DINING on caviar and foie gras may not seem to say much about your status in life these days.
A serving of foie gras at a five-star restaurant in Johor Baru is around RM82 while a bowl of (God forbid) shark’s fin soup is RM28.
These exquisite dishes, however, paled in comparison with the cost of maintaining general well-being through traditional Chinese herbs, which has gone up in such a staggering manner that these delicacies have become out of reach for some people.
A liang or tael (about 37.5g) of cordyceps (dong chong cao) will set you back at an eye-watering price of RM1,000 to RM2,000.
Even dang shen, commonly known as the poor man’s ginseng, is far from affordable because the price has increased from RM140 per kg late last year to to RM240 per kg now.
The price of “female ginseng” or dang gui, another root herb usually used in tonics and soups, has also gone up from RM110 per kg to RM160 per kg within the same period.
Teo, who is also the Johor Chinese Physicians Association secretary-general, said a wide range of herbs went up by 30% to 50% compared to last year.
“The sharpest increase is the jin yin hua (honeysuckle flowers) that shot up by 190% to RM160 per kg from RM55 per kg at the end of last year,” he told The Star.
Like most herbs used in herbal teas, jin yin hua can help in eliminating toxins and clears heat from the body, he said.
Gan cao (liquorice root) is now RM33 per kg from RM20-something, goji berries have gone up by RM10 to about RM80 per kg and du zhong (eucommia bark), supposedly beneficial for the kidneys, went up to between RM60 and RM70 per kg from RM40 last year, Teo said.
Southern UC TCM Centre deputy principal Lau Hung attributed the steep price increase to the weakening of the ringgit and climate change.
These factors had led to the cost going up three to five folds in the past few years.
She also noted that the price of Chinese herbs might vary, depending on the grade and factory in which they were produced and packaged in, though most herbs come from China and Taiwan.
“Of course the high price of herbs has also resulted in a demand for cheaper herbs but there is always a question about its authenticity,” she said, reminding consumers to be cautious about deals that seemed too good to be true.
A check at several Chinese medical halls in Johor found that herbs containing sulphur to prolong its shelf life was quite commonly sold and are usually of lower grade and sold at lower prices.
A 27-year-old shop assistant, who only wanted to be known as Wong, said herbs that contained sulphur would make the whole pot of soup or tonic taste sour.
Another way to tell whether the herb contained sulphur is by its appearance. Customers should avoid buying herbs that look too “pretty”.
“Herbs that contain sulphur usually look fresh and plump. Herbs are actually dry and slightly shrivelled,” said the shop assistant, adding that consuming high levels of sulphur poses health risks.
Federation of Chinese Physicians and Acupuncturists Association of Malaysia president Prof Dr Ng Poh Kok said medical halls would also have to contend with higher rental charges and GST.
The increase in rent also led to the operating cost of medical halls to go up by 30% to 50% in the past three years, he said.