Last year a 68 year-old Hong Kong woman made a police report that accused her son of stealing dried tangerine peel she had kept hidden in the house. She told the police that the peel – also called chenpi – had been aging for over 80 years (it was passed down from her great-grandfather) and was worth millions of dollars. The son wasn’t charged due to insufficient evidence, says Oriental Daily.
But why would peel be worth so much money?
Chenpi is most commonly used by Chinese as a seasoning to make more flavourful stews and soups. It is also said to have health benefits, including cholesterol-lowering properties. It has long been prized as a valuable commodity. The Empress Dowager Cixi, for instance, often received it as tribute.
In recent years, however, the price of chenpi has climbed to exorbitant levels. Hong Kong’s East Weekly, a magazine, says average prices in Xinhui, an area of Guangdong province famous for producing the most fragrant peel, have reached Rmb600 ($95.8) per kilogramme from just Rmb100 in 2010. Higher-grade chenpi that has been aged for over 30 years can be auctioned for as much as Rmb13,000 per kg.
Despite prices reaching record highs, buyers seem undeterred, and supply has been crimped by investors hoarding the highest-grade stock. Some consumers complain that they can no longer afford to cook with the dried citrus skin. Restaurants say chenpi has become so expensive that it has raised their food costs.
Some unlikely investors have joined the frenzy. “Housewives have been hoarding dried tangerine peel,” says one fruit vendor in Hong Kong, who added “The situation became even crazier last year, with many now making it at home. They would buy boxes and boxes of tangerines just for the skin and toss out the fruit to make chenpi.”
Then again, producing homemade tangerine peel is not that straightforward. For a start, fresh peel needs to be dried for at least three years before it can be called chenpi. The longer it is stored, the better. Older chenpi is usually deemed more fragrant and is reckoned to boast greater health benefits, and thus, is also more valuable.
“The longer the peel ages, the less essential oil remains in the skin, which makes the chenpi gentler on the stomach. So in other words, it is better for our health,” a merchant explained to Guangzhou Daily.
But other market-watchers have warned that investing too much in chenpi is not without financial risks.
From an investment perspective, the price appreciation in dried tangerine peel has risen dramatically over the past five years, analyst Louie Shum says, but he adds a note of caution: “The transparency of the chenpi market is very low. The market could go up very rapidly but also crash very fast. So investors are advised not to go all-in and put everything into the market.”
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