26 November 2017

What is Grass Jelly

Grass jelly or leaf jelly, is a jelly-like dessert eaten in East Asia (mainly Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and China) and Southeast Asia. It's made using the Platostoma palustre plant and has a mild, slightly bitter taste.
Platostoma palustre is commonly known as Chinese mesona (Mesona chinensis). It's a species belonging to the mint family. The species grows extensively in Taiwan preferring ravines, grassy, dry, and sandy areas. Those plants grow from 15–100 cm high with hairy stems and leaves. The leaves are tear-drop shaped and serrated. This plant is called xiancao (仙草). Platostoma palustre is cultivated on flat ground or areas with a slight slope. In Taiwan, this plant is often grown under fruit trees in fruit orchards as a secondary crop. The plant is processed by harvesting all the aerial portions above the root. The portions are then partially dried and piled up in order to allow them to oxidize until they have darkened. After the oxidation, they are then thoroughly dried for sale. 


Mesona is primarily used in making grass jelly. The leaves and stems of the plant are dried and oxidized, then processed into jelly. The plant extracts of the black variant of grass jelly (Mesona palustris) have been reported to induce anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and anti-diarrhea effects in pre-clinical research, all of which are possible due to the strong antioxidant nature of the extracts.

In Taiwan, grass jelly is known as 仙草 (xian cao), and is used in various desserts and drinks. It can sometimes be added to boba drinks and shaved ice. It's also commonly used in a traditional Taiwanese drink, where the jelly is heated and melted to be consumed as a thick dessert beverage (仙草茶), with numerous toppings like tangyuan, taro balls, azuki beans, and tapioca.
It's served chilled, with other toppings such as fruit or in bubble tea or other drinks. 

Grass jelly is made by boiling the aged and slightly oxidized stalks and leaves of mesona with potassium carbonate for several hours with a little starch and then cooling the liquid to a jelly-like consistency. This jelly can be cut into cubes or other forms, and then mixed with syrup to produce a drink or dessert thought to have cooling (yin) properties, which makes it typically consumed during hot weather. The jelly itself is fragrant, with a smoky undertone and is a translucent dark brown, sometimes perceived to be black.
Some other variants of grass jelly, known as green grass jelly, don't require cooking or heating process to make, only requiring a mixture of leaf extracts and water. Jelly produced in this way has been described as having a leafy neutral or plain flavor.



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