You are currently viewing Strengthen Your Kidneys with Mountain Yam and Fox Nuts

For millenniums the Chinese prepared their meals with the express purpose of maintaining a healthy constitution. In fact the earliest texts of Chinese cookery read more like a pharmacologist’s guide than recipe book. It is not surprising that this practice has become a formalized discipline known as food therapy, and making herbal soup one of its best-developed aspects.

For the Chinese New Year banquet last month I made an herbal pork soup. It was created with Warren in mind. He was diagnosed with diabetes about eight years ago. Over the years I’ve cooked different dishes, with ingredients to help him balance his sugar level naturally. Unfortunately many ingredients such as bitter melon and ginseng are not things Warren enjoys. But he likes mountain yam, which is one of the most effective foodstuff that help the kidneys regulate blood sugar level. And so it was that I came to make pork herbal soup with mountain yam for the banquet.

Herbal Pork Soup in a Tureen
Herbal Pork Soup in a Bowl

Mountain yam is common in both Chinese and Japanese cooking. Its common name is derived from the Japanese yamaimo (山芋). In Chinese it is known as shan yao (山藥), which translates into “mountain medicine.” Evidence that this tuber has been known to have special medicinal properties since ancient times. The flesh of mountain yam is starchy and becomes very slimy when cut. In Japanese cuisine mountain yam is grated and served as a side dish as in tororo or with soba as in yamakake soba. People unfamiliar with its texture often balk at eating the repugnant slimy glob.

In addition to the mountain yam I added fox nuts to the soup. Fox nuts, I learned a few months ago from a friend visiting from Singapore, are also known to be very helpful in controlling blood sugar. They are the seeds of a plant similar to water lily, and are harvested all over southern China and India, where they are popped like pop-corn and eaten as snack food.

To make herbal soup we almost always cook the medicinal and the food ingredients together for a long period of time, which releases whatever medicinal elements there are into the liquid. There are two different techniques. One method is to simmer the soup slowly in a pot directly over the heat. The other way is to place the soup ingredients in a covered tureen and then place the tureen in a large covered pot to steam. The second way cooks the ingredients gently and often results in a beautifully clear soup. This is the method I used for today’s recipe.

When I posted this soup on my Chinese New Year article a reader, Ana Chiu, requested the recipe. I was pleasantly surprised that there is interest in making herbal soup, which really is an acquired taste. I’m offering you this recipe to encourage people to start learning about Chinese food therapy and especially herbal soups to help maintain good health.

Mountain Yam and Fox Nuts
Herbal Pork Soup Ingredients
Herbal Pork Soup Ingredients in Tureen
Steaming Herbal Pork Soup

Pork Rib and Mountain Yam Soup (排骨山藥湯)

Category: Soup
Region: Cantonese
Print Recipe


  • 12 ounces pork spareribs
  • 8 ounces mountain yam (山藥)
  • 1 tablespoon fox nuts (芡實)
  • 1 tablespoon goji berries (枸杞)
  • 6 jujubes (紅棗)
  • 6 slices fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 5 cups water


  • Have the butcher saw the spareribs into about one inch thick pieces. Put the spareribs in a medium four-quart saucepan and fill with enough water to cover completely. Par-boil the spareribs over medium heat until the meat is just cooked, about four minutes. Drain the spareribs completely and rinse under cold water to get rid of any scum.
  • Peel and cut the mountain yam into about one-inch irregular shape pieces.
  • Put the spareribs in a Chinese soup tureen. Add the rest of the ingredients into the tureen. Cover the tureen. Place the tureen in a stockpot large enough to completely enclose it. Add water to about two inches deep in the pot. Steam the soup by simmering the water for two hours. Check every 30 minutes to make sure there is always enough water.
  • Lift the tureen out of the pot and serve the soup piping hot.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Terri

    Do you have this recipe in Chinese?

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Hi Terry, I do not have a Chinese version for this recipe right now. If you wish I can translate it for you and email to you separately. Write me directly and let me know.

  2. Ana Chiu

    Thanks so much Kian! I reached into my herbal soup ingredients section, and it’s been so long since I’ve used fox nuts that bugs got into them. I’ll get more later this week and make this recipe!

  3. Teresa F.

    Thanks, Kian! I am very much interested in Chinese food-herb therapy. I have some very basic knowledge learned from my mother, but hope that one day there will be a publication for those of us with limited Chinese. Are fox nuts sold in Asian groceries? I would be interested in learning more about how fox nuts can be used to control blood sugar. Are there other sources to learn more about that?

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Hi Teresa, Glad to know many of my readers are interested in the benefit of food therapy. Personally I am not an expert. But I do try to read up and learn more about it. I will definitely share whatever I learned with you in the future. Fox nuts are available in some selected natural food stores, or in most Chinatown groceries. They are available in Chinatown herbal pharmacies as well.

  4. Ava Chin

    Thanks for this Kian. Last year, when I was pregnant with our daughter Mei, my kidneys started failing, and I began scouring the web for Chinese tonic soup recipes. Most of what I found was good for the liver but not specifically the kidneys (surprisingly, my liver was going gangbusters). I’m going to make this soon as a delicious preventative…

    Love the blog, keep it rolling.

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Thank you for your kind words Ava. I’m glad that this recipe will be of benefit for you. I’m still trying to learn more about Chinese food therapy. Please do share your knowledge with us some time. Haven’t seen you for a long while. We should meet up some time.


  5. Sebastian

    Hey Kian, I was wondering if you had any versions of this recipe with substitutions for the pork spare ribs. It doesn’t have to be vegetarian, just not pork

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Hi Sebastian,

      You can substitute the pork with chicken. Instead of the pork use half of a whole roasting chicken or about 12 oz. of chicken legs. Use the exact same technique as in the recipe. Par-boil the chicken then steam the soup. Enjoy!


  6. mrs pang

    Can use huatiaojiu instead shaoxingjiu?

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Huatiaojiu is in fact a variety of Shaoxingjiu. So yes, you can use them interchangeably.

  7. mrs pang

    For old folks can opt out the wine?

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Why opt out the wine? After braising the soup for such a long period of time, the alcohol is pretty much evaporated. Besides the amount of wine in the recipe is minimal.

  8. Crystal Rose

    I am making this soup for herbal medicine class. Thank you for putting it online! If I am using dried shan yao, how much to use? Also, the above recipie is how many servings? Thank you for your help!
    ~Crystal Rose

  9. Crystal Rose

    Hello and thank you for posting this recipe on line. I found it while researching for a dish to make for my Chinese Herb class. I was wondering what your suggestion would be if all that is available is the dried shan yao? Also, due to dietary restrictions, I am using bison short ribs instead of lamb, so it will be fun to see how things come out!

    Thanks again,
    Crystal Rose

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      I’m so glad to be able to help you in your Chinese herb class. Since much of fresh shan yao is mainly water, I would suggest 2 ounces of dried shan yao to replace the fresh ones. Good luck!

  10. Joanne Nguyen

    Thank you for an interesting recipe, Kian. My father has stoned kidney and I’d love to try any tonic soup that could help. There is only one thing that bothered me is the 5 cups of water. Shall I add these 5 cups of water together with all ingredients into the tureen or just to the pot to cover 2 inches from the bottom of the tureen??

    Thank you very much,

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Hi Joanne,

      Thank you for your comment and I am glad you find this recipe helpful. The 5 cups of water is to be added inside the tureen. This water will become the broth of the soup where the essence from all the herbal ingredients will be infused. You need to add extra water on the outside of the tureen to steam the soup. Be sure to keep replenishing it while steaming as it will evaporate steadily.


  11. Gardenia

    This website and recipe is quite old so I hope it is still good to ask questions. My husband has cancer in the esophagus so I want to make him some broth that my mom used to believe in. However, I live in southeastern part of California in the desert area with no much chinese stores only San Diego when we go. So many of these ingredients I have never seen nor heard of.

    1. Kian Lam Kho

      Thank you for your comment Gardenia. It is possible to mail order many of the Chinese herbal ingredients nowadays. Kamwo Meridian Herbs ( in New York City is a good store to order from. They don’t have an on-line store but you can get a printed catalog and order through telephone. I am sure there are many Chinese herbal medicine purveyors in San Diego as well. For other cooking ingredients you should be able to find them in grocery stores in any Chinatown in California.

  12. Gardenia

    Thank you Mr. Kian Lam Kho. I actually have an adopted older daughter who is 100% chinese who lives in San Francisco from HK. She has all these ingredients at home but I hate to ask her because she would never charge me. She already sent me a big package and measured sample amounts in little bags. She wanted to pray for me at the Buddhist temple like in the past but this year, all of our predictions were very wrong and I always did this for fun. She is a firm believer of other natural products like the Noni Juice that she has been drinking daily for the entire family. I don’t believe because my sister died many years ago and her kids spent so much money buying medicines such as Noni and other eastern meds that were very expensive. In the end, it is the end of life.

    I do believe that a little of the broth cannot harm and it might be better than water or too much radiation and chemo. I thank you as this cooking is more for the living and healthy partner/family to be doing something to help instead of watching tv.

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