Young xiangchun leaves.
Food

Chinese hipsters are buying mahogany tree leaves to show off their wealth

Mar 22, 2019

In the U.S., the ability to afford avocado toast has become a measure of middle-class millennial success.

Now, young Chinese are discovering homegrown bougie symbols of their own.

At first, it was pricey, imported cherries. Those who were financially successful enough to afford them were said to have achieved “cherry freedom.”

But now, it’s “xiangchun freedom”—having enough in the bank to be able to afford the coveted leaf of the mahogany tree.

Xiangchun selling for 69 yuan ($10) per pound at a Chinese market.
Xiangchun selling for 69 yuan ($10) per pound at a Chinese market. / Photo: Weibo

Xiangchun (香椿) are the leaves of the Chinese mahogany tree. They look like red spinach, but taste like onions with a hint of MSG. They’re traditionally used in northern Chinese cooking. Typical preparations involve xiangchun being stir-fried with eggs, mixed with tofu, or used as dumpling filling.

The vegetable has become so expensive that it will set you back one and a half times the price of a lobster.

These days, the vegetable has become so expensive that it will set you back one and a half times the price of a lobster. It’s even more expensive than pork.

Xiangchun is now going for as much as 80 yuan ($12) per pound in Beijing supermarkets, according to a report from the state-owned China News Service. A quick search on JD fresh, China’s AmazonFresh, has 1 pound of the vegetable going for up to 200 yuan ($30).

Why are they so expensive? For one, this seasonal delicacy is harvested only a few times every year. It’s also used in Chinese medicine for pain relief and to encourage blood clotting.

The vegetable has become something of a status symbol.

“You can buy this to show off your wealth.”

“You can buy this to show off your wealth,” one person wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

“There’s plenty of xiangchun trees at my grandmother’s house,” wrote another. “I feel like I’ve just found the path to riches.”

But behind the cute phrase “xiangchun freedom” is a reflection of a decline in real spending power in China, according to Yao Zhiyong, an economist with the School of Management at Fudan University.

“Many items have become more expensive, but people’s salaries haven’t gone up accordingly,” Yao said.

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

XiangchunMahoganyChinese ingredients