BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Since diplomat and imperial envoy Zhang Qian's expedition westwards more than 2,000 years ago, a path connecting China and the outside world has come into being.
The path, known as the Silk Road, has brought about economic and cultural exchanges in China and abroad, as well as a variety of new foreign produce to foodies across the nation.
As the result, new types of fruit and vegetable have appeared on dinning-tables ever since.
Here are 20 items.
Originating in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the grape entered China from Dayuan, during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220). Dayuan was an ancient country in Ferghana valley in central Asia, which was famous for grapes, alfalfa, and ferghana horses.
The pomegranate originated in the region of modern-day Iran, and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region and northern India. The fruit was introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), and was considered an emblem of fertility and numerous progeny.
Brought back by Zhang, the walnut is also known as the longevity fruit. It can warm and invigorate the body, and often serves as a key ingredient in Chinese pastries.
Garlic is native to the region of southern Europe and central Asia. During the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), Zhang introduced the species in the onion genus, allium, to China. During ancient times in China, foreign tribes were referred to as "Hu troops", so garlic was originally referred to as "Hu garlic".
Coriander, known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, is native to the regions spanning from southern Europe to central Asia. Zhang brought the seeds of coriander into China, according to The Compendium of Materia Medica, an ancient Chinese book on herbology, which was written during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) by Doctor Li Shizhen.
Cucumber is originally from South Asia, on the southern foot of the Qomolangma Mountain. However, in Zhang's time, the cucumber was known as the "Hu melon".
The alfalfa, also called lucerne, is an important forage crop in many countries around the world. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, by historian Sima Qian of the Han Dynasty, alfalfa was introduced into China from Dayuan following Zhang Qian's embassy.
Eggplant, originally domesticated in India and Southeast Asia, was brought into China during the Han Dynasty, and became a common vegetable in the Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420).
Sesame, introduced into China by Zhang, has many species, with most being wild and native to sub-Saharan Africa. Sesame indicum, the cultivated type which is edible, was originated in India.
10. HYACINTH BEANS
The hyacinth bean was originally grown in India, and brought into China between the Han and Jin dynasties.
11. DATE PALM
The date palm was cultivated for its edible sweet fruit.
The jackfruit is native to parts of South and South-east Asia, and is believed to have originated in the south-western rain forests of the Western Ghats in the Indian subcontinent.
13. BLACK PEPPER
Black pepper is native to ancient Persia, the Arab world, and South India. Throughout the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), black pepper was introduced into China by merchants on the Silk Road, and became a popular spice for meat dishes among Tang people.
The pistachio, a member of the cashew family, was brought into China by the Arabs during the Tang Dynasty.
Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia. The earliest available record of the spinach plant was recorded in Chinese, stating it was introduced into China via Nepal.
Carrots were originally cultivated for its leaves and seeds. The plant was first introduced into the western parts of China, and then Dunhuang of West China's Gansu province. It was then introduced into the central planes during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
Watermelon, which originated in the desert of Africa, was brought along the Silk Road to western China and Ouigour – located in today's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region – in ancient China. It appeared in Xinjiang during the early Tang Dynasty, and in China's inland between the Five Dynasties, Ten Kingdomgs (AD 907-960) and Liao Dynasty (916-1125).
Lettuce originated from the Mediterranean coast, and appeared in China around the Sui (AD 581-618) and Tang dynasties.
The luffa, which originated in India, was introduced into China during the late Tang Dynasty and became a common vegetable in the Ming Dynasty.
Cabbage, a leafy green or purple biennial plant, was domesticated in Europe before 1000 BC. It travelled through the western China before arriving in China by the Hexi Corridor, a part of the Silk Road in Gansu province.