I am passionate about many things, but the top three are: China, food and human organizing processes.
I started learning Chinese when I was 14, spontaneously. In the end this resulted into a PhD in Arts (Leiden University; 1986), 10 years of working and living experience in China as a representative of a Dutch firm and a marriage with a Chinese partner (1984).
During my work in a company (Gist-brocades, now part of DSM) and as an independent consultant, I became fascinated with organization theory. This has led to a second PhD in Business Administration (Erasmus University Rotterdam; 2001). I am currently combining both interests in a long-term research project studying Chinese entrepreneurship, with a number of Chinese partners.
From the day I joined the company, I picked up an interest in food, not just the final product, but also how it is produced, with an emphasis on ingredients and formulation. Once more combining that interest with my China passion, I became an avid student of the cultural and societal function of food.
In this blog, I hope to blend all those ingredients into a savoury soup about China, the Chinese food industry and how the organization of that industry differs from the West.
The title of this post is based on an earlier post on the big overlap of food and medicine in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Foods and beverages with cosmetic properties have become so popular in China, that a phrase zhang shi tong yuan ‘cosmetics food same source’ has been coined on the existing concept of yao shi tong yuan ‘medicine food same source’.
This is by itself not a typically Chinese trend, but as soon as it landed in China, TCM became an influential factor. Red dates or goji berries nourish qi and blood, moisturise and the complexion. Mung beans and white fungus detoxify the intestines and have an anti-aging effect. Black sesame seeds keep your hair black. That wouldn’t work for me, but it would for most Chinese. These thousands of years old health preservation concepts are now being implemented by Chinese consumers in their daily diets. Many companies have started cashing in to this, adding TCM ingredients to foods and drinks. This post introduces a new products in this category recently launched in China that can be regarded a trend-setting product.
Collagen is good for your skin; that is old news. However, instead of spending a lot of money on an expensive cream and investing considerable to put it on your face each and every morning, you can now start the day with a helping of collagen yoghurt YO Collagen Yogurt by Sanyuan (Beijing). Each helping contains 1250 mg of small-particle collagen imported from Germany. The two flavours, peach-lychee-jasmine and grape-pomegranate-rose, contain chewable pulp. The protein content reaches 4.5g per bag, which is 65% higher than the national yogurt standard. Erythritol is used as sweetener instead of sugar. You take your collagen with all the other nutrients of yoghurt and enjoy the tart fruity flavour at the same time. And you only need on hand, with the other free to do whatever you want to do.
I will keep you informed on this page, by adding new cosmetic foods launched on in China.
In a few earlier blogs, I introduced novel foods designed by students for their graduation. One was dedicated to vinegar-based foods, another had a more general nature. The inventors were typically students of food science.
Chinese students have not only continued these innovative activities, but have combined it with their innate entrepreneurial instinct. A number of agricultural universities and colleges have developed novel foods and have started commercialising these themselves. An important driving force behind these commercial activities is the popularity of the TikTok (Douyin) platform, on which students can advertise their products through direct broadcasting.
In this post, I will introduce a number of novel foods developed and marketed by students of various Chinese universities. Their professors have also particpated in the development, but usually prefer to remain in the background, and allow the limelight for their students.
South China Agricultural University (Huanong)
According to the official introduction of South China Agricultural University, in the 1930s, the Agricultural College of Lingnan University, the predecessor of Huanong, had a dairy farm with the scale of one to two hundred cows. This laid the basis for their dairy specialisation. Later, the research field was focussed on the production and development of yogurt. In 1997, Huanong established the Dairy Factory of South China Agricultural University and officially started selling yogurt to the outside world.
Compared with yoghurt on the market, Huanong yoghurt is fresh and contains fewer additives. Its raw materials are fresh milk, bacteria and sugar. Huanong yoghurt’s sales slogan is: our yoghurt is like a meal cooked by our own family. It may not taste as attractive as restaurants, but we believe that simplicity can do the trick’.
Southwest Konjac is a product developed by Southwest University, founded in 2012. The story says that in 1979, Professor Liu Peiying of Southern Agricultural University discovered that Japan purchased large volumes of konjac from Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, and initiated research into konjac. The university registered its own konjac brand, and founded the KGM Functional Food R&D Centre to develop functional products, special medicinal foods, medicines, beauty products, etc., all with Konjac as raw material.
Yunnan Agricultural University
When talking about Yunnan, people usually think of fresh flower cake. In fact, the fresh flower jelly developed by Yunnan Agricultural University and the Yunnan Highland Agricultural Industry Research Institute is also very special. At present, the fresh flower jelly series includes four flavours: rose, jasmine, chrysanthemum and osmanthus. There are fresh flowers in each jelly.
Hunan Agricultural University
Fantianwa is a brand of spicy dough sticks, a traditional product of Hunan that has gain national popularity during the past couple of years, developed by Hunan Agricultural University. In addition to being the leading brand, these spicy strips are also unique in taste. Their sales slogan in: ‘it makes people feel like they can “go to heaven” after eating’. Fantianwa has also created a toplevel clean room, becoming the first spicy stick enterprise in Hunan with HACCP certification and ISO9001 quality management system certification.
Xinjiang Shihezi University
Shennei brand carrot juice not only alive in the memory of Xinjiang children, but also makes some people who don’t like to eat carrots change their minds about this vegetable. In 1996, Shihezi University set up the Shennei Xinjiang Product Research and Development Centre, and carrot juice is one of its products adapted to local conditions. Shennei carrot juice is made from a local variey of carrot, which is produced in the north slope of Tianshan Mountain, and is freshly pressed by cell wall breaking technology.
There are several more of these university-developed novel foods. The above my personal pick, but I will be most happy to guide those who want to know more, like partenering with one of this high-quality institutions.
You can find bamboo objects in European homes and occasionally life bamboo growing in European gardens. Clothes made of bamboo fibre are also appearing. When you ask Europeans if they would like to taste bamboo, they may be less eager. Chinese obviously do not eat full-grown bamboo. Only panda bears do that and even they do so with some diffulty. Chinese eat bamboo shoots, very young bamboo.
Dried bamboo shoots have a bright yellow colour and tender meat. They are rich in nutrients like protein, cellulose, and amino acids. They fit the requirements of the modern consumers: low fat, low sugar and high in dietary fibre. Bamboo shoots are in trace elements like calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, vitamins B1, B2, and C. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), bamboo can increase appetite, prevent constipation, cool and detoxify. It is a pure natural health food that is popular among consumers.
China is one of the largest producers of bamboo in the world. There are 22 genera and more than 200 species distributed throughout the country. However, the main bamboo species for excellent bamboo shoots are the red shell bamboo from Xiacun Township, Yanling County, Hunan, the yellow bamboo from Guangxi Lei bamboo and early bamboo in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the Pearl River Basin, Lin’an, Fujian, Yichun City, Wanzai County, Yifeng County and other regions in Jiangxi Province, Moso bamboo, Moso bamboo and green bamboo in Taiwan and other places.
Data from the “Analysis Report on the Development Status and Future Prospects of China’s Bamboo Shoot Industry from 2021-2027” released by IRG shows that the production of bamboo shoots in China has been steadily increasing during the past few years. The following table shows the production and growth of the period 2018 – 2019.
According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2019, the highest output of dried bamboo shoots was in Fujian: 214,917 mt; followed by Zhejiang with 191,223 mt of dried bamboo shoots; and Guangxi with 180,536 mt of dried bamboo shoots. Combined, these three regions were good for almost 57% of the total national production.
According to data from the Zhejiang Bureau of Statistics, the output of dried bamboo shoots in Zhejiang Province is relatively stable. In 2018, the production of dried bamboo shoots in Zhejiang Province was 197,434 mt, up 5.8%; in 2019, the production of dried bamboo shoots in Zhejiang Province was 191,223 mt, up 3.1%.
The Tianmu Mountain region in Lin’an, Zhejiang, is known as the southern bamboo town. The famous dried bamboo shoots of Tianmu are mainly made from fresh bamboo shoots of Dianthus. It was famous around the world as early as 400 years ago. There are five main types of dried bamboo shoots in Tianmu. The thicker and softer ones are called “fat buds”, the thin and long ones are called “bald buds”, and there are “Xiaoting”, “Straight Tip”, “Bakeout”, etc. “Fat buds” are suitable as an ingredient for roasting meat, “bald buds” and “Xiao Ting” can be used in soups, and “Bao Ting” are made from the tender tips of bamboo shoots, which regarded as the top grade in dried bamboo shoots.
In 2019, the export volume of dried bamboo shoots and shreds from China was 1865.5 mt, and the import volume was 35.6 mt. From January to November 2020, the export volume of dried bamboo shoots in China was 1631.2 mt, and the import volume was 36 mt.
According to China Customs data, in 2019, the export value of dried bamboo shoots and shreds in China was USD 17.584 mln and the import value was USD 693,000. In 2020, the export value of dried bamboo shoots and silk was USD 21.696 mln and the import value was USD 729,000.
A number of companies have developed value added products other than the traditional shoots and shreds. A good example is Tiankang Green Bamboo Biological Products Co., Ltd. (Zhaoqing, Guangdong). Its main product is a beverage with bamboo shoot juice and also produces lyophilized bamboo juice powder and bamboo dietary fibre.
Before people had fridges to keep their food for a longer period, or longer in frozen condition, mankind has invented a number of processes to make fresh produce last a little longer. However, if such processes would affect the original flavour too much or make it visually unappetising, the product would be unacceptable. So, food preservation is tightly connected with maintaining the original organoleptic aspects of the original product.
Preserved candied fruits, have been a popular snack in China for ages, known as guofu or mijian. Preserving fruits started as a way to keep summer and autumn fruits into the winter. Originally, candied fruits were treats for the imperial courts. In ancient times, emperors wanted to enjoy fruit all year around, but transportation was too slow to deliver fresh fruit to the capital from the warmer southern regions.
The most telling story about this problem feature the most famous concubine in China’s history: Yang Yuhuan, the favourite concubine of emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty (8th century). The emperor had lychees, that Yang loved so much, delivered to the palace using the imperial courier’s fast horses, whose riders would take shifts day and night in a Pony Express-like manner. This service used to be reserved to sending urgent messages. This angered the courtiers so much, that they persuaded the emperor to have Yang killed.
Smart cooks came up with the idea of soaking fruit in honey to seal it from the air and prevent deterioration. When they consecutively tried to boil the fruit in honey, a new snack was created. As the imperial court in the last two dynasties, Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911), were located in Beijing, that city is still considered the best place for tasting a wide range of authentic and traditional preserved fruits.
The main difference between preserved and dried fruit is the use of honey or sugar in the preserving process. Traditionally, preserved fruit are produced by simmering fresh fruit in honey to remove moisture. Sugar is often substituted for honey nowadays to cut production costs. Selecting the best fruit is crucial in making mijian and guofu. The fruit must be ripe but still dense enough to withstand long boiling. Different varieties have specific requirements. Apricots should be golden, with moderate hardness, while apples with low moisture content and loose flesh are best. Once fruit has been pitted and peeled, it is smoked in sulphur to prevent oxidation of the tannin. It is then boiled in a highly concentrated sugar syrup.
Not all candied or preserved fruit is sticky in texture. Though the words guofu and mijian are interchangeable, guofu is more commonly used to describe preserved fruit that is dried after boiling in sugar or honey, while mijian refers to the more juicy and glossy versions that aren’t dried after cooking. Some Chinese guofu have a thin granulated sugar coating, which is more common in southern provinces like Fujian and Guangdong.
Yangmeigan, or candied Chinese bayberry, is made by boiling the fresh berries in sugar water, then baking the berries to remove moisture. A sugar coating is added for extra sweetness and texture. This snack is very popular, especially in Yangtze River Delta region.
Guofu and mijian are most commonly made with green plums, apricots and peaches. But the preservation process has also been extended to more unconventional ingredients, like winter gourd, ginger, water chestnuts, lotus roots and olives.
Tangjiangpian, or candied ginger, is a specialty in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. The recipe, which originated in the Ming Dynasty, is favoured for its sweet and spicy flavour as well as for the health benefits of ginger. For the process, fresh, tender ginger roots are rinsed, peeled and thinly sliced. Then they are tossed in granulated sugar and dried under a hot sun. The process is repeated several times until all the moisture from the ginger is gone.
The peelings of orange and grapefruit can also be made into candied preserves. The process requires separating the outer zest of the citrus from the bitter white pith. The peeling is then boiled in water and cut into thin slices, which are subsequently boiled in a syrup of equal parts water and sugar. When the peelings take on a transparent appearance, they are removed from the syrup and spread out on a flat surface to cool. Finally, they are rolled in granulated sugar. Tangerine peel is used to make sun-dried chenpi, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine and in cooking (try them when stewing beef!). In Guangdong, jiuzhi chenpi is a snack made by processing the dried tangerine peel with liquorice root and sugar.
Various preserved plums, like huamei, wumei and jiayingzi, and hawthorn berries are the most common varieties of more sour preserved fruit sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. The sourest of the huamei preserved plums is one that looks quite mummified, with white powder on a caramel-coloured surface. Made of green plums, it is infused with the flavour of liquorice, giving it a distinctive saltiness that is said to stimulate salivation.
Wumei, or black preserved plum, is less sour and a bit meatier. It is made from Chinese plums, or Prunus Mume. This variety is also an element of traditional Chinese medicine and a key ingredient in the popular summertime beverage of sour plum juice.
Dried mango; this was the most popular preserved fruit by far sold on the online platform Tmall in 2020.
A number of fruit popular for preservation is attributed medicinal activity in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Good examples are: date, tangerine peel, ginger and black plum (wumei). You can also make herbal tea from several types of preserved fruits, like tangerine peel (chenpi) tea. Preserved fruits can also be enriched with other medicinal ingredients like: dates with ajiao (a gel extracted from donkey skin), or hawthorn with probiotics.
Guofu and mijian are often used in classic dishes such as babaofan, or eight-treasure rice, and zongzi with preserved honey dates as filling. Preserved fruits are also added to oatmeal to create a more interesting breakfast.
Modernisation: low sugar
Of course, anything dripping with sweetness comes under scrutiny in today’s health-conscious world. That’s also true of preserved fruit. In recent years, food scientists have developed production methods that use less sugar. One process uses low pressure injection of gel, e.g., algin. In this way you can use less sugar, while preserving the texture of the final product.
Food and beverages form one of the most innovative industries worldwide. Consumers get easily bored with their daily bites and sips and feel a strong need for regular change of flavours, textures, colours, etc. The typical products with such regular changes are snacks or sodas, stuff that you eat or drink between meals, to kill part but not all of your hunger, or even purely for diversion.
When scanning the new launches in China of the past few months, another type of product clearly stands out, one that is usually regarded as a healthy food: yoghurt.
Dairy is regarded as the single most nutritious food group in China and therefore tops the current Chinese food pyramid. In particular, Chinese strongly believe that dairy products enhance the immune system, so the Covid-19 epidemic has triggered a tsunami of new dairy products during the latter half of 2020. As many Chinese still have a problem with the odour and flavour of regular milk, yoghurt is a more widely accepted dairy product among Chinese consumers. In this post, I want to introduce a number of the most noticeable newly launched yoghurts, each representing a subtype.
Yoghurt and tradition
The renewed interest in traditional culture in China is also reflected in the celebration of traditional holidays, like the Mid Autumn Festival. Although dairy is a mainly a foreign food group, several of the newly launched yoghurts in China are branded in connection with a traditional holiday. Yili has issued a limited edition of its Ambrosial yoghurt for the Mid Autumn Festival.
Beijing’s pastry maker Daoxiangcun, that does not a dairy company, has even launched a one-time Dragon Boat Festival yoghurt flavoured with mooncake, the traditional pastry eaten during that festival and of which Daoxiangcun is a main supplier.
Yoghurt and milk tea
Milk tea is a vogue that reached Mainland China from Taiwan and quickly became bigger than in its home market. Young Chinese are willing to line up for hours to get a cup of their favourite milk tea. Yuanqi Senlin has cashed in that by launching a milk tea inspired yoghurt.
I posted an earlier introduction about various types of ‘black food’ in China. Black food is traditionally linked to health. Moreover, there is a small but stable group of young people interested in gothic music, including the black outfit that come with it. A number of black yoghurts have been launched in previous months. E.g., there is Yiming’s yoghurt coloured with inkfish ink and black sesame seeds.
Yili’s Ambrosial also has a range of black yoghurts with various funny flavours: chives, garlic, shrimp, rice vinegar, etc.
New raw materials
These are yoghurt not made from milk (or not only milk).
Tianyou has launched a Zero (zero sugar, zero additives) soybean-based yoghurt.
Beijing-based Marvelous Foods recently launched its flagship store on Tmall with its signature offering: Yeyo Coconut Yogurt with zero-added sugar, no sweeteners, or artificial flavours. The initial launch of the plant-based range includes a ‘pure’ sugar-free flavour, along with two yoghurt-granola cups with seasonal fruit and nut granola toppings and are priced at RMB 15 per 100 gr. Its latest product was developed after extensive formulation R&D by joining forces with leading ingredients company DSM.
High nutrition yoghurt
While yoghurt itself is already regarded a nutritious in China, some producers add extra nutrients. Yili has developed high protein yoghurt . . .
. . . and one with several probiotics to enhance the functioning of the intestines.
Wahaha is selling a yoghurt drink with amino acids that promote a good night sleep.
For the opposite, to pick yourself up, you can use Mengniu’s yoghurt with arrowroot; also said to be good for curing hangovers.
Yoghurt and . . . noodles
China’s top dairy processor Yili has launched a combination pack of its Ambrosial yoghurt and Wuhan-style noodles (Cailinji brand) late 2020. It is a limited edition commerating the brave citizens of Wuhan who suffered most from the COVID-19 epidemic.
More have been launched and I expect even more will follow. I will regularly update this post with new products.
Fruit juice has been an emerging popular beverage category in China for some time now. Fruit has a healthy image, so fruit juice drinks are easy to market as good for you, at least better than sugary soda beverages. However, even up to the present day, most fruit juice drinks for sale in China have a 5% to 10% fruit juice content; the remainder being water and a mix of the usual ingredients.
Fruit juice drinks with a higher juice content are rare in China. It was therefore a surprise to note that Not From Concentrate (NFC) juice suddenly the appeared on the Chinese market a few years ago. Still, if fruit juice is healthy, NFC should be the healthiest of them all.
In 2018, the retail sales volume of fruit juice amounted to 14 billion litres. However, only 5% were 100% juice and only 1% of that volume was NFC. The NFC juice consumption per capita in China was only 16 ml. Although the market size at present is quite small, prospects for growth are high, as was indicated on FBIF 2020.
As for now, most NFC juice consumers are females, adults from 23 to 40 years old, living in the first-tier cities, and parents. White collar workers, gym-patrons and people who care about body management will be the next potential consumer groups. Getting enough vitamins, health, and flavour are the top three reasons mentioned to purchase NFC juice.
There some obstacles for NFC suppliers to overcome. Two thirds of Chinese consumers do not know the difference between 100% juice and NFC. Another problem is that NFC juice can be easily replaced. A 2020 Healthy Drink Research showed that a considerable part of consumers did not choose NFC juice because the can buy fruits and eat those directly. Fruits are cheap in China.
Popular beverages like bubble tea also pose a threat. Such teas with fruit juice are also marketed as ‘healthy’ and can be purchased to go. Fresh fruits can be squeezed at home. NFC is only for sale in bottles, so consumer who want to have a fruity drink while shopping, will buy a bubble tea. In June 2020, the famous tea drink brand Hey Tea also launched bottled NFC juice products in its own bubble tea shops.
Where to go
Worldwide, most fruit juice products are still single-flavoured, dominated by orange. But in China, consumers are more open to mixed flavours, or a mixed vegetable and fruit juice. Exotic fruits can be another considered.
The promotion of NFC juice shall be first focused, highlighting “NFC” on labels. Comments like “additive-free,” place of origin, health benefits, etc., are also important in China. It also very important to connect products with consumption contexts. For example, NFC juice could be the best choice for mothers in the supermarket when the kids want to buy beverages.
It would better to position NFC juice together with other health products, rather than sharing a shelf if regular fruit juice and fruity beverages.
In spite of the challenges, I am sure that NFC will grow in China in the coming years. Covid-19 has increased the already existing trend towards more healthy eating and drinking among Chinese consumers.
Seaweed has been integrated in Chinese cuisine for centuries and was used in food, feed and even building materials.
The modern seaweed industry in China, being the largest seaweed producer in the world, began with two phases.
The first phase started in the 1960s when the Chinese government was struggling with a huge iodine deficiency in many parts of the country. The government stimulated growing kelp and extract iodine from it. Since then, the scale of kelp cultivation has developed dramatically.
The second phase started with the economic reforms in China from 1980s on. During this phase, the cultivation area and production volume have grown rapidly due to high demand for food ingredients extracted from seaweed like alginate, mannitol. Seaweed itself was also consumed more and more directly, in particular as a healthy snack.
According to the 2016 Chinese Fishery Yearbook, the yearly seaweed yield was over 2.1 mln mt dry weight in 2015, which was nearly 50% of world seaweed yield. By looking into this volume from an economic perspective, the total value of seaweed in China was USD 8.64 billion. As for the production regions, Fujian, Shandong and Liaoning, dominate the seaweed production, accounting for nearly 90% of total national output.
Rongcheng in Shandong and Fuzhou in Fujian have been given the designation ‘Seaweed Capital of China‘. The seaweed production of Rongcheng currently is 410,000 mt p.a.; 30% of the total national volume.
In terms of the types, kelp is the largest species produced, accounting for 67% of the national seaweed yield. The second largest one is Gracilaria which belongs to the family of red algae, accounting for 13%. A major product in this category is laver, ‘purple cabbage (zicai)’ in Chinese, known as nori in Japanese. China produced 212,300 mt of laver in 2019; up 5.22%. Then there is the sea mustard (qundaicai), also better known with its Japanese name: wakame. China produced 202,400 mt of sea mustard in 2019; up 15.32%. Japanese are the nation with the largest wakame consumption, but 70% of it is imported from China.
A major problem with seaweed products was that the cost and wholesale prices were extremely low because of massive cultivation. To increase the economic value of the industry, several value adding products have been developed in recent years: including food supplements, medical matrix, medicines and skin care products. A few have been introduced in earlier posts in this blog:
The Chinese army is investigating the use of seaweed as a source of ingredients for anti-radiation foods and beverages.
Several products on the Trends page of this blog have seaweed as an ingredient.
Workers packing laver for exporting
With the increasing spending power of Chinese consumers, and the growing preference for more healthy food, the consumption of seaweed snacks has grown rapidly during the past few years. The leading product is nori, laver processed into thin sheets, not for wrapping sushi, but for direct consumption. Due to the high fibre content, nori is a good way to alleviate hunger without consuming many calories. China produced 24,590 mt of nori in 2019; up 5.86%.
Chinese R&D in this industry had produced a number of innovative products. A good example is tomato flavoured nori by Strongfood (Guangdong).
Very few seagrass meadows have been recorded in the country yet. As of 2014, only 87.6 km had been identified, with 80 km of that area in the South China Sea. Then, in 2015, exciting news emerged from northeast China’s Bohai Sea – a 10 km meadow had been found off Caofeidian, a district of Tangshan. In September 2019, a survey by the Ministry of Natural Resources expanded the total seagrass coverage in the area to 50 km. Clearly these ecosystems are not only to be found in the south. A 2016 survey of the Caofeidian seagrass meadows, led by Liu Hui of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences’ Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute, found a rich variety of species, including juveniles of many different types of fish and bottom-dwellers like the webfoot octopus, veined rapa whelk and Manila clam. Many juvenile shellfish were also found in the sediment, as well as clam worms. With its favourable climate, the island province of Hainan has the widest variety of seagrass species. But the dominant species in the south is Halophila ovalis, sometimes called dugong grass. In the Yellow and Bohai seas, eelgrass is most common. The large area of seagrass discovered in 2015 was predominantly eelgrass. In June 2020, seagrass meadows were included in a 2021-2035 national plan for the protection and restoration of important ecosystems.
In view of the good prospects of this market, I expect this post to expand soon.
A Chinese food ingredient less known in the Western world is the yam (Dioscorea polystachya) literally called ‘mountain medicine’ (shanyao) in Chinese. It is sometimes called Chinese potato or by its Japanese name nagaimo. Eating Chinese yam (first scrape off the hairy peel) by itself is an acquired taste. They have a slightly hot flavour, different from the heat of chili peppers.
China has produced 48,189,000 mt of yams in 2019; good for 65.37% of the total global production. The name ‘Chinese yam’ is well deserved. The Chinese yam’s growing cycle spans approximately one year, and should be planted between winter and spring. The traditional methods growing it are: using smaller tubers, top cut of bigger tubers or through cuttings of branches. The first two methods can produce 20 cm long tubers and above. The latter produces smaller tubers (10 cm) that are usually replanted for the next year. Between 7 and 9 months of replanting Chinese yam tubers, their leaves start to get dry, which indicates that it’s time to harvest. In home gardens generally only what will be consumed is harvested, with the rest left in the pot in moist soil.
Chinese yam is also a herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The main health benefits it is known for is strengthening the spleen and stomach to aid digestion. Chinese yam also aids in lowering the blood sugar level. It can be used to treat diabetes or a good diabetic diet. Besides that, Chinese yam contains mild medicinal properties, unlike ginseng which could help to regulate sleep. Consuming Chinese yam helps to nourish kidneys and enriching essence as it contains a variety of nutrients which can strengthen the immune system of the body.
Study shows that Chinese yam has antioxidant properties which is beneficial as a daily supplement. Chinese yam extract helps in preventing disease which plaque build-up in the arteries. Chinese yam also is a natural slimming food. It has high fibre content to produce the feeling of fullness after consuming it.
Yam in cooking
Unlike most other yams, the Chinese yam can be eaten raw (grated or sliced). However, Chinese still usually cook yams, as they are much less interested in eating raw food than their eastern neighbours in Korea and Japan. To prepare fresh Chinese yams, it is recommended to rinse it under cool water before peeling the outer skin. Take caution while peeling as the slipper secretion makes it difficult to grip. Do not soak Chinese yams as it weakens the beneficial functions of the herb and washes the nutrients away.
The most common way to consume Chinese yams is cooking chunks of yam in rice congee. The yam adds texture to the congee, while the congee helps neutralising the sharpness of the yam. Dates are often added for their fruity sweet flavour.
Chinese yam can also be stir-fried alone with carrots, hot peppers dipped in hot pot or stewed pork rib soup.
On average, the Chinese are not heavy drinkers. However, when they do drink during a business dinner or other occasions to forge good guanxi with others, they don’t honour that image. They not only drink a lot, but drink fast, throwing down one glass after another rather than sipping and enjoying their drink.
Combine this with a much lower ability to digest alcohol than the average Caucasian and you end up with a lot of problems. When Chinese are hung over, they are not only suffering from headaches, but their entire body feels awful. While Westerners regard an (occasional) hangover as something that will pass by sooner or later, Chinese, also under the influence of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), perceive it as a disease, a condition that needs tending to. And that creates a lucrative market for sobering up products.
A number of TCM herbs are said to help relieve various ailments caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. The better-known ones include arrowroot, polysaccharides from razor shells, oligopeptides from maize, probiotics, etc. However, taking these products individually is not very attractive in terms of flavour or taste.
Therefore, Chinese food technologists have designed a existing products enriched with one or more of these TCM ingredients, which can be marketed as help avoiding or alleviating the ills of excessive drinking. In this blog, I am introducing a three of the more popular ones.
Tianxing literally means ‘waking up gently’, which all of wish for after an alcoholic night with our mates or business relations. Tianxing is yoghurt enriched with arrowroot. Arrowroot contains glycine that helps the body to break down alcohol quickly. Please note that this is the general TCM explanation. So don’t hold me to it. Anyway, Mengniu is one of China’s top yoghurt producers, so if it does not cure your head, it still makes a healthy snack after drinking.
One Quarter Before Drinking by Bright
Shanghai Bright cannot afford to lag behind in this market with a sobering up yoghurt of its own. This product contains curcuma and goji. These are well-known super ingredients, so if does not do any good for your hangover, it still makes a healthy food.
Sobering Up Honey by Fengxiang
Beijing Fengxiang Beverage Co., Ltd. is producing this sobering up drink containing:
This drink contains so many good ingredients, that it is bound to make you feel great, whenever you drink it. As Fengxiang is a honey processor, honey seems to be the primary ingredient, after water, of course.
The latest adding to this list was launched in the spring of 2020. It has been developed by Fuxi Yingmen (Sichuan), a trader in alcoholic beverages and is marketed under the brand name Laoban (Mogul). Its ingredients include:
Arrowroot, goji, ginseng, hericium erinaceus (a fungus), polygonatum sibiricum, astragalus propinquus, etc.
The Chinese market for sobering up products has apparently developed so rapidly, that newcomers have a harder time positioning their products specifically for post-alcoholic ailments. Lepur has launched its “Relax” yogurt targeting meat lovers, greasy food lovers, and those who have digestive problems after eating and drinking in 2020. The new product adds Bifidobacterium bifidum BB536 to relieve constipation symptoms and regulate intestinal ecological balance.
Does this post strike you as at least a little sarcastic? Perhaps you’re right. Sober up foods, drinks and supplements have been produced in East Asia for a long time already. I have once tried Japanese pills, containing oyster extract, that claimed to prevent alcohol entering your blood stream. Believe, me, they didn’t do the job. However, as several new products have been launched recently, this is worth a post. Moreover, the products introduced above are at least tasty beverages, so who cares if they do what they promise to do, it is an extra bonus to what is already a pleasure for the taste buds. It is always to good hydrate while drinking alcohol, right?
The best advice I can give, although I myself am not always able to heed it, is don’t drink too much, especially not of the Chinese baijiu.
Temperatures are rising rapidly in China and that is traditionally the signal for the ice cream industry to increase production. However, ice cream is one of the products the consumption of which has increased dramatically in the first quarter of 2020, when virtually all Chinese were confined to their homes with only very limited opportunities to go out. Convenient foods like instant noodles and snack food like nuts and seeds reported year-on-year increases up to more than 100%. The increase in ice cream consumption was less spectacular, but still 20% – 30%.
However, the most interesting development in the Chinese ice cream scene is not just the increase in consumption, but the growing interest in savoury flavours. Until recently, ice cream was typically a sweet to very sweet treat. Now, the most peculiar flavoured ice creams are appearing all over the country. Can you imagine enjoying scoop after delicious scoop of ice cream laced with: seaweed, shredded meat, onion rings, etc.? Curious? Go to China this summer to try them out, one by one. This development is so sudden and overwhelming, that I am not adding this news to my earlier post on ice cream, but dedicating a special post to it. This will not be a show window of who makes what. As usual, I will give you a good look into what is happening in this market.
Chives and shred meat
I have introduced shred meat or meat floss in an earlier post on Chinese meat products. I already noted there that it can be used as an ingredient in various foods. Here it is combined with chopped spring onions. If you can keep the taste of fresh spring onions, this combination might actually work very well with a suitable ice cream flavour.
As noted in my post on Chinese drinks, I introduced herbal tea (often referred to as ice tea in Chinese) as a type of beverage derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It has become extremely popular in China during recent years, so why not make it into a popsicle? The design of the packaging reflects the ‘traditional’ nature of this product.
Hot and spicy
After my introduction, you undoubtedly expect a chili flavoured variety, so here it is. The packaging promises a lot of fire. I like chili chocolate (the mild type), so I expect to like this too.
Toufu, bean curd, is known very well in the Western world, as a versatile food ingredient and an alternative to meat. Stinky toufu doesn’t sound very nice, but refers to a kind of black fermented toufu that is fried and sold as a snack at street stalls in various parts of China. A traditional hot snack in winter is now also available as a cold snack in summer.
A cold hot pot
The last, but most spectacular, type that I want to introduce in this post is hot pot ice cream. Chinese love to eat hot pot, at home and in restaurants. You can throw almost any food in the boiling water, retrieve it when done, dip it in a sauce, and savour it. This ice cream comes in a pot, with a wafer a the lid, and laced with chopped vegetables and seaweed, topped with a layer of shred meat.
There are more types and undoubtedly even more will appear. I may add the ones that I find most striking later.