On our occasional trips to the local Asian supermarket, I always enjoy discovering some new, hard-to-believe-it’s-real foodstuff to bring home. Last week I found Greenmax brand “Pai Ku Grain Powder,” which I thought would be a sort of tea, but is actually a sort of soupy, slightly chalky energy drink. The list of ingredients were too intriguing to pass up, including purple yam, ginseng, snow lotus, pearl (?), spinach, black sesame, seaweed, bitter melon, lily bulb, ginkgo nut, and… caterpillar fungus. There are actually about 50 ingredients total. Didn’t know whether the label was referring to a fungus that grows on caterpillars, or a variety of fungus nick-named “caterpillar.” Turns out:
Spores of Cordyceps sinensis grow inside the caterpillars filling the caterpillar with filaments (hyphae). When the caterpillar dies the fungus produces a stalked fruiting body that produces spores. The spores are spread in the wind to the next generation of caterpillars. Uninfected caterpillars pupate into relatively large primitive moths. Today the most common way to prepare the caterpillar fungus is to stuff a duck with the caterpillar fungus then after boiling the duck in hot water, patients drink the liquid. Some consider the benefits to be similar to those of another valuable Chinese tonic, ginseng.
There were dozens of brands of this stuff, so apparently it’s pretty popular. After an initial period of adjustment it’s actually not bad, and the energy/clarity it yields is noticeable. Not sure I’m ready to give up coffee for it just yet though.