Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! This is the year of the Goat (or Sheep, or Ram), and I wish you the best of luck in everything you set your heart on this year. Talking about the best of luck, during Lunar New Year, many Asian countries and people of Asian descent celebrate the coming of a new time with particular foods that symbolize all kinds of good things. Today, we will inspect these special foods under a scientific lens and admire the ancient traditions that people still faithfully follow thousands of years later.
Before we talk about food, what exactly is Lunar New Year? It is a time for family; massive numbers of people travel home to celebrate with their loved ones. Astronomically speaking, it is the first day of a year whose months are coordinated by the cycles of the moon (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar that indicates the position of Earth on its revolution around the Sun). The East and Central Asian Countries that celebrate Lunar New Year include China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet, and Vietnam, and they have all celebrated their new years according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar some time during their history.
Now for the more important part: food!
Every family has unique preferences and traditions, but I will try my best to list out some of the symbolic must-haves:
In the Chinese tradition, fish is an essential part of the new year’s eve meal. The Chinese pronunciation of the words “fish” and “surplus” is the same. The common practice is that families will leave some parts of the fish uneaten, symbolizing a surplus from the previous year that will be even more abundant the next. Other than the symbolic importance of fish, the life-enhancing properties of eating fish have also been indirectly promoted by Chinese ancestors.The Washington State Department of Health suggests that fish is not only a low-fat, high-quality protein, but also rich in calcium, phosphorus, and a variety of minerals. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet. A good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fish is something everyone should be able to enjoy².
Tangerines are associated with happiness and prosperity in Chinese culture. Oranges, tangerines, and similar citrus fruits are not only delicious to consume, but also act as decorative items that create a warm-colored environment. The bright orange color is even a symbol of gold! In the biological world, tangerines are also champions rich with antioxidants like naringenin, naringin, hesperetin, vitamin A, and vitamin C³. They are highly valued for their representation of wholesomeness, both as a traditional symbol and a hearty sustenance.
3. The Tray of Togetherness
A tremendously important and visually appealing must-have during Chinese New Year is the tray of togetherness that is often used as a gift for house guests and contains traditional snacks that are meant to be finished in a two-week period⁴. The picture to the right is a tray containing kumquats (gold and prosperity), longan fruit (many sons), lotus seeds (fertility), lychee nuts (strong family ties), peanuts (longevity), and red watermelon seeds (joy, happiness, and truth). Once again, Chinese ancestors were wise and employed healthy foods that promote both emotional and physical wellness. All of the snacks mentioned above have serious nutritious elements, including protein (longan fruit), vitamin C (kumquats), vitamin B (watermelon seeds), fats (peanuts), and minerals (lychee nuts)⁵.
If you want to learn more fun facts about Lunar New Year, I attached this fun YouTube video: “DO YOU CELEBRATE LUNAR NEW YEAR?” by FungBrosComedy. Emjoy, and happy Lunar new year, everyone!