If you think the craze over kale and quinoa is weird, just wait until you hear
what “health foods” people eat in China.
First on the list is a wellness product called “ejiao,” which is a thick jello-like substance attained by boiling donkey skin and extracting the gelatin.
Ejiao is often touted as a panacea that can cure everything from wrinkles
and insomnia to impotence and fatigue.
This strange medicine has been consumed in China for thousands of years
and was known to have been a favorite of Chairman Mao and his elite
Now that the middle-class can get its hands on ejiao, the demand for
donkeys has reached a level China can’t sustain on its own.
Edible Bird’s Nest
Nicknamed “Caviar of the East,” edible bird’s nest is a delicacy that has
been a popular health food in China for hundreds of years.
Edible bird’s nest comes from the swiftlet, which builds a nest using its own
saliva. When consumed, the hormones and enzymes in the nest are
believed to promote the reproduction and regeneration of human cells as
well as benefit the metabolism and immune system. Regular consumption
is said to lighten and brighten the complexion.
Edible bird’s nest is one of the most expensive foods consumed by
humans, with white nests selling for up to $2,000 per kilogram. Red nests,
which are considerably more rare, go for up to $10,000 per kilogram.
The saliva nest is commonly made into soup. In Hong Kong, a single
bowl costs between $30 and $100. Because the swiftlet’s diet consists
mainly of saltwater fish, bird’s nest soup is typically described as having a
salty, briny flavor.
“Hasma” or “hashima” is an ingredient and wellness food made from the
fatty tissue found near the uterine tubes of the female Asiatic Grass Frog.
Hasma is an ancient delicacy similar to edible bird’s nest, but goes for
about half the price – earning it the nickname “cheaper bird’s nest.”
Hasma is high in Omega-3’s and amino acids, which help produce
antibodies, build new muscle, repair damaged tissue, and keep skin looking
plump and young.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, women should consume hasma
after giving birth and during menopause to stabilize hormone levels and
Other benefits of hasma include:
Helps rid the body of toxins and extra water
Aids in digestion
Clears phlegm from the lungs
Strengthens immune system
Baijiu (now for something fun)
China is also home to baijiu, the world’s most-consumed liquor.
Baijiu is a strong, potent liquor made by mixing steamed sorghum with
water and jiuqu (a fermentation agent). When I say “strong,” I mean 50%
alcohol content (in some cases 60% or higher).
Baijiu is aged between 30 days and 30 years in jars buried underground.
Because jiuqu is extremely sensitive to its surrounding environment, baijiu
has a distinct flavor depending on its region of origin.
The “Maotai” variety, made in Guizhou province, was named ‘state
beverage’ in 1950. Today, parent company Kweichow Moutai is the world’s
most valuable distiller and the most expensive stock in China. The
company is valued at more than half the GDP of Guizhou.
In 2012, a 1980 vintage bottle of Moutai was sold at auction for $1.3 million.
Alcohol enjoys somewhat of a revered status in China due to its history of
being consumed by elite members of society. In ancient China, alcohol was
even believed to have spiritual powers.
Today, baijiu is regularly enjoyed at business dinners. The strong beverage
is served in thimble-sized glasses and generally consumed in one gulp.
Like donkey gelatin, baijiu was a favorite of Mao Zedong.
Baijiu, which CBS’s Ben Rather once described as tasting like “liquid razor
blades,” has yet to become popular in the West. Others have described
baijiu as tasting like rotten fruit, sweaty socks, or smoked pears.
Richard Nixon was warned before his 1972 visit to China not to drink
Maotai if the beverage was offered. He did so anyway, leading to famous
pictures of Nixon toasting Zhou Enlai with thimble glasses of Maotai.
While boiled donkey and dried bird saliva might not sound up your alley, the Chinese have been eating these delicacies for some time and will attest to their health benefits. If melted donkey can really keep us looking younger longer, maybe our stomachs can forgive us long enough to give it a try.