Angry Doctor

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gongxi Facai 2

'Fa cai' has many medicinal benefits and is important for CNY celebrations

Your report 'HK group calls for total ban on fa cai' (ST, Jan 31) comes at a time when Chinese all over the world will be celebrating Chinese New Year (CNY) in about a fortnight's time. 'Fa cai', or black moss, is usually eaten during the reunion dinner, the eve of CNY. Be that as it may, fa cai or Nostoc flagelliforme is still freely sold in our supermarkets and neighbourhood grocery shops in Singapore and Malaysia.

Black moss is a terrestrial cyanobacterium that has been and is still used as a vegetable in Chinese cuisine for many years. 'Fa cai' grows very slowly in desert steppe and in arid regions of north-western China. Extensive harvesting of this vegetable has damaged its natural distribution and further exploitation has been prohibited by the State Council of the People's Republic of China. When fa cai is removed from the ground, the surface soil is no longer bound together and is vulnerable to natural erosion. Uncontrolled harvesting of this vegetable has resulted in the transformation of huge areas into dry deserts.

Most commercial fa cai sold in the marketplace is now adulterated with non-cellular strands of a starchy material. Because of government restrictions on the sale of this vegetable, fa cai has been adulterated with non-nutritive fillers.

Black moss contains much protein, carbohydrates, some phosphorus, iron and potassium. It is recommended by Chinese sinsehs for people suffering from hypertension and chronic bronchitis. The iron content of black moss aids blood-cell production and therefore women suffering from mild anaemia after childbirth use black moss in cooking or make soup with it. The Chinese believe that black moss darkens the hair and that is why old women usually eat it to decelerate the greying of their hair.

Come Chinese New Year, the diehard Chinese will insist on eating black moss (which brings wealth), dried bean curd (which brings happiness), chicken (which brings happiness and a happy marriage) and eggs (which promote fertility).

No wonder our grandparents and parents will go all out to ensure that we have black moss for every celebration of CNY.

Heng Cho Choon


angry doc can't really tell from the letter whether Mr Heng is in favour or against the consumption of facai this festive season.

In any case, 'protein, carbohydrates, some phosphorus, iron and potassium' may be had from a variety of other food-types that are more common, and whose cultivation have less of an environmental impact.

Like say a banana.

But what the letter illustrated was the irrational belief held by some Chinese that things that are rare and hard to find are necessarily good for you (or is it the other way round?). Never mind that it may instead by harmful to you (see here and here; although it has been found to be safe for rats).

angry doc is also amused by the belief that such foodstuff contain so much goodness that a single serving once a year at reunion dinner will confer real health benefits, or even magically increase one's wealth.

Hopefully that same small serving is insufficient to cause any harm either.

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