KUNMING, July 24, Xinhua - President Xi Jinping might be leading another food craze among Chinese diners. Moringa, an edible plant, whose Chinese name literally means "spicy wood," is a token of the ever-lasting friendship between China and Cuba under a Sino-Cuban joint research program.
Chinese President Xi Jinping(L) visits Cuban revolution leader Fidel Castro and presented him seeds of moringa and mulberry in Havana, capital of Cuba, July 22, 2014.(Xinhua)
Xi presented Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro seeds of moringa and mulberry on Tuesday, and promised closer cooperation with Cuba to develop the plant.
It's not the first time Xi has made food a hit.
In December, the president made a surprise visit to a Beijing-based Qingfeng steamed bun chain, which is famous for its wallet-friendly offerings.
The restaurant witnessed a surge in sales after Xi's visit. Qingfeng even named Xi's orders -- pork-and-onion stuffed buns, boiled green vegetable salad and stir-fried pig liver and intestine soup -- as the "President Combo".
There are signs moringa will follow suit.
Ma Yun, general manager of Jingji Moringa Development Co.,Ltd., one of the pioneers in China in moringa growing, said he has received many calls from potential business partners in the past couple of days.
Originating from northwest India, moringa rooted itself in Taiwan in the 19th century. It was introduced to Yunnan Province in the 1960s as an oil material.
The plant is high in protein, and rich in vitamins and minerals. Throughout history it's been valued for its healing capacity, its ability to reverse malnutrition and purify water.
When Ma got to know the plant in 1999 at the Kunming World Horticulture Exposition, moringa received little attention.
"President Xi mentioned moringa several times during his visit in Cuba, which will promote it tremendously," Ma said.
Yunnan is a major producer of moringa as the suitable environment provides fertile ground for the plant to grow. In Hani-Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Honghe in the southern part of Yunnan, the dry-hot valley is perfect for moringa to flourish.
In Yunyang County, where Ma's moringa fields are located, officials are encouraging him to expand his planting area.
Liu Changfen, a Chinese pioneer on moringa study, and expert with the Tropical Crop Research Institute in Yunnan accompanied Xi, then Chinese vice president, to Cuba in 2011 and visited Castro's house.
"There are plenty of moringa trees in the yard of Fidel Castro's house," she recalled.
Soon after the visit, the Ministry of Agriculture started a cooperation with Cuba in terms of pest control, breeding and development of cultivation techniques, said Liu.
In April this year, the China-Cuba Moringa Science & Technology Cooperation Center was launched at Liu's institute, while its counterpart was unveiled in Havana on Tuesday.
"President Xi took 5 kg of moringa seed with him to Cuba this time," Liu said.
There are 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of moringa grown in China.
"Almost all parts of the plant are edible and tasty," said Liu.
"Leaves and seeds of moringa are not spicy. Its spicy root is the only reason we call it 'spicy wood'," said Yan Shuping, a forestry expert in Yunnan.
Eating moringa is popular among some Chinese people. It's usually eaten in an omelette.
On the Chinese shopping website Taobao, there are already nearly 4,000 moringa-related products.
In online shop "Moringa Home", different products can be found, for example, moringa tea, seeds and noodles.
"I have received more orders thanks to President Xi's visit, and we definitely will develop more varieties of the food," said the store owner.