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Fa Cai is not quite so for Mother Nature

Text by Tris Marlis @ Makansutra, Image: Makansutra File Photo

During Chinese New Year, dining is all about eating the most auspicious food. The name of a dish has to be meaningful and symbolic, taste can come second. A common lucky dish is braised dried oyster with black moss, “Fa Cai Hao Shi” which also is a homophone for “prosperity and good luck.” Eating them is said to represent a promise of good fortune for the coming year.

Black moss is a key ingredient of this dish during the festive season, because of its name “Fa Cai” which means prosperity and has all the relevant and meaningful relation to that favourite greeting, “Gong Xi Fa Cai!”

Fa Cai is not quite so for Mother Nature

However, to get this black, hairy and tasteless fungus on your table is not as pretty as its name sounds. “Fa Cai” grows deep in the ground of Gobi desert and Qinhai Plateau. To harvest, a metal harrow with dense meshes is used to turn over top soil, removing all the surface plants and causing severe damage that takes two to three years to recover.

“Fa Cai” also has an important role in retaining water and preventing soil erosion. Without this photosynthetic bacterium, desertification in China will worsen and this will cause enormous dust storms. China has banned all exports of black moss in 2000, listing it as an endangered species.

Besides that, a research team from the Biochemistry Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong cited an International research to prove that “Fa Cai” has been found to contain toxic amino acid that could affect the normal functions of nerve cells and could lead to degenerate diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

In 2007, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said this finding is not established and claimed that “Fa Cai” at Singapore market is safe to consume. Today, “Fa Cai” in the market is either sold at high price, or “adulterated with non-cellular strands of a starchy material,” finds Professor Pui Hay But and his associates of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in their “Journal of Applied Phycology.”

“Fa Cai” that is tasteless, harmful to the environment and has no nutritional value certainly doesn’t translate to “prosperity” which its homophone suggests. So spare that thought before you order. Go for the starchy cellular factory made ones, they sound the same, is as tasteless and provide the same perceived luck.