We all know we should eat more fruits, but which ones? Most fruits are low in calories and high in fiber, but some contain higher-than-average levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients to boost health and counteract the effects of aging.
In 2005, the marketing term “superfruit” was coined in the US to describe a fruit perceived to have health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Superfruits are usually brightly-colored, as this characteristic is associated with different kinds of antioxidants.
However, it’s also crucial to eat local. With its vast territory, China is endowed with a variety of native fruits, many of which are considered superfruits but may be relatively unknown to newcomers. Here’s a roundup of the more common ones.
Chinese Sea-Buckthorn 沙棘
This flowering wild plant (shaji) grows in cold, high-altitude climates, and its fruits are valued for their rich vitamin content and fatty acids. The Chinese sea-buckthorn has also been extensively planted across northern China to slow soil erosion. Sour and mildly bitter, the little, golden fruits are usually processed as bottled beverages and capsules as a medicinal remedy.
Because silk worms primarily live on the leaves of mulberry plants, China is also a major producer of mulberries (sangshen). The fruits are white and sour before ripening into a dark reddish-purple color. The mature berries are rich in anthocyanidins, natural antioxidants effective for improving cardiovascular health and preventing cancer. Find them fresh in local fruit markets and supermarkets during the summer.
Loquat (pipa) is the main ingredient in a popular cough syrup called pipa gao found in local pharmacies. Grown primarily in southeastern China, the golden egg-sized fruits are available fresh during the summer. You’ll know they’re ripe when the skin easily peels off.
Chinese Wolfberry 枸杞
Also known as goji berry in the West, Chinese wolfberry (gouqi) is often dried and added to soups. Mainly produced in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of north-central China and Xinjiang, the red-orange berries are a great source of antioxidants and dietary fiber. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dried goji berries can also relieve visual fatigue. If you drink chrysanthemum tea (juhua cha) in summer, we recommend adding a handful of goji berries to enhance both the taste and nutritional value.
Chinese Kiwi 野生猕猴桃
Although most people associate kiwis with New Zealand, you might not be aware that kiwi seeds were actually carried to New Zealand by missionaries from China in the early 20th century. Wild kiwis (yesheng mihoutao) still grow in certain regions of China. They are harvested in the mountains of Henan and Shaanxi as well as in forests along the border of Hunan. Kiwis are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They can also help prevent clot formations within the blood vessels. Fresh, wild kiwis can be found in markets in autumn.
Photos: Arthur Chapman, Canonsnapper, Hpitlick, Jean Big Cat, Larry Hoffman (flickr)