​An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal spices used in Chinese
2020-01-01 13:08
An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal spices used in Chinese hotpot
 Food Research International, 2012, 48(1):0-232.
Menghua Wu , Ping Guo , Sze Wai Tsui , Hubiao Chen , Zhongzhen Zhao 
Abstract:Chinese cuisine is one of the most famous cuisines of the world. The use of spices and condiments is an indispensable procedure in Chinese culinary culture, especially the hotpot culture. However, there has been no systematic investigation on spices and condiments used in Chinese hotpot so far. An ethnobotanical survey was conducted to collect information on spices and condiments used in Chinese hotpot. The results showed that a total of 67 spices were commonly used for the preparation of Chinese hotpot, involving 82 plant species of 50 genera in 26 families. All of these spices are also used medicinally in China yet half of them were not native to China. Plants of Zingiberaceae and Apicaceae are important botanical resource, and fruit parts of a plant are the main source of the production of spices used in Chinese hotpot.
Keywords:Ethnobotany;Medicinal spice;Chinese hotpot;Authentication
1. Introduction
    The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines spices and condimnets as “vegetable products or mixtures thereof free from extraneous matter, used for flavoring, seasoning and imparting aroma in foods.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines spice as “any aromatic vegetable substance in whole, broken, or ground form, except for those substances traditionally regarded as foods, such as onion, garlic and celery, whose significant function in food is seasoning rather than nutritional; that is true to name; and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been removed.” These definitions were thought to be outdated and limited. Spice was thus further suggested to include “all parts of a plant that provide flavor, color, and even texture” (Raghavan, 2007).
    The pursuit of perfect flavor is crucial in Chinese culinary culture. As a branch of Chinese culinary culture, hotpot culture gains popularity in Chinese communities. Hotpot is a special Asian cuisine. Usually, a metal pot with soup is kept simmering; dishes such as sliced meat, leafy vegetables and seafood are then placed into the pot, and the cooked food in hotpot is usually eaten with a dipping sauce. Different styles of hotpot are found in different regions, such as instant-boiled mutton in Beijing, mutton hotpot in Inner Mongolia, numb and spicy hotpot in Sichuan and Chongqing, and Canton hotpot in Guangdong and Hong Kong.
    Spices are always added in order to improve taste and smell of hotpot. As there is no fine line among spice, herb, food and medicine (Duke, 2003), many Chinese medicinal materials are also used as spices adding into hotpots of different styles in different regions of specific cultural background (Table 1).

Table 1 Correlations of Chinese hotpot, climate, and regional culture.
Region Climate Regional culturea Type of hotpot Characters of hotpot Correlations
Beijing Northern humid and semi-humid warm temperate regions Yan-Zhao culture Instant-boiled mutton Only several spices such as Welsh onion bulb (Allii Fistulosi Bulbus, dacong) or sometimes even no spices are added. Sesame oil (Sesami Oleum, mayou), coriander herb (Coricandri Sativi Herba, yansui), Chinese chives bud (Allii Tuberosi Flos, jiucaihua), wild onion herb (Allii Ascalonici Herba, xiaocong) and garlic bulb (Allii Sativi Bulbus, dasuan) are used as the dipping sauce. Influenced by Chinese royal custom, instant-boiled mutton has become very popular since Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 AD). Good quality mutton is selected carefully while spices for the soup and dipping sauce are relatively simple (Shi, 2006).
Inner Mongolia Inner Mongolian temperate grassland Nomadic culture Mutton hotpot Sometimes more than 50 spices are added, usually without dipping sauce. In addition, some Chinese medicinal materials (CMMs) such as fragrant solomonseal rhizome (Polygonati Odorati Rhizoma, yuzhu), mongolian milkvetch root (Astragali Radix, huangqi), eucommia bark (Eucommiae Cortex, duzhong) and yam rhizome (Dioscoreae Rhizoma, shanyao) are added. Affected by nomadic culture, mutton meat is popular in Mongolian. According to the book Proper and Essential Things for the Emperor's Food and Drink (Yin Shan Zheng Yao) (Hu, Jiang, & Hu, 2004), lots of spices were used in cuisine by Mongolian since Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 AD). More than 50 spices are used in mutton hotpot. Because most of these spices are “warm” in nature and some have the function to dispel dampness according to TCM theory, mutton hotpot is considered to have a coldresisting action. On the other hand, due to the dry climate, some moistening CMMs such as fragrant solomonseal rhizome (Polygonati Odorati Rhizoma, yuzhu) are added to balance the medicinal properties.
Sichuan and Chongqing South-west basin humid subtropical zone Ba-Shu culture Numb and
spicy hotpot
About twenty spices are added. Garlic bulb (Allii
Sativi Bulbus, dasuan) sauce and sesame oil (Sesami Oleum, mayou) are used as the dipping sauce. Soup together with spices usually needs to be boiled up to 12 h before use. A large amount of pricklyash pericarp (Zanthoxyli Pericarpium, huajiao) and chili pepper fruit (Capsici Fructus, lajiao) are added in the soup, hence the name “numb and spicy hotpot”.
South-west basin has mild winters, hot summers, long frost-free period, plentiful rainfall and mist, high humidity, and less sunshine (Zhou, 1992). Since ancient times, local people like to use spicy and aromatic materials to cook their food, in order to remove cold and dampness in the body. Numb and spicy hotpot is popular for all seasons.
Guangdong and
Hong Kong
Southern humid subtropical zone Lingnan culture Canton hotpot Only a few hotpots such as Curry and Satay hotpots use spices. Guangdong seafood hotpot seldom uses spices in the soup (usually chicken soup) and the common dipping sauce is soy sauce or chili soy sauce. People often use “Mandarin duck pot” that has two different tastes (spicy soup and non -spicy soup) at the same time. Guangdong (including Hong Kong) has a humid subtropical climate, with short, mild, dry, winters and long, hot, wet summers. Herbal tea (liangcha) and medicated soup play important roles in the health of Lingnan people. Hotpot is seldom considered as healthy. Seafood is the main material of most hotpots in Guangdong and Hong Kong. In order to keep the natural taste of seafood, few spices are used in hotpot. Southeast Asia is the main production area of some spices. Many spices are used in Curry hotpot and Satay hotpot of Southeast Asia origin.
a.Yan-Zhao, Nomadic, Ba-Shu, and Lingnan cultures are cultural heritage of China. More information can be found in literature such as Geographic Cultures of China (Wang, 1992)and Regional Cultures of China (Li, 1995).

    China is both an importer and an exporter of spices (Keay, 2006). The consumption of spices in China has been increasing annually. However, attention should be paid to the genuineness identification and quality evaluation of spices, although they are generally recognized as safe by FDA. As a matter of fact, an incident of food poisoning that sickened 198 people (including 18 severe cases received first aids) occurred because Guangdong star anise (Illicium lanceolatum A. C. Smith) was misused as Chinese star anise (I. verum Hook. f.) (He, 1995). Besides, Japanese star anise (I. anisatum L.) is also poisonous. The LD50 of water soluble fractions of 95% ethanol extracts of its pericarp and seed were 0.5 g/kg and 2.17 g/kg, respectively, when intraperitoneally administered in mice (Yang, Sun, Huang, & J.M., 2006). Moreover, some spices may have potential hazard to the customers. A survey revealed that poppy shell (the dried pericarp of ripe fruit of Papaver somniferum L.) was used as a spice that could add aroma and make the soup taste better in some small hotpot restaurants (Chen, 2001). Poppy shell contains 0.06–0.40% of morphine. Frequent administration of poppy shell should be avoided because it is addictive (Chinese Pharmacopeia Commission, 2010). Since 2008, the Ministry of Public Health of China has listed poppy shell as an illegal food additive and has banned its use in hotpot restaurants.
    In view of the above, an enthnobotanical investigation on spices used in Chinese hotpot was conducted.
2. Materials and methods
    A variety of spices and other materials are used to prepare Chinese hotpot of different styles with different flavors. They are distinctive from one another due to factors such as geographic location and culture background. Four representative styles of hotpot were investigated in this research: instant-boiled mutton in Beijing, mutton hotpot in Inner Mongolia, numb and spicy hotpot in Sichuan and Chongqing, and Canton hotpot in Guangdong and Hong Kong. These hotpot styles originated from 4 different regions present the characters of local culinary culture and reflect lifestyles of people who live in these regions. They are very popular and the preparation methods remain almost identical all over China.
Investigation areas were located in north (Beijing and Inner Mongolia), southwest (Sichuan and Chongqing) and south (Guangdong and Hong Kong) of China, respectively (Fig. 1). These regions have different climates and cultural background.
    The study team comprised ethnopharmarcologists and pharmacognosists from the School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University, botanists from South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Chinese medicine practitioners from Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Field investigations were conducted during 2010 to 2011.

    Open-ended and semi-structured interviews were carried out according to methods described in literature (Bruni, Ballero, & Poli, 1997; Cotton, 1996; Cunningham, 2001). A total of 45 people including Chinese medicinal material wholesalers, spice retailers and hotpot chefs were interviewed. In view of the fact that the informants may not disclose details due to commercial secrets, these hotpot chefs were interviewed deliberately when they were off duty, followed by visiting their affiliations in person to verify the information provided by them. Chinese culinary recipe books were also reviewed for relevant information.

Table2 MedicinalspicesusedinChinesehotpot.

    Spice samples were collected from Chinese herbal markets and spice retailers at Hehuachi of Chengdu, Qingping of Guangzhou, and Ko Shing Street of Hong Kong, as well as from Indian spice market of Old Delhi. Their botanical origins were identified by Prof. Zhongzhen Zhao of Hong Kong Baptist University and Prof. Delin Wu of South China Botanical Garden. Macroscopic, microscopic, physical and chemical identification of the raw spice materials was conducted following the standard authentication procedure of Chinese medicinals (Zhao et al., 2006). Packages of condensed broth for the preparation of hotpot were also collected for the verification of their ingredients.
Spice samples and voucher specimens are deposited at the Bank of China (Hong Kong) Chinese Medicines Centre at Hong Kong Baptist
3. Results
3.1. Botanical origins
    Plants of Zingiberaceae and Apicaceae are important botanical resource of spices. Our research revealed that 67 medicinal spices were commonly used for the preparation of Chinese hotpot, involving 82 plant species of 50 genera in 26 families: Zingiberaceae (15 species), Apiaceae (13 species), Liliaceae (5 species), Rutaceae (5 species), Fabaceae (4 species), Lauraceae (4 species), Magnoliaceae (4 species), Boraginaceae (3 species), Brassicaceae (3 species), Piperaceae (3 species), Solanaceae (2 species), Asteraceae (2 species), Lamiaceae (2 species), Myristicaceae (2 species), Myrtaceae (2 species), Primulaceae (2 species), Valerianaceae (2 species), Burseraceae (1 species), Cucurbitaceae (1 species), Moraceae (1 species), Papaveraceae (1 species), Pedaliaceae (1 species), Poaceae (1 species), Rhamnaceae (1 species), Rubiaceae (1 species), and Sapindaceae (1 species) (Table 2). Among them, 55 plant species (over 67%) are documented in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia (Chinese Pharmacopeia Commission, 2010), such as Alpinia galanga (L.) Willd. and Angelica dahurica (Fisch. ex Hoffm.) Benth. et Hook. f.
All these spices were also shown on the labels of packages of condensed broth for preparation of hotpot and recorded in the hotpot recipe books (Deng, 2008; Lan, 2008; Xiao, 2009).
3.2. Plant parts used
    Fruit parts are the main source for the production of species. Of these 82 plants, fruit parts (pericarp, aril, seed, and kernel) of 37 species, roots and rhizomes of 18 species, flowers and buds of 6 species, and whole plants or aerial parts of 6 species were used as spices. In some cases, different parts of a plant were used as different spices. For examples, fruit and rhizome of Alpinia galangal were used as greater galangal fruit (Galangae Fructus, hongdoukou) and greater galangal rhizome (Alpiniae Galangae Rhizoma, nanjiang), respectively. The dried fruit of Coriandrum sativum was used as coriander fruit (Coriandri Sativi Fructus, yansuizi) while the fresh whole plant as coriander herb (Coriandri Sativi Herba, yansui).
4. Discussion and conclusions
    The present ethnobotanical survey revealed that 82 plant species belonging to 50 genera in 26 families were used as spices in Chinese hotpot.
    Among them, about half of them (40 species) were not native to China but originated from ancient Southeast Asia, Mediterranean area or other areas. The Silk Road, a system of commercial routes on both land and sea that linked various people from China to the Mediterranean (Liu, 2010), played an important role in the naturalization of these non-native spices. They have been used in Chinese cuisine and as Chinese medicinal materials since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.– 220 A.D.). For examples, garlic (native to West Asia and Europe) and coriander (native to Mediterranean area) were brought back by Zhang Qian of the Han Dynasty and then widely cultivated in China ever since (Wang, 1996). Spices were the first objects of the medieval trade in Europe. Merchant ships loaded with hundreds of tons of peppers, cloves, and nutmegs traveled back and forth in Arabia, India, China and Europe (Pirenne, 1972).  At the end of Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 A.D.), chili pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) was introduced into China (Jiang & Wang, 2005). In the past, relatively fewer species were used, whereas today dozens of species are used. This increase reflects acculturation throughout the world. Nowadays, most of these non-native spices can be planted in China, which makes China both an importer and an exporter (Keay, 2006).
    More than half of these spices are listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia 2010 and all of them are recorded in TCM literature as medicinal plants. Most of them are pungent and warm according to TCM theory and were reported to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and stomach and intestine movement stimulating activities (Zhao & Xiao, 2010). As spices, they are used to provide flavor, color, and even texture. Usages and dosages might be different if they are used for medicinal purposes under the guidance of TCM theory.
Many books of Chinese culinary culture and history have been published in recent years (Lin, 1989; Tao, 1983; Wang, 2006; Xu, 2005). However, issues of spices used in Chinese cuisines have not yet been well addressed.
    Color, fragrance and taste are the three most important features of Chinese cuisines. The use of spices in Chinese hotpot has improved its color, fragrance and taste. Of the 82 plants used in Chinese hotpot, each of them has a distinctive taste. 85% (70 species) of them have their own special aromas, and 10% (8 species) provide color to hotpot.
This was the first ethnobotanical survey of spices and condiments used in Chinese hotpot. Results gained from the investigation can be severed as useful data of the authenticity and safety of spices. Systematic quality evaluation on these spices is in progress at our laboratory. Acknowledgments
    The authors wish to thank all the informants who contributed to this study with their knowledge and friendship. The authors are also grateful for the kind help from Prof. Delin Wu, Mr. Kumar and his father, Ms. Fanny Hung, Ms. Jessie Yuen, Mr. Wei Zhang, Ms. Mengtao Wu, Mr. Eric Brand and Ms. Qinghua Deng.
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  • 作者:Menghua Wu