Eating Seasonal Vegetables - Chinese Cedar


Though the spring in Macao is rather short, seasonal vegetables from different places are commercially available in local markets, such as Chinese cedar (Toona sinensis). The fresh young leaf buds produced by Chinese cedar trees in spring are used as vegetables. They are often referred to as “vegetables on tree” as they grow on trees. Owing to its unique flavour, there are always some big fans of Chinese cedar or people who love to try new things who buy Chinese cedar every spring.


What is Chinese cedar?

Chinese cedar buds are the young tender leaf buds on Chinese cedar trees. They are nutritious with relatively higher content of trace elements and vitamin B group among vegetables. The aroma comes from toonanin (volatile aromatic organic compounds), which can enhance appetite and is especially effective on people with poor appetite in humid weather. Chinese cedar is a seasonal vegetable, and the best time to enjoy it is during the second and third months of the lunar calendar. The nutritional value and flavour of Chinese cedar reduce greatly after the season is over.


Learn how to pick Chinese cedar if you want to eat it

When shopping for Chinese cedar, look for those in bright colours with short buds and thick stems, and the leaf buds cannot be easily pulled off. They should also have a fresh smell. Make sure the Chinese cedar picked is fresh and the stems are tender. Avoid those with hard stems, or dry or yellow leaves and buds.


Learn how to cook Chinese cedar to make it tasty

Whether stir-frying eggs with Chinese cedar or using it for cold dishes with sauce, you have to blanch it in boiling water beforehand for it contains a higher level of nitrites than average vegetables. Nitrites have some degree of toxicity and can increase the risk of developing cancer. However, most of the nitrites in Chinese cedar can be removed by blanching it before cooking. Moreover, it is advisable to choose the young buds and eat them when they are fresh because it is the time when they contain less nitrates and nitrites.


Why are there nitrites?

Plants require nitrogenous fertilizers to grow. They absorb nitrogen from the environment and use it to synthesise amino acids through complex biochemical reactions, during which the production of nitrates is inevitable. There are also some reductases in plants which reduce some of the nitrates to nitrites. In fact, all plants contain nitrates and nitrites. It is just a matter of amount.