or pink-skinned when ripe, these fruits dry out with a brown crisp outside and are called lizhi nuts.
This fruits probably went from China to India and then to the US. Their pits can be ground and mixed with fennel and simmered and used to reduce swollen testicles and relieve menstrual pain. Chinese traditional medical practitioners say they are very sweet and improve blood and are good for those who are ill. They are also good for those suffering with asthma, pain from a hernia, and for those with a cold stomach.
Wild li zhi trees grow on China’s Hainan Island and throughout the rest of the country. There are many stories about their love as a delicacy in Imperial courts. In early times, they were described by Michal Boym and others as fruits from trees with thick twigs with smooth internal fruit. Known as far back as 2000 BCE, a famous story is about their use in the courts of Imperial times, rushed at great expense by fast horses to the capital and the court there. Preferred raw, many Chinese purchase them no matter the price when they first come into season. Few cook them or use them in dishes, those that do often use them in a meat dish or a cold soup such as the one that follows.
LONGAN, another ancient Chinese fruit that is often called dragon eye fruit, is botanically known as Dimocarpus longan. They grow on twenty foot or taller evergreen trees, and some say their fruit does look like an eyeball. We do not see this but do note they have a dark pit and white flesh. They are also known as cassia chief, and in Chinese are called gui yuan.
Not as sweet as the li zhi, they ripen somewhat later. The Chinese consider them warm in nature, and say they benefit the spleen, enrich the blood, increase vigor, calm the nerves, help reduce bleeding, ease pain, and reverse weight loss after illness.
They also say they help settle dizziness and blurred vision. TCM medical practitioners prescribe them to reduce nervousness, reduce heart palpitations, restore weak feelings during pregnancy, and heal ulcers. They also recommend roating their pits and using them for these needs, for scalds, burns, and anemia; and they use their dried skins and pits to make wine. The fruit itself is used fresh and dried when making wines and liquors, and for cooking in many main dishes. They particularly like them in soups and sweet ones.
LOQUAT, called pi pa in Chinese, is the same name as one of their musical string instruments. Some Chinese call these fruits lu jie or reed oranges, perhaps because their fruit is yellow-orange. They ripen at the end of summer, and TCM practitioners say they cool fevers and increase saliva, and are good to relieve constipation in the aged, and reduce coughs for those of all ages.
Botanically known as Eriobotrya japonica, these fruits grow on flowering evergreen shrubs or trees, and are in the Rosaceae family. Their origins are quite ancient, and some say they originally came from Japan while most believe they originated in China. There are several varieties and they differ in flavor and color, all with dark green leathery leaves.
The fruits are succulent, smell sweet, grow in clusters, and can have one or many pits. Some have a bitter flavor. Many Chinese tell us they taste like a mixture of peach, mango, and citrus. They were mentioned in ancient Chinese literature, sometimes as lu jie. Some of the fruits have light hair on their exteriors.
Chinese TCM practitioners say they cool fevers and increase saliva; and that their pits when ground can help reduce coughing and other throat irritations. These dried fruit, when placed under a marriage bed, are a wish to have children quickly. The Chinese elderly are encouraged to eat some dried if they are constipated, also if they have asthma.
In Chinese kitchens, loquats are known for their high sugar content and abundance of pectin. Therefore, they are used for all kinds of preserves. Fresh ones are poached in syrup. Fresh, dried, or canned, they are used in bakery products, and made into wines and liquors. Low in saturated fat and sodium, TCM personnel often recommend them as a cough medicine; and they do warn that their leaves can be poisonous because they can contain cyanogenic glucosides. Even though many do, they still make and sell them as a paste and suggest they are a fine expectorant that soothes the throat and the digestive system.
NUTS, are edible fruits or seeds, many true nuts, drupes, or dry fleshy fruits surrounding a pit or a stone, or a naked seed such as are pine nuts. Peanuts are angiosperms not enclosed in a larger fruit or another exterior part. The most popular nuts to the Chinese are almonds, apricot seeds they consider nuts, cashews, Chinese chestnuts, coconuts, ginkgo nuts, peanuts, pine nuts, and walnuts. Also popular are soybeans that some do call soy nuts; but these are not nuts. Many nuts are popular for their oil and as vegetables. They can be used dry or roasted, either way in stir-fry dishes, in baked foods, as flavorings, and/or when raw.
Olives, are fruits, though not everyone thinks of them as such. To the Chinese, the most important one in their culinary is botanically known as Canarium album, and called tol gai lan, huang lan, or bai lan. All olives grow on evergreen trees, are often oval-shaped, and have hard pits. This Chinese olive has very pointed ends, many using them as tooth picks.
Olives are astringent, and their pits or hard stones, when ground and consumed, TCM practitioners say can clear a fever, relieve poisoning from alcohol, benefit the throat by reducing chronic coughs, ease hangovers, slow down the bleeding of wounds, reduce chill blains, and reduce skin sore infections.
All olives are eaten processed, the Chinese bury many in salt after drying them in the sun for two or more days, then preserving them for weeks. The love them for their taste and for healing.
PAPAYA, also called paw paw, is botanically known as Carica papaya. It is a very large group of tropical fruits growing on large trees or their trunks. There are some two dozen species, their fruits technically are berries that are ripe when soft and almost orange. Female trees most often grow these fruits, one flower left on to make for a stronger and larger fruit. These fruits are very susceptible to disease and viruses, and growers are working to genetically modify them.
There are two main kinds of papayas, one with orange to red flesh, the other with yellow flesh. Either can be picked green and they usually are. Green papayas are used for salads and cold dishes, the orange-ish red ones eaten raw or cooked in soups or with meat or fish dishes.
PEAR, is a fruit that lovers should not share. Why not, because the Chinese word for pear is identical to the word meaning separation. That is why Chinese friends do not like to share a pear. This is true for the common pear or the Asian pear; the latter is crunchy and tastes somewhere between a pineapple and a rose.
Most pears grow on deciduous trees, though there are two species growing on evergreen ones. Not all are pear-shaped, a few look like apples. One way to tell is when eating them. Some are ‘gritty’ in texture, apples never are. Pears are Pyrus, their species one of thirty or so. Some say there are a thousand pear species, others tell us there are many cultivars but only three species.
Pears grow their fruit on what is called the ‘spur’ which is a shoot more than a year old. Nashi or Asian pears look like apples but are more crisp. In Chinese, all pears are bai li. Chinese TCM practitioners tell us they moisten lungs, cool fevers, relieve the effects of alcohol, and ease constipation. Also, if one has a cough, diarrhea, or a cold feeling in the lungs, one should not eat any pear.
There is one pear called tang li in Chinese, in the species P. betulaefolia; It is round and sometimes known as a ‘false pear’ and it is used to stop diarrhea and ease acute throat irritations. One TCM doctor told us never eat these fruits without the skin, and chew them slowly for best results. He could not explain why, but did say to cook any type of pear any way you might like.
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