In many areas of South China, when referring to taste of the mountain demon berries, mujiangzi, people’s opinions are widely divided. Those who like them are crazy about their taste, while others despise the taste and cannot even stand their smell.
Mujiangzi is a seasonal vegetable, which grows on the mountains in Wulong. In places where humidity is high, mujiangzi can be harvested year-round. Mujiangzi is a key food for the people of Wulong.
The period of time in which mujiangzi can be harvested here is short, and fresh mujiangzi spoils quickly losing its essential oils. Therefore, flavor is compromised when the food is dried. Thus, mujiangzi can only be found in towns which are nearby mountains and forests. It is difficult to transport this product to the city quickly enough for it to be consumed while fresh. Consequently, it has remained a treasure exclusive to those living in the mountainous countryside.
Attempting to find a way to preserve the flavor of mujiangzi, we visited a man named Mr. Zhao Benxiao. He is well known for using the most primitive method of distillation, which extends the shelf-life of mujiangzi.
When we came to Mr. Zhao’s “production workshop”, we saw earthen stoves and a lot of iron. He told us that first, he adds four or five hundred pounds of wood to the stove and then distills about one hundred pounds of raw seeds for ten hours. Ultimately, this process produces a mere one and a half pounds of mujiangzi oil.
Today, mujiangzi oil has become a must-have ingredient for many of the local dishes of Wulong. The mujiangzi oil, which is rich in lemon flavor and slightly numbing, is added before the dish is boiled, imparting a rich flavor to the food.
Wulong, with the spice of Mujiangzi floating in the air, is an unforgettable must-go place.