Famous Taiwanese agricultural products are not native to the island

A while ago I mentioned in another thread that

[quote]But sun flower is native to the Americas… Although peanuts, pineapples, chili pepper and other fruits and plants native to the Americas also gained cultural significance in Chinese culture…

So maybe you are right, I’m just not aware of what sunflower traditionally signifies in Chinese culture.[/quote]

I have been noticing a lot of plants that I take for granted seem to be brought to the world by Europeans after they colonized South America.

I have a hard time imagining India or Sichuan food without chili pepper. Thaifood without peanuts and pineapples. I always wondered why none of the food products Taiwan is famous for actually originated from Taiwan. In fact, I can’t think of a single agriculture product other than taro and perhaps aboriginal millet (which I heard actually isn’t millet) that is native to the island. Were there no food worth eating in Taiwan before it was colonized or something?

Let’s do a head count:

Pineapple

Pineapple is native to South America and brought to the world by probably the Spanish. Taiwan’s first record of planting pineapples is about 300 years ago. The Japanese later imported pineapple from Hawaii and cross breeding brought us the many different types of Taiwanese pineapple on the market to day.

Taiwan honestly has the best pineapples. I am not really a fan of pineapples, but I am always amazed by how sweet and not stingy Taiwan’s pineapples can be.

Guava

Guava is native to Mexico and parts of South America. So I’m gonna guess Spanish probably brought it to the rest of the world. Taiwan also seems to begin planting guava 300 years ago, but back then it was the “normal” kind, thin pink skin with lots of juicy seeds. It was the Japanese who first introduced the white skin and yellow skin variety.

Whether or not Taiwan’s “guava” tastes good depends on what you are looking for in a guava. Taiwan’s guava has a uncharacteristic thick and white outer skin with a smaller core with sweet tasting seeds. There are the so called “native guava” 土芭樂 that tastes more like guava in the rest of the world, thin outer skin with fragrant juicy seeds.

Jambu

This fruit can be found from Madagascar to India to Australia with highest diversity of Jambu is found in Malaysia and Northeastern Australia. So its spread across India ocean can probably be attributed to the Austronesian, however, Taiwan, the home of Austronesian language, did not see Jambu until the Dutch imported them from Java 300 years ago. At first Taiwan’s jambu was tiny and pink-greenish. Japanese and postwar research turned Taiwanese jambu into giant dark red grenades.

Frankly I’ve not tasted Jambu outside of Taiwan. But I can safely say it’s probably the best in the world as well…

Mango

Mango originated in India and Myanmar. It was spread around the world by Indians and then everyone, Brahmans, Muslims, Mongul, Austronesian, just freaking everyone. It was again the Dutch who brought Mangos to Taiwan. The Japanese again introduced even more breeds of mango and crossbreeding gave us what we see today in Taiwan.

Honestly the best mango I’ve ever tasted was in Indonesia… Taiwan’s isn’t far behind in terms of sweetness and juiciness. It was just that one particular type of Indonesian mango was more soothingly fragrant and subtle in taste.

Sugar-apple

Called Shijia in Taiwan, this fruit is also native to South America. The funny thing about Shijia is that Taiwan is the number 1 country when it comes to sugar-apple cultivation. It was brought to Taiwan again by the Dutch.

I have not tasted it anywhere else in the world… Today’s Shijia is frankly too sweet for my taste. I recall Shijia used to be slightly tart and it was very enjoyable…

Yam/Sweet potato

It’s a bit weird that Taiwanese often refer to themselves as Yams, but yam is actually not native to Taiwan. Or may that’s just poetic justice or something.

Yam is native to South America. Legend has it Columbus gave the Queen Isabella of Spain yams when he returned to Spain… so basically he gave her gas. The Spanish then brought it to the Philippines. The Chinese smuggled yams from the Philippines to China during Ming dynasty. Yam could have been introduced either by the Spanish themselves, the Dutch or the sea faring Aboriginals at the times.

By the way, back in the US people would add sugar to yam… why? It’s already tooth decayingly sweet…

Cabbage

You pretty much can find cabbage in just about every restaurant/street vendors here in Taiwan. Cabbage is native to the Mediterranean. The Dutch brought them to Taiwan.

Sugarcane

Sugarcane is native to India and Southeast Asia (New Guinea). It was mainly the Muslims who introduced it westward, and Europeans who brought it to the rest of the world. China gained sugar making abilities slightly before Tang dynasty. So it’s roughly about the same time as the Muslims. The Dutch was the one who first saw Taiwan’s sugar making potential and began large scale sugarcane farming. Koxinga and Qing saw little benefit of sugar farming and it was the Japanese who banned all private sugar factories and make sugar their primary agricultural industry in Taiwan. Japanese’s conflicting policies later caused both sugar and rice prices to raise through the roof in Taiwan, and made Taiwanese farmers fairly well off for a brief time in the 1930s. That is until the Japanese ended all privatized sugar and rice farming shortly before WW2.

There are so many other non-native agricultural products here in Taiwan… Wish I can come up with one native plant that people eat everyday…

Do not neglect tea! I’d love to hear the story of its arrival in Taiwan. I’ve heard it’s a 19th century import. Is this right?

Guy

Word has it, not even the Taiwanese themselves originated here. :cactus:

Still, I think the Taiwanese/Japanese really took a lot of those fruit and veggies to the next level.

I tried an Jambu in Malaysia and was severely disappointed

Take it from a South American: there are so many varieties of those same fruits/vegetables mentioned, it could be the same one planted here and no one would be the wiser… Plus the “natural” varieties have given way to “man made” varieties, so probably the ones in Taiwan are more “original” or as close to the original as possible.

Nice post.

I’ve heard there are some wild tea strains in Taiwan so some of the tea grown here is a mix of imported mainland breeds and local species. Could be an exaggeration of course. Some British traders started the oolong tea business here.

A great author to read about these things is Jared Diamond. He mentions in his books that only a few lucky countries like China had native wild plants that were easily domesticated. That led then to have more power than other countries with a paucity of easily farmed crops. Basically the big crops like Wheat , corn , maize, potatoes, they were rare finds indeed, so it’s no surprise that Taiwan doesn’t have many native crops (or fruits).

BTW, I think Shi Zi (persimmon) goes back a long way in history for the Chinese, as you can see the tree and fruit in ancient paintings.

[quote=“headhonchoII”]

Basically the big crops like Wheat , corn , maize, potatoes, they were rare finds indeed, so it’s no surprise that Taiwan doesn’t have many native crops (or fruits).

BTW, I think Shi Zi (persimmon) goes back a long way in history for the Chinese, as you can see the tree and fruit in ancient paintings.[/quote]

Corn, also native to South America.

Persimmon is already native to Europe, Asia and Americas when humans came about, it’s one of those rare ones.

As for tea, there are native tea trees in Taiwan. Earliest documentation of wild tea in Taiwan goes back to 1697. Local officials would arrange to go tea picking around Sazum (Sun moon lake) area.

The native tea tree (Pyrenaria buisanensis) in Taiwan belongs to the pyrenaria genus. Assam tea (Camellia sinensis var. assamica) belongs to the Camellia genus. The most common Taiwanese tea leaves such as 青心大冇 (Qing Xin Da Pang), 大葉烏龍 (Da Yie Wu Long), 青心烏龍 (Qing Xin Wu Long) are also from sinensis species from the camellia genus.

Lychee. Bitter gourd? And possibly some of those grassy looking ching tsai staples.

From my previous research in another thread there was a mention of wild lychee growing on orchid island. There’s also a local type of ‘Shan Yao’ which is a type of yam, there’s a difference between the Taiwanese version and the Japanese one.
Then there’s the ferns that grow here which some aboriginals and hakka etc eat.

Also there are some native mushroom species although they seem to be used for medicinal purposes more than for eating.
Almost all the fruit that we eat today has been heavily modified from it’s wild cousins, in some cases like the wax apple/jambon/bell fruit/black pearl/‘whatever they are calling it now’ they look nothing like the original!

There’s Chinese jojobe and pomelo and oranges grown here but I guess they came from the mainland as well.

This shows how difficult it can be to pin down the origin of some fruits as the modern versions were created by man sometimes over 1000s of years and often involve interbreeding and grafting/cloning. Plus plants genetics are far more varied than animals and it’s quite difficult to pin down what is another species or breed or hybrid exactly!

news.softpedia.com/news/Where-Di … 7365.shtml

I was going to mention the case of the Spanish bringing the chili to India, but I’m already late.

What happens to Taiwan happens in some degree to most of the regions of the world. I mean, there are always plants and animals that were “imported” for their properties… :slight_smile:

Indigenous to Guangdong, Hainai island, Vietnam and Malaysia. First introduced to Taiwan about 300 years ago.

Native to India, brought to China in the 1500s.

I think

山蘇 (Bird’s-nest fern)

and

過貓 (Vegetable fern)

are native to Taiwan. They are popular in country side restaurants.

This is a very good book to understand more about how food has spread around the world, not all places were created equally!
The situation in Taiwan is just a typical situation the world over.

jareddiamond.org/Jared_Diamo … Steel.html

[quote=“jesus80”]I was going to mention the case of the Spanish bringing the chili to India, but I’m already late.

What happens to Taiwan happens in some degree to most of the regions of the world. I mean, there are always plants and animals that were “imported” for their properties… :slight_smile:[/quote]

A lot to “blame” the Spanish for. :laughing: :wink: Just kidding.

How about cassava? My Indonesian neighbor was delighted when I brought some cassava chips. Seems it is spread all over the tropical areas, and used here intensively for its meal but only aboriginals use it the way we do in Latin America, boiled or fried. South East Asians cook it differently.

And yes, it is originally from South America.

Indigenous to Guangdong, Hainai island, Vietnam and Malaysia. First introduced to Taiwan about 300 years ago.[/quote]

There are several references to it being a native of Taiwan, but i can’t vouch for their accuracy.

[quote]Lychee | Litchi chinensis [species]

the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae. It’s a tropical and subtropical fruit tree native to southern China, Taiwan, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, and now cultivated in many parts of the world.[/quote]

Same for dragon fruit:

They can’t be native to two different continents at the same time.
Interestingly Penghu is covered in prickly pear cactus (pest), makes for some good ice cream though.

[quote=“headhonchoII”]They can’t be native to two different continents at the same time.
[/quote]
Technically, continental drift would make it possible for the same species to be native to two different continents, wouldn’t it? But in this case it’s a moot point coz further reading shows that dragon fruit is indeed native to Mexico, not south-east Asia, and was brought here by the Dutch.

However, lychee does seem to be native to this area.

From what i can tell, the origin of bitter gourd is a bit more uncertain and is considered an ‘old world’ species. It has been traditionally used as a medicine in far flung places but the consensus seems to think it is probably native to this area. Personally, if i was the first man tasting bitter gourd i would have spat it out immediately and marked it as ‘definitely not edible’ and ‘possibly poisonous’.

And how about bamboo? Common local food. Bamboo is actually poisonous but not too bad when cooked properly.

[quote=“dulan drift”][

From what i can tell, the origin of bitter gourd is a bit more uncertain and is considered an ‘old world’ species. It has been traditionally used as a medicine in far flung places but the consensus seems to think it is probably native to this area. Personally, if i was the first man tasting bitter gourd i would have spat it out immediately and marked it as ‘definitely not edible’ and ‘possibly poisonous’.

[/quote]

For sure; in fact I still treat it this way. I wonder if it was selected for bitterness over time.

Hmm. Sweet potato is an interesting one. Ipomoea species are native to South America, although the three main off-shoots (morning glory, kong xin tsai, and sweet potato) have very wide distributions now.

Sweet potato (yams to Americans) has been one of the signature plants of the Taiwan diaspora that became Polynesians. That’s dating back 10,000 years, so it’s hard to see how the Dutch brought it to Taiwan. made it all the way to NZ 1000 years ago. Kumera.

Sweet potato, pigs, and chickens are Polynesian hallmarks.

[quote=“urodacus”]Hmm. Sweet potato is an interesting one. Ipomoea species are native to South America, although the three main off-shoots (morning glory, kong xin tsai, and sweet potato) have very wide distributions now.

Sweet potato (yams to Americans) has been one of the signature plants of the Taiwan diaspora that became Polynesians. That’s dating back 10,000 years, so it’s hard to see how the Dutch brought it to Taiwan. made it all the way to NZ 1000 years ago. Kumera.

Sweet potato, pigs, and chickens are Polynesian hallmarks.[/quote]

actually the early Austronesians and Polynesians only brought Taro. Taro is the staple food for all Austronesians, especially once they get to places where planting millet is no longer possible. Take Ponso no Tao (Lanyu) for example, the Tao people is famous for their taro paddies.

Taro is made into Poi like food all over Austronesia, from Taiwanese aboriginals to Hawaiians.

Sweet potato is brought to Philippines by the Spanish and spread to rest of polynesia from there.

Except New Zealand Maori were growing it 1000 years ago!
Here’s a paper on the subject, obviously it’s a complicated story.

npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/0 … e-columbus