The best Chinese superfoods

Move over quinoa, Beijing's got its own cheap and easy health foods

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.

Jujube dates


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.

Goji berries


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 (宁夏枸杞).

Eat with Yoghurt, smoothies, tea, as dried fruit.

Bok Choy


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.

Bitter melon


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 blood-sugar levels.

Chinese name Kugua (苦瓜).

Eat with Meat and sauce to lessen the bitter taste.

Green tea


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.

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