The Sun Rises in The East where Grows Good Functional Foods-Gac Fruit, Roselle An Agritour in Eastern Taiwan

The eastern Taiwan is endowed with a great natural environment where grows many functional foods. Gac fruit, “the fruit from heaven”, Roselle, “the ruby in the culinary world” and Taiwanese quinoa, “the super food for astronauts”; and others like millets, turmeric, camellia oil and red kernels.

The sun blazed overhead, and every one of us held a “fruit from heaven” in hands.

Introduction of the Itinerary

The first day we visited Luye. Participants picked the Roselle and made the cheese so to get a firsthand experience of “from farm to table.” Participants also prepared dinner by using 12 different functional foods.

The second day we came to Taitung City and visited the Gac fruit garden where we had fun picking gac fruits. The fruit farmers taught us how to process the gac fruit, and make gac fruit smoothie. In the afternoon, we came to a food event held by Youxin Creative Lab across Taitung Sugar Factory. The event invited the eco chef, “Flavor Hunter Lisa” to make cuisines using local food materials for the public to try so to introduce all sorts of functional foods from Taitung to all.

Handpicking Roselle in “Play in Luye”

To avoid sunburn and mosquito/bug bites, visitors wore over sleeves and the bamboo hat wrapped by hakka floral clothing and tied it under the chin, carried the nylon bag, which is jokingly said the LV bag of Taiwan, and we were all set for the picking activity.

As we turned around at the corner, the Roselle field is right next to the road. Early October is the beginning of production season, during the time we visited, only some blossoms, it would take a while to have better blossoms.

Roselle is grown sporadically all around Taiwan, 90% of the production comes from Taitung. Roselle is resilient and can be grown in loamy or dry soils. The most used part of Roselle is its calyx which is very tasty no matter it is fresh, dried, preserved or for tea.

Imagine Taitung- Handmade Roselle Preserve and Fresh Cheese

The calyces of Roselle are harvested by carefully snipping off the stems with scissors, then the seed pod is pushed out.

The calyces without the seeds will be boiled for 5 seconds before sterilization and removal of astringent taste. For preservation, a great amount of sugar is added and mixed together.

The freshly made Roselle when sugar is not fully marinated tastes crunchy which is totally a different mouth feel from the preserved fruit.

Then the Singaporean working in Imagine Taitung introduced how to make fresh cheese.

Heating up the fresh milk, fresh butter and cube sugar, stirring them together and then adding the corn flour into the pot.

The concretionary milk paste then was added with Roselle preserves, the bright red and sour sweet Roselle paired with soft and tender fresh cheese is really marvelous.

Du Du Hao B&B - DIY Dinner with Functional Food Materials

“Sweet Field Food Garden” of ”Play in Luye” puts “from farm to table” into practice, so the B&B host designs the menu with the functional foods. The participants circled around in different cooking areas- some prepared leaves and food materials, and some added wood logs to the fire for the barrel broiled chicken.

As the host was calling, we brought the dishes to the table.

The functional food materials were used in various dishes, the host’s dexterity made them tasty as well as healthy.

McKuoKuo Farm - Hand Picking Gac Fruits

McKuoKuo Farm is in Kangle Village, Taitung County. The Kuos has devoted to agriculture for more than 50 years, the first generation, Grandpa Liang KUO, started from scratch and now the farm is took over by the 3rd generation, a young farmer, Mingche KUO, who continues his grandpa’s hard work and efforts to keep the orchard and land fields.

Mingche KUO, the owner of McKuoKuo Farm

Mingche KUO, also one of the 4th Top 100 young farmers, worked in Mainland China after finishing his military service, and he returned home in 2014 because of a family member’s health conditions, he quit his job and took over the family business in Taiwan. He has grown gac fruits for over 3 years so far, and under the guidance of Research Institute of Taitung City, he has accumulated plenty of professional knowledge growing gac fruits. Now he joins city markets all around Taiwan or large exhibition shows to bring gac fruits to the public attention in ways of business operation.

Following Mingche KUO’s footsteps after getting off the car, we came to the orchard where the tour bus can't reach. There were not many ripe Gac fruits at the moment. After Kuo’s introduction, we got to know Gac fruit’s growing environment better. The vines of Gac fruits taste similar to those of Gracilaria, hence there are more edible values for Gac fruit as a food material.

View of Gac fruits growing in the tunnel-like canopy. We look forward to seeing them in person. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook fan page of McKuoKuo Farm)

Gac fruit is praised as the fruit from heaven in western countries, so it is also called “The Fruit of Heaven”, and it is greatly favored by the international nutrition market. Many Taiwanese are not familiar with Gac fruit, but it is a native species to Taiwan. The trivial name for Gac fruit is “spiny bitter gourd”, it belongs to the gourd family, and the dried seeds is Chinese medicine “Mubiezi”. Aril of Gac fruit looks like its pulp, the reddish orange aril is rich in multiple vitamins and nicotinic acid, especially high in lycopene and β-carotene. According to the research made by United States Department of Agriculture, lycopene in Gac fruit is 70 times of that in tomato, and β-carotene is 15 times of carrots, both are nutritional contents for eye care.

McKuoKuo Farm- Showcasing the Gac Fruit in Dishes, Enjoying the Gac Fruit Steam Bread/ Smoothie

After having the snacks, we were introduced how to process the challenging aril, so that we could easily bring Gac fruit into cooking.

Cut the ripe Gac fruit open, take out its red seeds and peel it, keep the pulp and dice it. Put the red seeds in a container, then separate the black seeds and red aril.

Put the red seeds in a container, add some water in it, then use the blender to stir for several times to separate the black seeds and red aril, and filter out the black seeds and recycle them.

The following step is to mix the red aril and diced pulp into the blender, and cook over low heat till it is boiled. Then cool it down for future use, it can be soup base, juice or cooked with other materials. Due to time constraint, we then used the ready Gac fruit puree to make the smoothie, so to cool down the heat.

The red aril and yellow diced pulp are both edible after stirring and heating. The puree tastes a bit of bitter gourd, eating it directly is tasteless; passion fruits, lemon, pineapples or honey are usually added to enhance the flavor. The smoothie made from Gac fruit is refreshing, cooling and nutritional.

The black seed of Gac fruit is not edible because it carries a tad of toxin.

The owner of McKuoKuo Farm, Mingche Kuo will continue his efforts to develop new products, such as preserved Gac fruit and juice, so to make the fruit from heaven known to more people.

Taitung Red Quinoa Restaurant - Creative Cuisines wih Functional Food Materials

Taitung Red Quinoa Restaurant is a popular dining place in Taitung area, and it is one of the few that applies the functional food material “red quinoa” to more than 90% of its dishes. Their two appeals, “Eating the Seasonal Produce and Cooking the Local Produce in the Local Place” and “Cooking in Low Heat, Sous Vide” are what keep their customers coming back.

When the first course was served, I felt I was in a high end restaurant, the food setting was appealing though simple, the diners could tell the characteristics of the materials.

When the first course was served, I felt I was in a high end restaurant, the food setting was appealing though simple, the diners could tell the characteristics of the materials.

The second course was their signature dish, roasted German pork knuckle, which is cooked over low heat.

Another signature dish is tender and juicy chicken breast, with the food setting like a petal.

The owner of Taitung Red Quinoa Restaurant, Mr. Qunlin HUANG, introduced every dish to us in person. We enjoyed a creative feast made of functional food materials through visuals, sounds and tastes.

Youxin Creative Lab- Small Farmer Brand Show

Local small farmer brands were invited, Imagine Taitung, Mr. Red Quinoa, Patagilj, Naturalism, Taitung Red Quinoa Restaurant, and Bulaku SocialS Coop and they brought local functional produce “Gac fruit, Roselle, Taiwan Quinoa, Millet, Turmeric, and Camellia Oil for the visitors to shop.

The event was held in the backyard of Youxin Creative Lab. There was a stage and the brand area. Visitors can shop around.

The owner of Ice Spring, Chengzhe LEE is the second generation running the business. He brought the new product, Gac Fruit Popsicle, invented by Chenggong Farmer's Association, to share with all, free of charge.

The Gac fruit is tasteless, so the flavor of Popsicle is from the pineapple. There was a slight fruit fragrance.

People shopped around in the event.

Youxin Creative Lab- Cooking Theater, The Chef Show

The event invited the eco chef, “Flavor Hunter Lisa” to make cuisines using local food materials for the public, together with the local residents played in the cooking theater and food illustration show, combing “production, lifestyle and ecology” to make the public aware of all sorts of functional food materials from Taitung.

The cooking theater was formed by a group of local residents without drama or play backgrounds practicing on weekday evenings and they presented a 15-minute story about the daily life, living environment and ethnic integration in Chishang.

Flavor Hunter Lisa runs a cabbage experimental kitchen in Taichung and she has a unique insight about flavors and cuisines.

Flavor Hunter Lisa is an eco chef blending sustainability into local cuisines and making the best out of the materials. The dishes were colorful and tasty, and they overthrew local people's understanding about food materials.