What Chinese food lovers love most

There are different Chinese expressions for people who love food in Chinese (as there are in English). A classic, more highbrow, term is meishijia, literally: ‘a person knowledgeable of good food’. This term is close to the English concept of gourmet. People like this do cook, but prefer to indulge in the better restaurants. The not only have good taste, but also do not lack of cash to fund their likings. In recent years, the term chihuo has become popular. It literally means ‘eat merchandise’. As I prefer an English translation over keeping a Chinese word untranslated, I will use the equally popular English term ‘foodie’ as the, more or less, equivalent for chihuo.

Like Western foodies, their Chinese counterparts do not just like to eat because they crave food, but because they have an interest in new flavours and textures, foods that are linked to things that are fashionable in other sectors of life, like art. They are focused on convenience and leisure foods, but although do not necessarily reject junk food, they are especially interested in novel foods that are ready to eat or at least easy to prepare, but are also healthier than the traditional street food. Attractive packaging is also valued.

Chinese foodies can be unexpectedly traditional in their taste. In many posts of this blog, I have mentioned the special status attached to imported food, which often has a special section in the larger Chinese supermarkets. The novel foods that Chinese food bloggers introduce are often improved, i.e. better packed, more nutritious, versions of traditional Chinese foods. In fact, you can get a good impression of what Chinese foodies like by surfing to the Trends page of my blog. All items introduced there have been taken from the accounts of Chinese food bloggers.

That page is serviced irregularly. I post a product that strikes me as interesting.  Recently (12/3/2020), Tmall, one of China’s leading online shops, has published a Top 20 Products like most by chihuo. I will share that list with you here, with a short explanation of each item. It will give you a valuable insight in what Chinese foods buy online now. The only point for attention in interpreting this list is the possible influence of the corona virus epidemic on this list. I will take it for granted here. Whenever Tmall publishes an update, we will be able to compare the new list with the one introduced here.

  1. River-snail noodles; a dish from Guangxi made from pickled bamboo shoots, dried turnip, fresh vegetables and peanuts and served in a spicy noodle broth flavoured with river snails.
  2. Turkey noodles; these are actually ordinary instant noodles originating from South Korea, so quite spicy. The Chinese media have shown contests in turkey noodle eating in 2019, which is probably the reason for the popularity of this product. Chinese love games and contests.
  3. Cherries; mind that the Chinese term here is chelizi (a transliteration of the English word) and not yingtao, the regular Chinese word. I have not (yet) detected a difference between berries offered in China under the name chelizi and those marketed as yingtao, but the former are praised a rare treasures. Well, as long as it sells.
  4. Instant noodles; I guess these are all instant noodles, minus the turkey noodles.
  5. Self-heating pots; these are ready to eat foods that can heat up by themselves through a chemical reaction started by squeezing the bottom.
  6. Spicy strips; this is real junk food. They are strip made from a starchy product mixed with chili. Reports have been published exposing the bad average quality of the hot strips, but they remain popular snacks.
  7. Self-heating hot pot; this is a special type of self-heating pot, emulating the popular hot pots eating in restaurants all over China. These usually are soups with chunks of meat, fish and vegetables.
  8. Hot and sour glass noodles; glass noodles are made from starch rather than flour; they are flavoured with pickled vegetables and chili.
  9. Boneless chicken claws; chicken claws are a regular item in the Cantonese dim sum; boneless prepared chicken claws are easier to eat as a snack.
  10. Hot pot stock; I already mentioned above that hot pot is immensely popular; hot pot restaurants and now also many seasoning companies, are producing chunks of fat with all the seasoning in it; just throw it in your pot at home, heat it, and have a feast.
  11. Strawberries; like the cherries above, a berry regarded as a rare delicacy.
  12. Milk tea; this fashion has started in Taiwan, entered China in the South, but has now also reach the North; milk tea comes in an endless array of flavours, and is often spiced up with bits of dried fruit, chunks of jelly, etc.
  13. Potato crisps; no comments needed.
  14. Nuts; same; this category has been made famous by the products and marketing campaigns of Three Squirrels, introduced in several posts of this blog.
  15. Custard tart; this is an example of a reasonably traditional product that has suddenly become fashionable; the custard tart (danda) is a Portuguese influence on the Cantonese dim sum. In case you didn’t know: Macau used to be a Portuguese colony. This is the second dim sum in this list that has gained national popularity.
  16. Ice cream; no comments needed.
  17. Chocolate; ditto.
  18. Hand-pulled pancake; this is plain version of the onion pancake popular in Taiwan. It consists of several thin layers that are easily pulled off when you pick them up, hence the name. A reason for their popularity could be that it is easy to combine them with any dish. You can wrap a few spoons of the dish in a pancake and eat it with your hands, as a Chinese type of wrap.
  19. Haidilao; this is the only brand name in the list, and not one of a food, but of a hot pot restaurant. By now, even inattentive readers will have noted that hot pot is a popular type of food and Haildilao has grown into the leading chain in this business. What puzzles me is how you can get Haidilao from Tmall. Perhaps Tmall can also be used to book a table.
  20. Thin cream; Chinese traditionally do not like dairy products and the main reason is that most of them have a problem with the creamy taste of milk. The very fact that thin cream appears in this list, even though at the end, is a revolution. However, its main use is raw material for whipped cream, in which the creamy flavour is partly masked by the added sugar.

This is what a hand-pulled pancake looks like

Well, this is the Top 20 most popular food products purchased from Tmall mid March, 2020. I will refrain from guesses and inferences about what it could mean for suppliers who want to cash in on this reasonably affluent segment of the Chinese market. Most of them will be able to make that step and Eurasia Consult is always there to help out.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Camel milk – fad or trend?

For dairy consuming Westerners, the word milk, without any specification, is automatically linked to cows. This is not always the case in other regions of the world, including most parts of China. Goat raising regions produce goat milk, which is also quite familiar in Europe. However, Mongolians also drink horse milk, usually fermented. A few regions commercially process donkey milk. The latter two are available in China, but on a very small scale. One type of non-bovine milk that seems to be catching on in China is camel milk.

Decrease and increase

According to the latest available statistics, 338,400 camels were being raised in China at the end of 2018, up from 242,800 in 2011. In fact, the number of camels was 640,000 in 1981, but the number started decreasing as fewer and fewer camels were used for transportation. The recent rise is due to the new interested in camel milk. Almost 90% of the camels in China live in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

Milking camels

A camel typically produces 1.2 mt of milk p.a. compared to 8 – 9 mt of a Holstein cow. That makes camels rather inefficient milk producers. The following table shows the historic development of camel milk output in China

Year Output (mt)
2014 14,100
2015 13,800
2016 14,000
2017 14,600
2018 15,200

In 2018, Xinjiang was the largest production region with 52.94%, followed by Inner Mongolia with 26%.

Pricing

The purchasing price of raw camel milk increased considerably during the same period.

Year Price (RMB/kg)
2014 30
2015 32
2016 35
2017 42
2018 48

Nutrition

Camel milk is high in: calcium, iron, and vitamins B and C. It is therefore thought to be good for preventing osteoporosis. It also contains fair amounts of lysozyme, lactoferrin and immunoglobulin.

Prospects

Insiders expect that the Chinese demand for camel milk will increase steadily during the coming years. The value of the market was RMB 974 mln in 2019, but is expect to increase to RMB 2.228 billion by 2024.

Products

A number of commercial camel milk products are available in China. In this post, I am introducing Tuoneng. The pictures respectively show the canned milk and the packaging line.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

From milk to candy and back to milk – co-branding Chinese style

I originally wanted to post this product on the Trends page of this blog, as a notable innovative product. However, thinking more about the history of how the White Rabbit brand has developed (also see my post on candy), I believe it deserves a separate mini-post on the main page.

Indigenous milk candy

White Rabbit Creamy Candy was originally manufactured by the ABC Candy Factory of Shanghai in 1943, when a merchant from ABC tried a milk candy from England and thought that the taste of the candy was not bad. After half a year of development, he then manufactured the factory’s own brand of milk candies. The main ingredient is not raw milk, but sweetened condensed milk, the oldest indigenous industrial dairy product in China. The oldest producers was Baihao, established in Zhejiang province in 1926. The first ABC milk candies were packaged using a red Mickey Mouse drawing on the label, and were named ABC Mickey Mouse Sweets. As their prices were lower than imported products, they became widely popular among the people.

In the 1950s, ABC became a state-owned enterprise. As Mickey Mouse was seen as a symbol for worshiping foreign countries, the packaging was redesigned to feature a White Rabbit and an artist’s paint palette with Chinese and English hand-lettering in a colour scheme of red, blue and black against a white background. The result was a distinctive candy label design that became instantly recognizable around the world. Initially, production of the candies was capped at 800 kg per day, and they were manually produced. In 1959, these candies were given as gifts for the tenth National Day of the China. In 1972, Premier Zhou Enlai used White Rabbit candies as a gift to American president Richard Nixon when the latter visited China. The White Rabbit brand was transferred to the Guanshengyuan Group in November 1997.

See my post on candy for more details about the product, including its formulation.

White Rabbit Ice cream

Although the White Rabbit brand already had some history, its popularity worldwide has grown with the economy of China. Demand is increasing, especially during the Chinese New Year period, when many families provide White Rabbit sweets among other candies for visitors. The product generated a turnover of RMB 320 mln in 2013. The candies are now exported to more than forty countries and territories, including the United States, Europe and Singapore. On December 2, 2017, Wong’s Ice Cream of Toronto, Canada unveiled the first ice cream flavour made from White Rabbit Candy.

This association with ice cream has made Guanshengyuan to launch an ‘ice cream flavoured’ version of its candies. See my post on candy for more details on the formulation.

Starbucks and White Rabbit – cross-cultural co-branding

Starbucks is known for its attempts to grow roots in local markets by adding its own versions of local delicacies, like selling moon cakes for the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival. The company also occasionally serves White Rabbit Candy Frappe. According to a blogger, the it is made with two simple ingredients from Starbucks: Syrup Creme Frap and Brown Brown Butter Shortbread Sauce. If this is correct, Starbucks is only using the brand name and a picture of the original candies. The product itself seems unrelated to White Rabbit candy.

White Rabbit cosmetics

The brand is so attractive that it has been licensed to a number of cosmetics products. The first is White Rabbit Lip Balm, produced by Maxam. It is a limited-edition product and sold out in seconds on the online retailer, Tmall. The product has ingredients including essences of sweet almonds and olive. Shen Qinfeng from Guanshengyuan, stated in an interview: “How to make our brand younger, as well as adding nostalgia and emotion, is something we have been exploring.”

White Rabbit’s popularity in Singapore has given birth to a range of cosmetics, including shower cream and body lotion. While you could say that lip balm is still related to food, as you will gradually swallow it, these products are exclusively for external use. However, the background picture does include ice cream, so there is at least a subtle allusion to food.

White Rabbit milk

The most recent development is that Shanghai-based Bright Dairy launched a White Rabbit flavoured milk. The package tells us that this milk is ‘milk candy-flavoured’. It is like stating that a tangerine tastes like tangerine candy. White Rabbit Milk is the product of Chinese culture. It is the result of a strategic alliance of two major Shanghai-based companies, reflecting the strong regional chauvinism in Chinese culture (also see my post on the various food capitals in China). I have noted in several posts in this blog that the creamy flavour of milk is still not generally accepted in China. Shanghai could be the region in China with the highest acceptance of milk. Shanghai people often like to brag about their love for milk and dairy products. This is why China’s first milk candy was developed in that city in the first place. Now the success of the White Rabbit brand is used to create synergy with another old Shanghai dairy brand. It is not sure yet, whether White Rabbit Milk will be as successful as White Rabbit Candy or Bright Milk, but I will keep you abreast on this blog.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Goji berries – China’s red gold

Chinese superfruit

Following my post on shaji, I am writing one on another superfruit: goji berries. Goji berries are native to Asia, though some species of the plant can be found growing in North America. Goji berries belong to the nightshade family, which means that they are related to potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. They have a long history of use in China. According to an early legend regarding the goji berry and its value, a doctor more than 2000 years ago visited a village that consisted mostly of centenarians. After observing them for a time, the doctor noticed that the residents who lived the longest also had homes closest to the wells were goji berry trees grew. As the fruits ripened, they would fall off into the water and their nutrients would be infused into it. Villagers who lived near the wells would drink the water and benefit from its nutrients. There are multiple variations of this legend. Documentation of the benefits of goji berries begins with a book written the mythical doctor Shen Nong in the year 250 BC, the oldest book on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Another important Chinese book written by Li Shizhen in the 16th century also includes important information on the subject of the goji berry.

Nutrition

Goji berries are known primarily for their nutritional value and health benefits. Some of the factors that make them famous for boosting health are:

  • Amino acids: goji berries provide 8 essential amino acids that your body cannot synthesize.
  • Zeaxanthin: goji contain a high concentration of an antioxidant called zeaxanthin, good for preventing certain eye diseases. According to various studies, a diet that contains goji berries can increase a person’s zeaxanthin levels by as much as 26%.
  • Vitamins: goji berries can provide you almost twice the vitamin A that you need in a day. It also has about a third of the daily recommended vitamin C.
  • Minerals: goji berries are rich in some important minerals including iron and potassium.

Geographic spread

Goji berries grow in a large area northwest China, but Ningxia is by far the largest producer. The following table shows the regional breakdown on the output of 2017 (dried berries).

Region output (mt)
Ningxia 108,500
Gansu 105,800
Qinghai 95,000
Xinjiang 66,600
Others 34,700

Steady growth

As goji berries have been such a valuable earner of hard currency, the Chinese goji production has grown steadily during the past years, as is shown in the following table.

Year output (mt)
2018 451,000
2017 410,600
2016 360,900
2015 293,200
2014 229,600

Export

Although the demand on the world market is huge, the domestic demand is also substantial. After all, goji berries are a TCM, so have been used for ages. In fact, Western consumers got to know goji from China, like ginseng. The following table shows the export volumes of the same years as the production figures above.

Year export (mt)
2018 12,000
2017 12,600
2016 12,700
2015 9,800
2014 12,300

Goji as (health) food ingredient

Goji berries are no longer exclusively used in Chinese medicine. They have become an ingredient in a growing range of health foods and beverage. I will list a few in this section to give an impression of how goji is used by Chinese food technologists.

Herbal tea

This herbal tea by Laojin Mofang consists of dried longan slices, dates and goji berries. It is a refreshing beverage that lasts a long time, as you can add boiling water a number of times.

Halal goji drink

Qiye Qing turns goji berries into a cloudy orange-colored bottled beverage. The ad uses the alternative name for goji: wolfberries. The drink is certified halal. The manager, Mr. He Jun, believes this move is a great opportunity to cash in on the Middle Eastern and Central Asian markets. The picture shows an ad of this beverage. See my post on Halal food for more details.

Goji as snack

With the increased interested in healthier food, dried goji berries have become an interesting snack. Check out this small helping of goji by Qilixiang.

I may add more products in the future.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

You are not eating pastry, but culture

I originally intended to use this picture for the Trends page on this blog. However, this advertisement is so fascinating, that I have decided to devote an entire mini-post to it.

What you see is a picture of purple sweet potato and yam pastry (the top line of the picture). Apart from the sweet potato and yam, other ingredients are milk, red sugar and honey and gelatin; the latter to get a pudding-like texture for the yam part.

More interesting, though, is the second line:

It is called: Chinese tiramisu

The makers of this picture want to stress that this dessert is so good, that it can match the most world-famous desserts. They chose for tiramisu. This makes sense. The Chinese and Italian cuisines are both known all around the globe. So, when you want to tell people that your Chinese dessert is of world standard, you find something Italian and the most popular dessert there is tiramisu.

However, the climax is in the bottom line.

You are not eating pastry, but culture

Purple sweet potato and yam pastry as a symbol of Chinese culture. Interestingly, this symbol is not really a traditional food, but a western-style formulation using Chinese ingredients.

Note that here ‘culture’ (wenhua) also refers to high-class, luxury, etc. It is as if the creators of this picture want to say: ‘we can make food as sophisticated as you can, even with our own ingredients.

This picture combines the two main ingredients of my blog: ‘chinese food ingredients’ and ‘food and culture’.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Water chestnut: another very Chinese ingredient

In this blog, I regularly introduce typically Chinese food ingredients that are less known or used differently, in Western cuisine. In this post, I am introducing the water chestnut.

Water chestnuts are named for its chestnut-like shape like chestnut. However, not only the shape, but also the taste and functions are similar to tree chestnut. The water chestnut’s skin is purple to black, the flesh is white, crisp, sweet and juicy. Even eaten raw, it makes a delicious treat. People in China’s North sometimes refer to it as ‘southern ginseng’. Water chestnut can be regarded as both fruit and vegetable. It is a popular seasonal product. The following pictures show them as you buy them and peeled.

    

Medicinal properties

The water chestnut is attributed medicinal qualities in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is rich in protein, dietary fibre, carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and trace elements such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, which can prevent infectious diseases and improve the quality of the body.

Phosphorus content in water chestnuts is the highest in all stem vegetables. Phosphorus can not only promote physical development, but also make sugar, fat and protein metabolise normally and maintain a proper acid-base balance.

Water chestnuts contain puchiin, which is an antimicrobial substance. It can effectively inhibit the growth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, and can also play a role in lowering blood pressure.

Water chestnuts belong to the cold raw foods. They can clear away heat and remove fire, increase appetite and stimulate body fluid. They can dispel body discomfort and supplement nutrition. They moisten lungs, resolve phlegm and promote body fluid production. The starch and crude protein can promote the peristalsis of the large intestine, and the crude fat can moisten the intestine and relieve constipation. They are most suitable for fever patients. They cool blood and detoxify, stimulate diuresis and defecation.

Water chestnut products

In this section, I am introducing a number of classic and novel products made from water chestnuts.

Water chestnut starch

Water chestnut starch is produced by crushing, separation, dehydration and drying. Water chestnut starch is white and uniform, and can be made into other water chestnut products, such as water chestnut paste, water chestnut cake and water chestnut biscuits.

Instant water chestnut paste

Instant water chestnut paste is produced with water chestnut powder, water chestnut skin extract and other additives. The water chestnut skin extract is rich in dietary fibre and flavonoids, it promotes gastrointestinal peristalsis and improves blood circulation.

water chestnut cake

Water chestnut cake is favourite part of the famous Cantonese Dim Sum. It is rich in starch, protein and other nutrients, but it spoils easily, so it must be sterilised. It is advisable to use high temperature and short time sterilisation.

Water chestnut biscuits

A typical formulation of water chestnut biscuit is: 80 parts of wheat flour, 20 parts of water chestnut powder, 12.5 parts of sugar, 8 parts of soybean oil, 1.2 parts of yeast, 1.5 parts of baking soda and 0.5 parts of salt.

Canned water chestnut

Canned water chestnut has a crisp and refreshing texture, which is very popular with the public. Yellow browning occurs easily, when water chestnuts are exposed to air after peeling, so the need to be pre-cooked. Canned water chestnuts are sterilised at high temperature and short time.

Water chestnut beverage

Water chestnut contains a lot of water. It is easy to extract juice. Its juice is sweet and tasty. It is an ideal raw material for beverage.

Fruit vinegar beverage

Researchers have applied response surface methodology has to optimise the fermentation conditions of water chestnuts. The initial alcohol concentration was 7.6%, the inoculation quantity of acetic acid bacteria was 10.9%, the suitable growth temperature of acetic acid bacteria was 32 C, and the acidity was above 0.045 g/ml.

Alcoholic beverages

During experimental production of water chestnut wine, water chestnut juice was prepared by peeling water chestnut and inoculating 2.0% – 3.0% yeast culture medium after adjusting sugar content and acidity. After fermentation at 25 C for 2 days, an 4.2% alcohol clear and tasty water chestnut wine could be produced.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

China’s top private food & beverage companies of 2019

The list of the 2019 China Top 500 Private Enterprises has been published and I have extracted those whose core business is in the food and beverage industry. You can compare the changes with the same list of 2014.

Rank Company Core product Region
40 Yili dairy Inner Mongolia
45 Tongwei meat Sichuan
70 Daohuaxiang liquor Hubei
79 Shuanghui meat Henan
89 Herun cereal processing Zhejiang
93 Xiwang maize processing Shandong
106 Bohai soy processing Shandong
133 Weiwei soybean milk Jiangsu
140 Jinluo meat Shandong
144 Wellhope meat Liaoning
155 Wudeli flour Jiangsu
173 Xiangchi soy starch Shandong
214 Huaze liquor Hunan
248 Nongfu Spring mineral water Zhejiang
250 Dali bakery Fujian
282 Liyuan cooking oil Guangxi
312 Xulong fish Zhejiang
321 Haitian seasoning Guangdong
336 Zhucheng Waimao meat starch Shandong
353 Hengxing seafood Guangdong
365 Longda meat Shandong
384 Fulaichun beverages Shandong
399 Jinmailang instant noodles Hebei
404 Sanxing cooking oil Shandong
424 Yihai Taizhou soy processing Jiangsu
446 Jinpai liquor Hubei
453 Feihe dairy Liaoning
461 Gaojin meat Sichuan
469 Junlebao dairy Hebei
473 Jiannanchun liquor Sichuan
486 Huatai leisure food Anhui
489 Tieqi Lishi poultry Sichuan

Some of these companies have been mentioned in various posts, indicated by the links. Regular readers will, on the other hand, miss more than a few of the big names. However, note that these are privately operated enterprises; not state owned. However, this list does reflect an intriguing event: of the two dairy giants from Inner Mongolia, Yili and Mengniu, Yili started out as a state owned enterprise that was privatised through a management buy-out, while Mengniu, once China’s most successful private enterprise, became a wholly owned subsidiary of state owned COFCO.

Regional perspective

When we look at the regions, Shandong stands out as the number one with 8 companies. This makes sense, as that is China’s top food province and the home of Yantai, China’s unofficial food industry capital. Sichuan is runner up with 4, which indicates that these companies are quite evenly distributed over the country. A region that strikes me as disappointing is Guangdong. This province is known as China’s most entrepreneurial region, but this apparently does no lead to larger private enterprises. The Cantonese prefer to keep things small, so easier to manage.

Product perspective

A sorting according to core business shows that meat is the top industry with 7 companies, followed by soybean processing with 6 and cereal processing with 6. In this respect, the list is more concentrated than on the regional aspect. Most of the producs fall in the category processed primary produce. Apparently, more sophisticated food processes are less suitable for private investment in China.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.