Friday, May 16, 2008

Grass Jelly, Chin Chow or 仙草 - immortal grass ?

仙草冰 (xian cao bing) - grass jelly served on crushed ice, Taiwan

What has that got to do with Weekend Herb Blogging? You have to check out this week's host at A Scientist in the Kitchen.

Grass Jelly is made from a herb plant known as Mesona Chinensis. Mesona is a genus in the mint family of Lamiaceae. Did you know that? I didn't know that. :O

All this while, I have assumed that grass jelly is some kind of artificial jello, cubed and mixed in water and syrup - consumed as a refreshing drink. Probably, that is part of the deception because in Singapore, grass jelly is typically served like that - cubed/in thin strips, and in a form of a drink known as Chin Chow (hokkien dialect pronunciation) . In Taiwan, this herb can be set as a huge piece of gelatin (picture above) served as grass jelly ~ a cooling dessert. Doesn't this look and sound good on a hot summer day? :D

The end products of this herb are typically tea or grass jelly. In Chinese medicine, this herb is noted for its cooling(yin) properties - helps to reduce "heatiness" in the body and prevent the occurrence of heat stroke. Therefore, 仙草 (literally meaning - immortal grass) is also known as 涼粉草 (literally meaning ~ cooling grass).

How it is made...
The aged and slightly fermented grass or leaves of this mint family (specifically, mesona chinensis) are boiled in a water bath containing potassium carbonate. The resultant mixture is then cooled into a gelatinous consistency.

Color and taste...
Typically black in appearance, some associate this jelly to taste slightly bitter (medicinal?).

Due to similarities in colors and textures, many people tend to confuse grass jelly with another black herbal jelly sometimes known as Tortoise Jelly, 龟苓膏 pronounced Gui Ling Gao. Though both are known to be good for nourishing yin and reducing the "heat" in the body, they are made totally from different components altogether. As recorded in the traditional Chinese books, tortoise jelly is primarily made from Platysternon Megalephalum and Rhizoma Smilacis Glabrae . I'm going to omit the details here since it involves me writing about a non-herb, and neither a plant nor vegetable. Read more about herbal jelly where Black Food is touted to be good.

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