Red yeast rice (hong qu)

Red Yeast Rice (Hong Qu)

Here’s a delicious and good-for-you quarantine activity: homemade red (and white) yeast rice wine—we made both! 🥃 These jugs have been aged for two years, but yeast rice wine can be enjoyed after only one month of brewing and can keep up to 5 years.

Red yeast rice, or hong qu, is a traditional Chinese food and herbal medicine. Following numerous clinical studies, it’s now received growing attention in the West for its cholesterol-lowering qualities and is one of the top-selling supplements on sites like Amazon. Thanks to its high nutritional content and smooth, unique taste, red yeast wine has been a popular drink in China for thousands of years, with new mothers in particular drinking it during the 30-day “confinement period” after giving birth, for nourishment.

In Chinese medicine, hong qu has been historically used to treat indigestion and invigorate blood circulation. It also relieves pain due to trauma and injuries when combined with other herbs, such as yan hu suo (rhizoma corydalis) and dang gui.

It’s easy to make red yeast rice wine and there are numerous recipes online but my mom’s secret tip is to use an oak stirring stick to enhance the flavor. She also keeps the storage area and equipment super clean to avoid any contamination, as the wine can easily spoil if it comes into contact with oil.

Time to Make Red Yeast Rice Wine! 🍷

Red Yeast Rice (RYR), also called koji, is a traditional Chinese medicine ingredient popular in China, Japan, and other Asian countries. A medicinal remedy and health food since ancient times, it has been used in at least 24 TCM prescriptions for treating various chronic diseases, and was first recorded in the Local Chronicles of Gutian, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD).

RYR has been used to lower cholesterol, relieve anxiety and stress, reduce inflammation, enhance immunity, and fight cancer. A recent research report also noted its anti-obesity, anti-fatigue, and anti-microbial activities. The fermentation used in making RYR wine further adds to its health benefits, producing GABA in the process. GABA helps lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety and stress, making RYR wine a drink that many like to sip at night, including former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping—his doctor actually ordered him to drink RYR wine before bed to reduce stress levels.

RYR has met with some controversy in the US, as it contains a cholesterol-lowering statin called monacolin K, which pharma company Merck has patented in its drug, Mevacor. Despite this, many have discovered the naturally occurring medicinal benefits of consuming RYR, and in capsule form, it is one of the top-selling supplements on Amazon.

In China, RYR wine is commonly made at home, as it is easy and requires only 3 ingredients—it’s also ready to drink in only 30 days. RYR wine is only made this time of year, as cooler weather produces the finest quality rice wine and the timing of the “harvest” is aligned with Chinese New Year celebrations.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to buy:

5 lbs. short grain sweet rice (glutinous rice) – Sho-Chiku-Bai rice is very high quality
0.5 lb. red yeast rice
3.5 dried yeast balls - rice wine starter (they also come in blocks)
Oak wooden dowel stirrer - this is the “secret ingredient” in my family – it enhances taste!
Large bucket

Red yeast rice wine is easy to make but a bit time-consuming, in that you need to dedicate about a minute a day to stir and clean the stirrer, and it takes around 30 days to “ripen.” My recipe yields a little more than a gallon of wine, and given the time and effort needed, how inexpensive the ingredients are, and how delicious and healthy the end result, I think it would be a waste to not make at least this amount—I usually make a batch twice this large!

Note: It is crucial that no oil touches the ingredients, as this will spoil the batch. Make sure everything is thoroughly washed and disinfected (hands included!)

1.Wash and soak glutinous rice overnight—add enough water to cover the rice by 2-3”

2. In the am, drain the rice

3. Fill a large steamer with water (about 3” high). Add rice, wrapped in muslin. Use your finger and poke a few holes through the rice so the steam can rise and cook the rice evenly. Steam on medium-high for 25 min. The steamed rice should be plump but remain individual grains (see photo)—it must not be mushy, which creates sour wine. Let the rice cool completely

4. Ground the yeast balls into powder using a mortar and pestle. Pour the red yeast rice into a bowl and add the powder, mixing well

5. Add a handful of glutinous rice into the bucket. Layer one handful of red yeast rice mixture on top and combine well with your hands, then repeat until all rice has been used up. Leave one handful of red yeast rice mixture for Step 6

6. Boil 1 gallon of water and let it cool completely. Add this water to the mixture, then sprinkle the last handful of red yeast rice mixture on top

7. Cover the bucket but leave the top untightened, as this will allow gas from fermentation to escape. The bucket should be kept at room temperature and out of direct sunlight

8. Stir the mixture once a day with a clean wooden dowel or spatula (wash it after every stir and store it in a clean place). You’ll start to notice that it smells quite delicious after just a few days!

9. Once all the rice has sunk to the bottom, the wine is ready to drink—this takes 20-30 days (with 30 days being the maximum time you should allow it to ferment). Harvest the wine by pouring out the liquid into a jug or bottle; store the residual rice, called the wine lees, separately—this is healthy and prized in Chinese cooking and can be used to make vibrantly colored savory dishes, buns, or even mooncake

10. Celebrate that you just made homemade rice wine!

Are you going to be trying your hand at winemaking?

Note: This photo was taken 3 days after starting the process, and it was already very aromatic!

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Ginger Tea Preparation

Ginger tea paste is concentrated through slow-cooking (14 hours, for my batches!), so all you have to do is add hot water and stir until it fully dissolves, which usually takes just a few seconds. I usually use about a teaspoon to a cup of water, but this latest batch of aromatic ginger is spicier, so I use a little bit less. There is usually a bit of sediment at the bottom of each cup consisting of some ginger pulp (which many like to bite into for an extra bit of kick) and small pieces of goji berry or jujube. It’s all edible and comes with therapeutic benefits, but if you prefer to leave it out, you can strain it out or leave it at the bottom of the cup.

Traditionally, the Chinese do not drink ginger-jujube-goji tea right before bed, as ginger is “warming” and can be known to cause insomnia in sensitive sleepers. I usually have 2-3 cups a day—one in the morning while waiting for my green tea to steep, one mid-day, and one after dinner—as ginger contains digestive enzymes.

The latest batch is made with 100% aromatic ginger, and I only have 3 jars left of the regular aromatic ginger-jujube-goji paste, and 11 jars left with reishi. While I still have half a box of fresh aromatic ginger that I haven’t used yet, the store is no longer carrying it, so this is likely the last batch made with 100% aromatic ginger. I also added the $14 regular ginger tea paste back on the site, in preparation for the next batch. Any orders of 3 jars will also come with a chaga chunk for you to try. They will be good for a year unopened, or around 3-4 months opened in the fridge. Thanks to all who have ordered so far! 🌿

Are you doing anything differently with your ginger tea paste? (A friend mentioned possibly adding it to whisky, which I'm curious to try!)

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Nourishing Chicken Herbal Soup

On cold days, few things are more appreciated than making chicken herbal soup for those you care about, and it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular comfort foods in China. While in many countries, chicken soup is an at-home remedy used to ward off colds, the Chinese take chicken soup to another level by adding TCM herbs, creating a flavorful, nourishing tonic that is most often consumed during cold, damp days to boost immunity and revitalize the mind and body. This soup also improves my sleep!

Herbal soups are common in the Cantonese region, where many drink them on a daily basis. There are numerous takes on chicken herbal soup, with many recipe books available specifically dedicated to this dish, but what you may not realize is that Asian grocery stores sell pre-packaged bags of dried herbs for tonic soup, usually just for a few dollars! Buy a few and keep it in your pantry.

You can find them online too by searching “Chinese herbal soup mix” (avoid "Si Wu" soup which is specifically for PMS relief). They will usually contain a combination of bitter and sweeter herbs/fruits (like goji, longan, lotus seeds, monkfruit, jujube), and possibly ginseng and lingzhi (reishi). The last two are excluded from most mixes due to the high cost—dang shen is usually added in as a ginseng substitute, also being a “qi tonic” herb. I always add in a bit of reishi to my soup.

2 bone-in chicken thighs
3-4 slices ginger
2 scallion, chopped
1 bag Chinese herbal soup mix
1 tbsp Goji berries
6g Reishi (optional)
Non-metallic pot
5 cups water

1. Wash herbs in cold water (do not soak)
2. Blanch chicken in a pot of boiling water until brown foam comes out. Remove quickly and transfer chicken into soup pot
3. Add herbs (except goji berries), ginger, and scallion, and 5 c water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 min
4. Add goji berries. Simmer for another 30 min
5. Season with salt. Shred chicken and add back in to pot, then garnish with freshly chopped scallion and serve. Enjoy!

Note: harder herbs (like reishi) are not meant to be ingested

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Reishi has become a top-selling medicinal mushroom, used for its ability to increase energy, boost immunity, reduce anxiety and stress, prevent aging, restore hormonal balance, fight cancer, and improve sleep, among many other benefits—users have even mentioned its ability to ward off hormonal acne!

However, this mushroom—recognized by its red and shiny appearance when wet (and dusty, brown appearance when dried)—has been a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years. Known as lingzhi, its medicinal benefits are widely recognized, first recorded in a description of a palace from 104 BC. Throughout Dynastic China, reishi was a highly-esteemed “food of immortality” available only to emperors and nobility, often depicted in art, and out of the reach of the masses. Ancient medical texts from 502 AD and 1590 AD recognized reishi for its ability to enhance energy, prevent aging, increase memory, and strengthen cardiac function.

Reishi has been shown to have over 100 different polysaccharides, which enhance immune function, and at least 119 triterpene compounds, including two which show particularly promising results in alleviating allergies and autoimmune diseases. Recent research papers mention “there is considerable evidence to support [reishi’s] immunostimulating activities” and that its “polysaccharides and triterpenes… exhibit chemopreventive and/or tumoricidal effects” (Wachtel-Galor). This research also noted reishi’s “combination of benefit without toxicity.”⠀

I’m experimenting with my ginger-jujube-goji paste and have prepared whole sliced reishi–which I am currently extracting!–to add to a small portion of this latest batch, using the traditional Chinese medicinal method (the walls of reishi are made of chitin, a fibrous substance that is indigestible by the human body without several hours of boiling) 🍄

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FEB 12, 2021

Quail Eggs to
Treat Allergies

I recently stumbled upon a clinical study on the highly unexpected anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects of quail eggs, indicating that these tiny eggs (a classic TCM medicinal food!) may be the secret to reducing allergies without the use of steroids. Not only have quail eggs been proven in past studies to reduce asthmatic and rhinitis allergies, this newer study shows that quail eggs can reduce food allergies as well.

Quail eggs are very different from the eggs of other birds and contain singularly unique proteins. In a UC Davis study from 1968, three scientists from the Department of Food Science and Technology studied the eggs of 12 bird species and found that only quail eggs could act as a potent serine protease inhibitor (potentially reducing allergies). Quail eggs also have a more buttery taste than chicken eggs and a nutritional profile that’s 3-4x higher: they have 5x the iron and potassium, 3x the vitamin B1, and twice as much vitamin A and B2. They also contain a slew of other beneficial micro-nutrients, minerals, and amino acids.

In a 2018 clinical study, quail eggs were shown to have a significant effect on modulating immunoglobulin levels, and resulted in decreased inflammatory genes that were abnormally expressed in EoE (a chronic allergy-related disorder), as well as decreased tissue inflammation. Currently, the treatment for many chronic allergy-related disorders relies on inhaled corticosteroids, but with concerns over the negative side effects associated with long-term use of steroids, especially in children, quail eggs hold promising potential as a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy treatment.

In TCM, quail eggs are considered neutral—that is, one with balanced yin & yang, and have been used to help with a variety of ailments including allergies, asthma, and eczema, and to strengthen the immune system. Quail eggs are also gaining recognition outside of a TCM context—children’s food expert Lucinda Miller, whose fans include the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, recommends quail eggs to reduce children’s allergies.

Have you ever tried quail eggs? If not, will you be adding quail eggs to your diet?

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Psychoactive Drug use in Dynastic China

FEB 12, 2021

Psychoactive Drug use in Dynastic China

Cold-food powder, or five-mineral powder, was a toxic medicine and psychoactive drug consumed in China during the Six Dynasties and Tang Dynasty (3rd-10th century) comprised of the powder of various minerals, including those containing arsenic; the ingredients were kept secret by drugmakers but often included realgar, cinnabar, orpiment, alum, and malachite. The drug’s effects included greater mental awareness, heightened aesthetic perceptivity, sexual energy, and greater physical resistance, and may have been hallucinogenic.

While it was initially used as a medicine to treat illness, its mind-altering properties were discovered during the 3rd century and consequently became the hallmark of the nobility and free thinkers of the age. Scholar-philosopher He Yan was one of the earliest members of the literati to take cold-food powder—considered the “influencer” of his day, he was described as "a paragon of beauty, elegance, and refinement… who shone in pure conversation. He is even said to have brought into fashion a drug that brought on a state of ecstasy.” Several emperors were users of cold-food powder and rulers considered it a status symbol.

For a drug that was popular for only a few centuries in Medieval China, cold-food powder was highly influential on Chinese fashion and culture that extended far into later dynasties. As the ingredients often raised body temperature and caused skin sensitivity, users had to take long walking excursions to cool down after taking it. Users also adopted the wearing of loose, thin robes to counteract the side effects of the drug. “Intoxicated enchantment with nature's beauty led to (users) writing poems on landscape, and thus they initiated the genre of 'Nature Poetry’,” wrote sinologists Huang Junjie and Erik Zürcher.

Eventually cold-food powder was condemned for deleterious effects, including death from alchemical poisoning, and for its association with a debaucherous lifestyle.

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Jujubes 🌱

FEB 12, 2021


Happy New Year! Given the stress and anxiety of 2020, this seems a perfect time to introduce the superfood called jujube, used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine to combat anxiety and insomnia, and as a natural antidepressant and stress-relieving food—to add to your diet in 2021.⠀

This sweet fruit can be consumed fresh or dried, although they’re most often prepared dried in nourishing recipes, including the ginger-jujube-goji tea paste I’ve been making. Jujubes are packed with polyphenols, amino acids, essential unsaturated fatty acids (including oleic and linoleic acid), flavonoids, vitamin C (100x the amount of many fruits), iron, potassium, and high bioactive compounds. “Mounting evidence shows the health benefits of Z. jujuba, including anticancer, anti-inflammation, antiobesity, antioxidant, and hepato- and gastrointestinal protective properties,” according to a study. ⠀

A few key benefits of jujubes:⠀
-Soothing effect on both mind and body: findings in The Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed it was effective in reducing anxiety⠀
-Suppress fat: a Japanese study showed jujubes effectively suppressed fat accumulation⠀
-Anti-cancer: a University of Cambria study showed it could slow down the spread of, and even kill malignant breast cancer cells⠀
-Anti-inflammatory: numerous studies show jujubes to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties via both oral and topical routes. These properties can help boost the body’s immune system and prevent premature aging⠀

A note on sourcing: the jujubes I buy for my ginger paste are sourced from Khotan (or Hetian), a place renown for the best jujubes in China given the extreme temperature fluctuations in climate. Khotan was an important stop along the Silk Road and remains a major oasis town in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. With rising demand, jujube cultivation in Khotan has increased local villagers' income in recent years. Buying Khotan jujubes supports the income of ethnic minorities in one of China’s poorest regions. Ask for Hetian or Xinjiang jujubes if you are buying from a grocer.⠀

Will you be trying jujubes this year? If you have, what’s your favorite way of preparing it?

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A GUIDE: Sugars According to Traditional Chinese Medicine⠀

FEB 12, 2021

A GUIDE: Sugars According to Traditional Chinese Medicine⠀

During the refining process, moisture, minerals and compounds giving unrefined sugars their color are removed, and white refined sugar is the result. No medicinal value in TCM.

Made from refined white sugar, with molasses added back for flavor and to create a higher moisture sugar. The amount of molasses accounts for the color and flavor differences of light vs. dark brown sugar (3.5% vs 6.5%). It has no meaningful nutritional benefits over white sugar. “Brown sugar” in a Western recipe usually refers to light brown sugar, whereas in a Chinese recipe, it refers to black sugar.⠀

Unlike white or brown sugar, black sugar (aka Chinese brown sugar) is unrefined: it is sugar made by slow-cooking sugarcane juice. It also has a powder-y texture, with a deeper, complex flavor. Black sugar retains the trace minerals of sugarcane juice including potassium, iron, and calcium. Hues of this sugar vary—darker does not mean better. Black sugar is grouped as a “warming” food in Chinese medicine and is widely used therapeutically.⠀

In a recent article in @finedininglovers: “In Japan, along with neighbouring China and Taiwan, black sugar isn’t just a delicacy, but also a common remedy for colds. Mixed with ginger tea, it is said to relieve nausea. It is even used by some women to treat menstrual pain thanks to its iron.” There’s also a bit of a black sugar craze in Asia: it’s “a darling of the Instagram generation [with] consumers queuing up for hours on end from Taipei to Singapore” (SCMP).⠀

Refined from the recrystallization of sugar, with less intense sweetness. Can be yellow or white. The polycrystalline variety has “cooling” qualities and is used in Chinese medicinal recipes such as steamed pear with rock sugar (a home remedy for cough/sore throat) or snow fungus soup. However, it does not have nutritional benefits like black sugar.⠀

Made from residual fluid after rock sugar production, brown rock sugar bar is considered to have the same “cooling” properties as rock sugar.⠀

What are your thoughts on these sugars?

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Early Bed Time in TCM

FEB 12, 2021

Early Bed
Time in

EARLY BEDTIME IN TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE 🛌 TCM profoundly underlines the importance of biological rhythm, including circadian (daily) rhythm, lunar rhythm, and seasonal rhythm. Many theories have been developed to better understand these phenomena, including the TCM body clock, a time chart which dedicates two-hour slots to the various organs and their functions in our body. Being asleep during the hours of 11-3 is considered crucial to one’s health and well-being.⠀

As a night owl, I always regarded the early bedtime with skepticism—surely length mattered more than whether I go to bed at 10 or 2? I was further baffled when the Dalai Lama spoke at my college and pointed to an early bedtime as the key to happiness (he sleeps from 7pm to 3am). I considered the TCM body clock abstract and arbitrary.⠀

Yet, after spending the day researching this topic, I’ve found that scientific studies are showing there is indeed evidence to back these theories from Ancient China.⠀

Take the heart—which is thought to rule from 11am to 1pm: research indicates that blood pressure and heart rate reach their peaks during this period as does the incidence of myocardial infarction, arrhythmia, angina pectoris and sudden cardiac death (Zhang). The scientists further explain that “cardiac burden rises to the highest point, and risks of exhausted heart [is] the highest with the highest incidence of morbidity” during this time period.⠀

Recent studies also show that circadian rhythm disruption may induce or accelerate the onset of multiple diseases, including Alzheimer's, obesity, and diabetes, and is a risk factor for breast cancer.⠀

A new study (WashU) indicates that people showing evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s—more amyloid buildup in their brains—had more fragmentation in their circadian activity patterns: more inactivity during the day and more activity at night. Alzheimer’s damage can take root in the brain 15-20 years before symptoms appear, so these findings can help doctors identify at-risk patients, and hopefully convince them to change their habits.⠀

Will these ancient theories or new studies change your thoughts on bedtime?⠀

Art: Jiang Guofang

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The "Si Wu Tang" Herbal Formula

FEB 12, 2021

The "Si Wu Tang" Herbal Formula

Si Wu Tang is a classic Chinese herbal formula for women, used for over 1,000 years to relieve PMS symptoms, improve circulation, enhance beauty and youth, and increase fertility.

While SWT is considered a tonic suitable for the average female, it is particularly meant for those suffering from what is known as blood deficiency and qi stagnation. Blood deficiency can be associated with backaches, anemia, vertigo, menstrual pain, and can be a cause of infertility (Taipei Medical University). Qi deficiency normally manifests as a lack of strength, body function decline, and lower immunity (Zhejiang Medical University).

Si Wu Tang means “four-substance decoction,” and this refers to the four herbs in the formula: angelica root, rehmannia, white peony root, and Sichuan lovage root. The formula is available in many forms—pills, powders, liquids, or dried herbs. I recently used the herbs to make chicken soup for a friend suffering from PMS symptoms. You can find this pre-packaged mix at Asian stores—see my 1/17 post for a recipe!

Studies on SWT published in scientific journals present fascinating findings:

SKIN & LIVER IMPROVEMENT: in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, ingesting SWT for 6 months improved participants’ antioxidant levels and positively regulated the lipid profile, liver function, and skin integrity and texture

POSTPARTUM PAIN: according to a population-based correlational study, the bodily pain of postpartum women who used SWT was reduced by more than 10x those who did not

INFERTILITY: infertile women with ovarian follicular maldevelopment with an initial luteinizing hormone/follicle-stimulating hormone ratio of <1 saw this value return to normal and improved symptoms after taking SWT

CANCER CHEMOPREVENTION: prevention of oxidative damage by activating Nrf2-mediated detoxifying/antioxidant genes, suggesting that SWT might be an effective nontoxic agent for chemoprevention

SWT is traditionally taken at the end of the period for several days. It is generally considered safe, but consult a practitioner if you are suffering from specific issues.

Have you tried SWT? What has your experience been?

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