During Chinese New Year, Chinese people are persnickety about auspicious symbols and meanings. While taste is important, everything we eat has to bear a sense of fortuitousness. So when you mention fa cai (black moss) to older folks, it conveys joy, luck and prosperity. Just what is fa cai? Well, it is a key ingredient during this festive period and its symbolic meaning is basically “prosperous”; which correlates to “Gong Xi Fa Cai” when people wish each other during Chinese New Year.
Many people do not know how difficult it is to harvest fa cai. This hairy, black and tasteless fungus thrives deep in the Gobi desert and the Qinhai plains in China. Environmentalists do not appreciate the harvesting of this moss as a metal mesh is used to flip the top soil, thereby destroying surface plants and causing damage that takes years to heal the essential top soil layer. The moss’ fundamental important is to retain water when the rain arrives thus preventing soil erosion that is detrimental to the landscape.
With global demand spiked for this moss, the desertification of China gets increasingly problematic which in turn causes the appearance of more dust storms. In fact, since 2000, China has banned all exports of black moss as it lists it as an endangered species. This inevitably has spurred the market to create fake black moss which is made from gelatin and prices are increasing astronomically year by year.
While the moss is tasteless and causes serious threat to the environment, doctors and dieticians also say that the plant has no real nutritional value. Well-informed individuals prefer to buy the factory made moss as they both provide the same tastelessness and texture while connoting the same perceived prosperity and luck. So if you’re in the midst of picking up black moss this season, try the cheaper, fake alternative instead.