As a dragon, my zodiac organ is the stomach. Although the dragon is the only zodiac animal that does not appear in nature, many dragon foods focus around digestive health and wellbeing. I am an undergraduate researcher in a microbiome lab on campus, and there has been a lot of discussion around fermented foods and probiotics, even though their effectiveness is still not fully known. However, since I already had a sourdough starter, I decided to make sourdough starter scallion pancakes!
A 100% hydration sourdough starter is equal parts flour and water that is fed, cultured, and thus fermented until the yeast colonies are matured. This is used in place of store-bought yeast to give sourdough its tangy taste. Sourdough and recipes that use its discard (because you have to throw away some starter every time you feed the it with more water and flour) are thought by some to be good for your digestive health since it is a fermented product. Thus, I am offering this recipe for our lunch!
The second part of my meal that I made was taking the idea of the dragon more literally—in the form of dragon beard candy! This candy is said to originate in imperial China, and I had it in Hong Kong. Similar to candy floss or cotton candy, dragon beard candy was historically served for the Chinese emperor, making his face look like that of a dragon beard when the sugar strands stuck to his face. Dragon beard candy has since spread to multiple Asian countries, often being a treat for tourists. Here is what it looks like after combining maltose, sugar, water, and a splash of white vinegar (three pictures below are not mine, see references):
Alas, I attempted to make my own version:
As my classmate Sidhant mentioned, perhaps the dragon’s draw to skillful projects is the reason why I chose to pursue making this candy. Dragon beard candy requires a lot of effort to make, and this also helped me to understand the chemistry behind the process. For example, boiling the mixture above a certain temperature accelerates the chemical reaction too far, rendering your product unstretchable and producing a hard candy (like a Jolly Rancher). Additionally, stirring the sugar mixture or agitating it in any way while cooking will crystallize the sugar, which will also ruin the smooth final product. Finally, I learned that vinegar is added to accelerate the chemical reaction that occurs between the sugars. After taking the physical chemistry laboratory (CHEM 14B) at UCLA, I have definitely been able to further understand and appreciate this food-making process, as it incorporates foundational chemical principles I learned in class.
As a student interested in pursuing a STEM career, it really interests me how food is incredibly intersectional, not only involving subjects such as food studies, but politics, environment, and science (and this is definitely not an exhaustive list). While the dragon is a mystical creature, it contains a small part of every zodiac animal, which I find the most interesting. And as Professor Vesna mentions, we all have each zodiac represented inside of us. Discussing the Chinese zodiac with my classmates to glean multiple perspectives on what a symbolic animal means to them opened my eyes to the multifaceted meanings an animal can have to our society.