China’s major food regions

There is no such thing as ‘Chinese cuisine’; it is a conglomerate of cuisines

In a huge country like China, provinces are comparable in size to individual states in a continent like Europe. The same applies to the power of their governments. Provinces are important administrative units and their governments often seem to act as governments of sovereign states. China is a vast country divided by a number of mountain ridges and rivers. In the course of history, these mountain ridges and rivers have become natural barriers surrounding plains with fertile soil. Most Chinese provinces are shaped with such a plain as its centre. The role of geography in the constructing of several provinces is reflected in their names: Shandong (East of the Mountains), Shanxi (West of the Mountains), Hebei (North of the (Yellow) River), Henan (South of the (Yellow) River), etc. This is an interesting example of how geographical structure can affect cognitive processes through the formation of a network of functionally linked cities, towns and villages. People living in such a plain will frequently interact with other people from the same plain, but contacts with people from other plains will be much more difficult due to the mountain ridges, especially in times when such ridges could only be crossed on foot or horseback.

Provinces were made into the main administrative regions of China after the establishment of the People’s Republic, but their political and economic powers were strictly controlled by the central government in Beijing. With the start of the economic reforms in the early 1980s, more and more decision-making power was moved from the central to the provincial governments. As a result, provinces, in particular the ones in the coastal region, became a major source of revenue for the central government.

In the current administrative system, China is divided into 22 provinces, 5 Autonomous Regions, i.e. regions mainly inhabited by non-Chinese minorities that have been granted a certain degree of autonomy and 4 large cities directly controlled by the State Council (the Chinese Cabinet).

Key economic regions

A number of models have been set up  to reconcile the geological and administrative regions of China. This is not the place to discuss them all in detail. Instead, I will share the division Ilike to use myself, which is based on a number of criteria. The most important criterion is the geological division by mountain ridges and rivers. Other criteria include: dialect, cuisine, foreign influence, economic development, etc.


Administrative regions: Heilongjiang,

Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia

This region includes a number of non-Chinese minorities: Mongolians, Manchu, Koreans, etc. The region is located North of the Great Wall that was meant to keep the barbarians out of China. This regions has become Chinese only during the last dynasty (1644 – 1912). The Japanese installed a puppet government in this region during WW II. There is some Russian influence in the region, including a couple of Russian loan words in the Harbin dialect (see my special post on Harbin). It has always been there, but was intensified when many Russians settle there after the October Revolution.

It is one of the few regions in China with an indigenous dairy industry. It uses wheat as the staple, including European style baked bread. The diet is rich in protein.


Administrative regions: Hebei, Shandong,

Shanxi, Beijing, Tianjin

This region includes two of the cities under State control: Beijing, the national capital and Tianjin, one of China’s main sea ports. Shandong is a major food producer, good for 10% – 15% of the total turnover of the Chinese food industry, and also the home region of another major sea port: Qingdao. Yantai is often referred to as China’s food capital (see my special post on Yantai).

There has been substantial foreign influential in Beijing, as it has been the national capital since the 12th century. The same holds for Tianjin and Qingdao as foreign trade ports. Shandong had been ‘allocated’ to Germany after the end of the Opium War in 1848, and German influence is still visible in a number of buildings in coastal cities, and in the production of beer and wine (Riesling). Nowadays, the Shandong food industry has attracted significant investment from South Korea and Japan, as the products can be quickly transported from the Shandong ports to Korean and Japan. Shandong cuisine is one of China’s famous cuisines.

Wheat and maize are the typical staple foods.


Administrative regions: Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi

This is a conglomerate of a few second echelon inland provinces. Henan is China’s mean cereal and meat producing region. The capital of Hubei, Wuhan is a major hub for the distribution of food in China, as it is located along the Yangtze River, and along the Beijing – Kowloon railroad.

Hunan is known for its spicy cuisine.


Administrative regions: Anhui, Jiangsu,

Zhejiang, Shanghai

Although this region comprises one of China’s poorer provinces (Anhui), it is one of the richest of the economic regions. Jiangsu and Zhejiang are rich coastal provinces, the home regions of a number of sea ports, and Shanghai does not need any explanation. The average discretionary income in East China is higher than the national average. The national average was RMB 25,974 in 2017, and the figure for East China RMB 35,710 and for Shanghai even RMB 58,988. The region’s permanent residents were good for 16.1% of the total Chinese population, but they could eat in 18.7% of the restaurants in China. The total turnover of the restaurant business in East China in 2017 was RMB 788.52 bln, almost 20% of the national turnover.

Rice based Huaiyang Cuisine originates from this region, noted for its many sweet dishes.

Foreign influence has been also been long and intense in East China. Shanghai is China’s largest sea port, while the capital of Jiangsu, Nanjing, has been the national capital for a number of short periods.


Administrative regions: Fujian, Guangdong,

Hainan, Guangxi

This is by far the richest of the regions. Guangdong, actually its capital Guangzhou and its satellite cities, are good for approximately 10% of the national GDP. The region includes several of China’s so called Special Economic Zones: Shenzhen and Zhuhai in Guangdong, Xiamen in Fujian and the entire Hainan region.

The first foreign concessions in China were located in Guangzhou and the long-time colonisation of Hong Kong and Macao have added to a strong European influence in South China. The Cantonese dialect, based on the dialect of Guangzhou, has become the Lingua Franca of overseas Chinese in Europe and North America.

This is also reflected in the local cuisines. E.g. Cantonese Cuisine includes several milk based dishes.


Administrative regions: Guizhou,

Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing

This is the  region of China bordering Myanmar, Vietnam, etc. This is reflected in the fact that this region has a large number of non-Chinese minorities, and a lively border trade.

Sichuan is China’s most populous province and Chongqing China’s most populous city, while Chongqing is one of the four cities directly under the central government.

Yunnan, in particular the Pu’er region, is known for its tea, but has more recently developed in one of the world’s main centre’s of coffee production.

Sichuan Cuisine, known for its liberal use of chili, is one of China’s best known cuisines abroad. However, China’s most famous chili brand is still Laoganma.


Administrative regions: Gansu,

Shaanxi, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Tibet

This is a conglomerate of regions with a large variation in nationalities, religions, climates and cuisines. The aspect that binds them is that they are the least developed regions of China. Politically, some of them, in particular Xinjiang and Tibet, are also regions with regular ethnic conflicts. Islam is the major religion in Xinjiang and discussions regarding Halal food have increased in China recently.

The central government has been investing heavily in this region recently and is also stimulating Chinese companies to invest in the West. Tourism is one of the most promising sectors of the economy. Shaanxi’s capital Xi’an is known for the Terracotta Army, West Gansu for the Dunhuang caves with Buddhist frescos. Gansu and Xinjiang attract large numbers of Japanese tourists.

Meat (with emphasis on beef and mutton, of course) is an important ingredient of the local cuisines, while the staple food consists of a mix of various cereals. Agriculturally, Xinjiang is the most interesting region. It has, e.g., become the world’s largest production region for tomatoes. Many Italian tomato paste brands acquire a large part of their raw material from Xinjiang.

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.


Niangao – Chinese New Year Cake

Niangao is a Chinese dessert, typically eating during New Year, but enjoyed all year round

Niangao is a popular Chinese dessert. It was originally used as an offering in ritual ceremonies before it gradually became a Spring Festival food. Niangao is a prepared from glutinous rice. While it can be eaten all year round, traditionally it is most popular during Chinese New Year. It is also traditionally eaten during the Duanwu Festival. It is considered good luck to eat niangao during this time, because niangao is a homonym for “higher year.” The Chinese word nian meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to nian, meaning “year”, and the word gao, meaning “cake” is identical in sound to gao, meaning “high”. As such, eating niangao has the symbolism of raising oneself taller in each coming year (niannian gaosheng). It is also known as a rice cake. This sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can’t badmouth the human family in front of the Jade Emperor.

Niangao History

Niangao has a history of at least 1,000 years. Early in the Liao Dynasty (907–1125) people in Beijing had the custom of eating New Year cakes on the first day of the first month of the lunar year. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Niangao had already become a common folk snack, and remains so today.

The Niangao Legend

Niangao has a legend about its supposed Suzhou origin, around 2,500 years ago. In the Spring and Autumn Period (722 – 481 BC) of ancient China, the whole country was divided into different small kingdoms and people suffered from the chaos of war. At that time, Suzhou was the capital of the Wu Kingdom. Strong walls were built to protect Wu from attacks, and the king held a banquet to celebrate their completion. All of the people ceased to worry about the war, except for the Prime Minister Wu Zixu. He told his entourage: “War should not be viewed lightly. The strong wall is a good protection indeed, but if the enemy state besieges our kingdom, the wall is also a hard barrier to ourselves. In case things really go badly, remember to dig a hole under the wall.” Many years later, after Wu Zixu passed away, and his words came true. Many people starved to death during the siege. The soldiers did what Wu Zixu told them before and found that the wall under the earth was built with special bricks made from glutinous rice flour. This food saved many people from starvation. These bricks were the supposedly original niangao. After that, people made niangao every year to commemorate Wu Zixu. As time passed, niangao became what is now known as Chinese New Year cake.

How niangao is made

Niangao is usually made from glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, salt, water, and sugar. It is delicious when steamed, fried, or even eaten cold. Many people in rural areas still observe this ancient method to make New Year cakes:

  • First, put some steamed rice into a big stone container.
  • Second, beat it with a long-handled wooden hammer until the rice becomes a glutinous paste.
  • Then take the paste out, cut it into small pieces (about 150 grams per piece).
  • Lastly, roll them out into 3-centimeter-wide strips.

Niangao Types


Within the extensive land of China, customs vary in different areas: white rice cake is eaten in north China, yellow rice cake in the northern frontier of China, water-mill-made rice cake in southern China, and hongguigao (red turtle cake) in Taiwan. The flavors of niangao can be divided into two major kinds:

  • Sweet rice cake is usually made in northern China by steaming or frying.
  • In southern China, niangao can be sweet or savory, cooked by steaming, sliced-frying, or even cooking in soup.

Beijing New Year Cake

In Beijing, New Year cakes are on sale in many snack shops, like Qianmen Snack Street and Jiumen Snack Street, especially during the Spring Festival.

Guangdong Niangao and Hainan Niangao

Guangdong niangao is often like a soft, sticky dough, made from glutinous rice flour, peanut oil, and shelled melon seeds, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Rice cakes made in this way taste soft and sweet. Hainan New Year cakes are made before the Spring Festival as gifts to share, with glutinous rice flour, sugar, sesame seeds, red dates and water as the main ingredients. There are some special ways to enjoy Hainan niangao, such as frying, baking, and boiling.

Jiangsu Niangao and Zhejiang Niangao

New Year cake New Year cake wrapped in bamboo leaves in southern China. In Jiangsu and Zhejiang (the Yangtze Delta area) choices of New Year cake fillings include sweet-scented osmanthus flower sugar, lard oil, and sweet red beans. In Zhejiang, the most common ‘year cake’  is Ningbo Niangao, made from rice which has been crushed in a water mill.

Industrial production

To survive in the present day, niangao needed to adapt itself for production on an industrial scale. Fortunately, unlike many other modernised versions of traditional Chinese foods, factory-produced niangao can stick to the basic formulation. I will take a major producer, Huangshan Tianfeng Foods Co., that produces niangao with a wide range of flavours, under the Lucky Years (Xiyunnian) brand as an example. The picture above shows the company’s generic niangao, with the basic ingredients:

Rice, water, salt.

Other flavours include:

Niangao with purple rice (basic ingredients + purple rice powder)

Niangao with pumpkin (basic ingredients + pumpkin powder)

Niangao with crispy skin (basic ingredients + sodium dehydro-acetate)

There are many more, but I would like to end with the most innovative one: cheese niangao (basic ingredients + cheese).

I have not yet heard or read any reaction about this combination of a Western ingredient with a traditional Chinese food, but I will look for it and add it hear as soon as I know.

Eurasia Consult has detailed information about Chinese manufacturers of niangao.

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.

I Love You – what Chinese do with oat

The first three words of the title of this post refer to a campaign of Xibei Youmian, a restaurant chain specialised in oat noodles. You(mian) is the Chinese word for ‘oat (noodles)’


Naked oat has more than 2100 year history in China. The Chinese oat growing region reached 1.13 million ha in the 1960s, but declined from 1980s, dropping to about 0.3 million ha in 2003, the lowest in history. After that, the area increased gradually. There were about 0.7 million ha of oats in 2010, with a total yield of about 850,000 mt. The reason for the recent increase is the growing popularity of this cereal, at least partly triggered by a new successful restaurant formula. Domestic production cannot keep up with the demand as is shown by the following table of oats imports in recent years.

Year Volume (mt)
2012 82838.543
2013 92754.628
2014 127889.496
2015 154582.284
2016 191440.349
2017 394309.739

Westerners tend to associate oat with breakfast. Oat meal cooked in water or milk is a popular alternative for bread. Oat has been eaten as a staple in a large area in Northwest China (in particular: Shanxi, Gansu, Inner Mongolia). However, while the Western oat meal has reached Chinese breakfast tables as well in recent years, the traditional shapes in which it consumed is noodles.

In the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar, people in Inner Mongolia, especially in Hohhot, eat foods made with hulless oat flour in the form of noodles, rolls or pancakes involving various flavours. Oat is the staple food there. It is a low-yield, cold-resisting and salt-alkali-resisting crop with a short mature period, contain high protein, fat and many kinds of trace elements, such as iron, calcium and phosphorus. Oat powder can be made into noodles for mutton or vegetable soup seasoned with pepper and garlic.

Regular oat noodles are usually slightly thicker than the more common wheat noodles, due to the looser texture. The most typical presentation form of youmian in China is the cup noodle; short round hollow shapes that can be dipped in a savoury sauce, adding condiments of your choice. It is this type of oat noodles around which the above mentioned restaurant chain, Xibei Youmian, has been conceived. Xibei, though deliberately written with different characters, means ‘Northeast’, referring to the home region of Chinese oat. You have learned the word youmian in the opening paragraph.


Yet another traditional presentation form is the ‘oat fish’. This name is based on the shape, quenelles that, with a little phantasy, look like a fish. The picture shows fishes made from a combination of oat and yam.


Some innovative chefs are trying out new recipes like oat dumplings and oat pudding. Others make larger versions of the hollow oat noodles that can then be stuffed with different kinds of fillings.


Xibei Youmian serves oat in various shapes and other typical dishes of China’s Northwest. You can find them all over Beijing and they are crowded with returning patrons every lunch and dinner. Try it out yourself and I am sure you will join me in shouting ‘I love You!’.

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.

Enzyme applications in the Chinese food and beverage industry

I have a weak spot for enzymes, as this was one of the first type of food ingredients I worked with, when I started to get involved in the Chinese food industry. That was in 1985.

China is a huge market for food enzymes, possibly the largest. This is not only due to the size of the country and the therefore equally large food and beverage industry. Fermentation has been an organic part of Chinese food processing since the Chinese starting recording their history in writing. All the ways one can change the flavour, texture and preservability of raw foods with microorganisms all boil down to the enzymes secreted by the bacteria and moulds. While identifying and producing single enzymes did not start in China, most applications found an eager market there. If you can brew more beer from the same volume of raw materials, than by all means do so. No considerations like Reinheitsgebote in China.

Apart from the use of enzymes in innovative production processes, enzymes can also be employed to turn offal from the food processing industry into valuable ingredients. And again, because of the mere size of the country, the domestic food and beverage industry produces an awful lot of offal each single day.

The road from the first attempts of producing indigenous single enzymes in China took off slowly in the early 1980s, but within a decade, the first exports of Chinese made industrial enzymes took place. Today, multinationals in this industry have to compete with a growing number of local manufacturers, whose R&D efforts generate more and more proprietary enzymes for specific applications. China produced approximately 1.2 mln mt of enzymes in 2016, with the two largest producers good for about 30% of that volume.

I have mentioned some enzyme applications in earlier posts, like the production of steamed bread (mantou). In this post, I will provide an overall summary the most important application areas of food enzymes in China.


Adjunct cooking

Rice is relatively cheap in China, while most of the barley has to be imported. Virtually all Chinese brewers therefore use rice as adjunct, which calls for a thermostable alpha-amylase to properly liquefy the rice, before mixing it with mashed barley. 30% is the typical ratio of rice to malt, but with a really thermostable enzyme, you can increase up to 50%. Multinational suppliers still rule in this market, but the number of local producers of this enzyme is increasing.


Unlike the liquefaction of the rice, enzymes, single beta-glucanases or compound products, are not obligatory in the mash tun. Compound enzymes as provided by the main multinationals are used in China, but not by all brewers. The larger the plant the more added value can be generated from using such products. Domestic enzyme producers are slowly gaining ground in this market as well.


Adding papain for clarification and glucose oxidase for keeping beer fresh longer are very common in Chinese breweries. Both enzymes are produced in high quantity and quality domestically.

Spirits (baijiu)

As a traditional Chinese product, data for this industry are scarce and unreliable. Enzymes are reportedly widely used in the saccharification of the raw materials, but I assume that it will be mainly domestic generic enzymes, the cheaper the better.

Rice wine

Some rice wine producers use glucoamylase to improve the saccharification of the fermentation broth. Thermostable alpha-amylase, cellulase and neutral protease are also used, the latter for improving the flavour. In view of the positive publications, it can be expected that the use of enzymes will increase in this application, possibly to 100%. The reason for the slower adoption is probably that this is an indigenous Chinese application, which has escaped the radar of the multinationals. As this is a traditional Chinese product, this is mainly a segment for domestic enzymes.


Part of the wineries use enzymes, but figures indicating penetration and who are the main suppliers are lacking. Based on Chinese practice, we may assume that the smaller wineries will be more willing to use enzymes, in particular for clarification, than the larger ones that are preoccupied with creating an image of being (able to compare with) classic wine makers. All international suppliers are investing in marketing their enzymes for this application, but I have not found indications for serious use in practice.

Fruit juice


China is good for almost half of the global apple production. The country is therefore also the producer of apple juice concentrate (AJC). All apple juice concentrate (AJC) in China is processed with enzymes. 100% for clarification and probably also close to 100% for maceration. Domestic production of pectinases started later that those for starch processing as used in brewing, but quantity and quality are improving. The Chinese fruit processing industry is huge and therefore forms a lucrative market for pectinases.

Apples sometimes contain so much starch, that you need to add a little amylase to avoid problems during clarification and concentration.

Some companies use special enzymes to clean the ultrafilter.

Other fruits

Enzymes are used as well, but no reliable data are available. The general trend that Chinese processors will prefer to use enzymes, provided they are cost efficient, applies very strongly in this industry.


Bread, baked and steamed

Growing demand for bread and other baked goods is presenting the local baking industries with major challenges. Enzyme design for bakery products plays an important role in overcoming these. However, the fluctuating raw material situation demands individual solutions and prompt responses from the enzyme producers.

Most to all bread in China is produced with enzymes. However, this is realised in the form of compound flour/bread improvers. These will typically include fungal alpha-amylase and sometimes xylanase, glucose oxidase and lipase, roughly in that order of frequency.

After China prohibited the use of chemical whiteners like benzoyl peroxide, industrial producers of steamed bread are coping with the problem that their product is often not as white as the customers (have learned to) accept. Lipase, or more precisely: lipoxygenase, can reduce the betacarotene in flour and thus produce whiter steamed bread. Fungal amylase and xylanase are said to produce steamed bread with a smoother surface, which gives a shiny impression.

An interesting development is taking place in this industry in China. A number of domestic enzyme producers have sprung up specialising in enzymes of the bakery industry, offering products specially formulated for a particular type of biscuit, cake, bread or traditional Chinese baking product, like steamed bread. These products can be best described as formulated enzymes, something in between single enzymes and the traditional flour improvers. This is an interesting development and a potential threat for the traditional suppliers of flour improvers, once the Chinese producers dare to bring those products to the international market.

Flour (wheat) and flour-based products

As introduced in my earlier post on flour and flour improvers or those on traditional Chinese foods like dumplings, some Chinese flour companies have developed specially formulated flours for dumplings, fried dough sticks (youtiao) or steamed bread (mantou). However, these companies hardly ever add pure enzymes, but compound flour improvers as well. The workers in this sector are not really trained to handle enzymes, while adding a standard pack of flour improver to a standard bag of flour does not require any education. The top companies like Guchuan (Beijing) will have proper R&D departments that may experiment with single enzymes, but only in small quantities.


The most typical enzyme application in this industry is protease (papain) for the production of crispy biscuits. Domestic enzymes do that trick very well. Some companies have developed specially formed enzyme products for a broad range of biscuits, cookies and wafers.


Lipase is the typical enzyme for noodles, or better: flour improvers for noodles. Xylanase, glucose oxidase and transglutaminase are occasionally used.

Traditional pastry

Many flour manufacturer produce specialty flours for cake and traditional pastry, but only very few domestic producers of baking enzymes have so far developed special products for this category. The flagship product among the traditional pastries is still the moon cake. One domestic enzyme producer is supplying a ‘moon cake crust improver’, consisting of compound enzymes and emulsifiers, so again more an improver than an enzyme product.



As mentioned in my earlier post about this topic, cheese production in China is still in its infancy and most of it is processed imported cheese. However, there definitely is an emerging market for rennet and as it is a new thing in China, that market can be expected to be interested in microbial rennet rather than the natural product.

Some domestic companies offer bromelain for cheese making, but these are generic bromelains and not specially formulated products for that application. Multinationals are mentioning it in their marketing in China, but it is not likely that they are putting in much effort.

Hydrolised milk

Only a few manufactures: Yili (Inner Mongolia), Sanyuan (Beijing), New Hope (Sichuan), Bright (Shanghai) and only limited quantities. Yili seems to be the largest in this category, marketing its product to the elderly. This is still mainly a market for international suppliers, but domestic lactases have also appeared.

Savoury products

HVP/HAP, nucleotides, soy derivatives (incl. soy sauce), fish sauce, etc.

These are again mainly traditional Chinese seasoning products. As most of these typically include a fermentation step, they are highly interesting for introducing enzymes to make the production more efficient or cleaner, turn out better tasting and healthier products. Examples mentioned in earlier posts are: fermented beancurd (furu), fermented flour paste (jiang), and old soup (lao tang).

Although these are all bulk applications and therefore interesting for enzyme suppliers, the penetration of enzymes in each product group is still not very well documented. I will add more information to this post, whenever reliable data become available.



Hydrolysing meat with protease produces raw material for a wide range of meat-flavoured seasoning products. Considerable R&D is taking place in China to improve processes for teh production of HAP from a broad range of animal-derived raw material.


Proteases are regularly used to maximise the extraction of flavour from meat in the production of stock, like the ‘old soup (laotang)‘ introduced in an earlier post.


Papain is the typical enzyme for this application, followed by bromelein. For both, China is now the main production region.

Reusing offall

With such a huge slaughtering industry, China is bound to be the world’s largest producer of meat offall. Treatment of it with proteases can produce a broad range of flavouring products.


TG is the fastest growing enzyme in the Chinese food industry. Applied in meat, it can help improving the structure  of meat, which i.a. makes it easier to cut thin slices of meat.

Aquatic products


Same as for meat. Some Chinese researchers are studying the synthesis of meat flavour by enzymatic hydrolysis (trypsin) of squid skin followed by maillard reaction. The skins are offal of squid processing.

Fish sauce

The traditional production process of fish sauce is very long. It can be speeded up considerably by hydrolyzing  (part of the raw materials with proteases).

Removing scales

A combination of collagenase and pepsin can decrease the damage to the fish during mechanical removing of scales.


The flesh of some fish has a considerable urea content, which causes an unpleasant odour. Soy bean powder contains urease and treating fish meat with urease can remove enough of the urea to neutralise the odour.


A number of enzymes can help the preservation of meat, in particular lysozyme, transglutaminase, lipase triglyceride hydrolase. Considerable R&D activity is taking place in China in this respect.

Food ingredients

Fructo Oligosaccharide (FOS)

The Chinese authorities have approved the use of β-fructofuranosidase to produce FOS from sugar in January 2018.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Considerable R&D is also going on in China to develop enzymatic process for TCM. An example mentioned in an earlier post is enzymatic hydrolysis to produce sea cucumber powder.

Eurasia Consult’s databases contain tons of information on enzyme applications in the Chinese food industry, including R&D. Just to mention an example: we have currently access to 108 Chinese patents on the use of pectinase.

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.

China and wine – a growing love affair

China is now the world’s fastest growing wine market.

China has emerged on to the global wine scene with unprecedented speed in recent years, both in terms of production and consumption. Currently, it is one of the top wine-producing countries in the world. The country has produced 10.01 mln hls of wine in 2017; down 5.3%. The national wine consumption has more than doubled in the past two decades, and only 10% of this is satisfied by imported wines. The Chinese wine import has reportedly even decreased 7.8% during the first 2 months of 2017, compared to the same period of 2016. 22 out of the 28 EU member states has exported wine to China in 2017; as indicated in the following map.

China’s indigenous vine species have been cultivated and used to make wine for more than 1500 years, but it was not until the end of the 19th century that wine production gained any form of scale and formality, with the help of European missionaries, in particular in Shandong province. The Changyu winery was established in Yantai (Shandong) soon after this in 1892, and retains a significant position in Chinese wine today.


At the turn of the new millennium there were an estimated 450,000 ha under vine in China, including classic varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that were introduced by foreign investors along with Western winemaking techniques. Today, many international wine companies have interests in China, including Moet Hennessy, Remy Cointreau, Pernod Ricard, Torres and the Bordeaux families of Lurton and Barons de Rothschild (of Cheval Blanc and Lafite Rothschild respectively).

China’s wine industry has experienced unprecedented growth in the past decade, and millions of dollars have been invested in establishing a wine tourism industry. However, this growth has not been without controversy: wine counterfeiting has been a major issue and the quality of Chinese wine is thus far patchy, ranging from excellent to undrinkable.

In this blog, I will introduce China’s main wine regions.



Hebei province, the capital city of Beijing and port city of Tianjin are de facto one region. The province spans 6 degrees of latitude between 36°N and 42°N and is home to a wide range of landscapes, from the floodplains of the Yellow River in the south to the Yan Mountains in the north. A wine industry surrounding the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety has sprung up in Hebei and there are also some smaller plantings of Chardonnay, Merlot and Marselan.

Despite the proximity of the Bohai Sea, the climate in Hebei is more continental than maritime. Hot, humid summers are followed by cold, dry winters that are subject to freezing winds from Siberia. Hebei is affected by the East Asian Monsoon, a weather system that brings cool, moist air from the Pacific and Indian oceans and causes rain when this collides with warmer air over the continent. Most rainfall occurs during the summer, and growers in certain parts of the province must be wary of the dangers of fungal vine diseases in the late summer and early fall.

Huailai sits in the shadow of the Great Wall of China in the hills surrounding Beijing and is home to several large Chinese producers. Among these is Greatwall, one of the country’s most famous wine producers. As in many parts of China, there is significant interest from French producers, and the Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard was planted in the late 1990s as a joint venture between the French and Chinese governments. Huailai’s terroir has proved well suited to viticulture, with the close proximity to Beijing’s large population providing an excellent added incentive for the development of a wine industry here. Vineyards at altitudes up to 1000 m above sea level have a much cooler climate than Beijing, and high levels of sunshine ensure that grapes receive ample sunshine for ripening.

Changli is situated on the coast just south of Qinhuangdao. Cabernet Sauvignon vines are planted in the agriculturally suitable land surrounding the city, and several large producers are located here. An interesting player based in Changli is Moutai. Patrons of this site will know Moutai as China’s top selling baijiu (spirit). Moutai has recently been cashing on its high brand awareness, including establishing a winery in Changli.

Tianjin is a municipality on the east coast of China, close to Beijing. Some viticulture takes place along the Jiyan River in the east of the region. A small amount of wine is made here from Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat Hamburg and Chardonnay. Although the terroir in Tianjin is not ideal for grape-growing, the region’s main viticultural advantage is its proximity to Beijing. Dynasty Wines, one of China’s largest wine companies and a joint venture with the French company Remy Cointreau, is based in Tianjin and makes wines from grapes grown within the municipality as well as from those grown in more-famous regions such as Ningxia.


Unfortunately, Dynasty has been struggling with decreasing turnovers for the past few years. Dynasty’s management admits that it has problems with keeping up with changes in the environment. On one hand, other domestic wineries have dramatically improved their quality and some are winning international awards. On the other hand, imported wines have become more accessible due to China’s entry into the WTO. Dynasty needs to shake up its product range and upgrade its brand perception.


Ningxia is a rapidly emerging wine-producing region in the central-north of China. The wide, heavily irrigated valley between the Yellow River and the base of Helan Mountain has proved to be one of China’s most promising vineyard areas. A range of wines are made here from grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt and Chardonnay and they vary in quality from insipid to excellent.

While Ningxia covers 66,000 sq km, most viticulture takes place in a 160 km river valley in the very north of the region. Here, the Yellow River provides sufficient water for irrigation and the arid landscape has been transformed into arable land well suited to the production of wine.

Ningxia has a thoroughly continental climate, its eastern border lying some 950 km from the nearest ocean. The summers are hot, although the high altitude of the vineyards (some more than 1200 m above sea level) helps to create a suitable climate for wine-growing. At this altitude, intense sunlight during the day is followed by much cooler nights. This diurnal temperature shift – which is exacerbated by the lack of moisture in the air – helps to slow ripening in the grapes, leading to a balance of phenols and acidity.

The short growing season in Ningxia is followed by a long, cold winter, and vines must be protected from freezing temperatures with an insulating mound of dirt piled around the base of the plant. While this is an expensive and time-consuming task, the abundance of labour in China means that it is much easier than in other parts of the world, adding a human element into the overall terroir of Ningxia.

The land at the base of Helan Mountain is part of the Yellow River floodplain, and the soils have been deposited over time by both the river and from material washed down from the mountains. These pebbly, sandy soils are free draining and have low fertility, which lessens both vigour and yield in the vine, leading to smaller, more-concentrated berries.

Helan Mountain, is particularly well regarded and in 2003 became China’s first official appellation, recognized by the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. A 2009 Helan Qing Xue Jia Bei Lan Cabernet blend made in Helan Mountain won a major trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2010. The terroir of Ningxia has not escaped international attention, and companies such as Pernod Ricard and Moet Hennessy have interests in the region, along with some of China’s largest producers. Some commentators have been quick to point out that the slower-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is perhaps not suited to the shorter growing season here. But Chardonnay and Riesling perform well, and some vignerons have expressed interest in experimenting with Syrah and the production of sparkling wine.

The government of Helanshan is actively supporting the local wine industry. One activity in this respect is representing the wine industry of the entire region on major trade fairs.


Shandong is one of China’s oldest wine-producing regions. Cabernet Gernischt, Riesling and Chardonnay are the most important grape varieties grown in the province. The most viticulturally important part of the province is the 274 km Shandong Peninsula (also known as the Jiaodong Peninsula) that juts into the Yellow Sea toward Korea. The Yantai International Wine Exposition is an important annual event on the Chinese wine calendar and attracts interest and exhibitors from around the world.

The terroir of Shandong avoids the harsh continental extremes of the centre of China and instead has a maritime climate, with cooler summers and warmer winters. Shandong is affected by the East Asian Monsoon, a weather system that brings cool, moist air from the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the province, causing summer rain. Fungal vine diseases caused by high rainfall are an important consideration for vignerons in the late summer and early autumn. Most of Shandong is relatively flat, coastal terrain, although the middle of the province is marked by some hillier country; the highest peak reaches 1500 m above sea level. Many of the vineyards spread throughout the province sit on south-facing slopes where better drainage helps to lessen the impact of summer rain, ensuring the vines do not get ‘wet feet’ and become waterlogged.


Shanxi covers a mountainous loess plateau between the western desert and the coastal plain, Shanxi is becoming increasingly well-known for its wines. These are made predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Chardonnay and Merlot. The province of Hebei is on the eastern border, and the Yellow River makes up the western edge of the province. China’s capital city, Beijing, is about 400 km from the Shanxi capital of Taiyuan, where much of the province’s viticulture takes place. Grace Vineyards is Shanxi’s best-known grower, and is one of China’s most highly regarded producers in terms of quality. Its Shanxi vineyards are located on the deep sandy loam soils outside of Taiyuan, where excellent drainage allows the vines to grow deep root systems, encouraging the health of the vine.


Shanxi has a continental climate, but is still affected by the East Asian Monsoon, which brings cool, moist air from the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the warmer land, causing rain. Most of the annual rainfall occurs in summer, and high levels of humidity can promote fungal vine diseases such as mildew. However, this rain is inconsistent from vintage to vintage, and Shanxi’s high altitude and high levels of sunshine mean that in years when there is less rain, high diurnal temperature variation results in grapes with a balance of phenolic ripeness and acidity, leading to good quality wines. Winters in Shanxi are cold and dry, due to far-reaching weather systems from Siberia. As temperatures drop below freezing, growers must bury the vines to insulate them from the devastating cold over the winter. While this is an expensive and time-consuming process, an abundance of labour means that it is possible in this part of China.


Xinjiang is mostly associated with light, uncomplicated wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot. Xinjiang covers 1.6 million sq km. Much of this area is either desert or mountain, and Xinjiang is cut neatly in two by the Tianshan mountain range. It is along the southern edge of these mountains that most viticulture takes place, particularly surrounding the cities of Turpan and Bayingol.

Xinjiang’s climate is truly continental: the region contains the point on land that is furthest from any ocean. It is officially classed as a semi-arid desert climate on the Koppen climate scale, and is characterized by hot summers and very cold winters. Ample sunshine during the growing season ensures the grapes can reach full ripeness, and the low annual rainfall means that there is little pressure from fungal vine diseases. The vines are subject to winter freezes, and as such are buried during the winter for insulation. On the northern side of the mountains, where the climate is cooler and slightly more precipitous, several growers are enjoying considerable success with the production of ice wine, mostly made from the hybrid Vidal grape variety.

Wine has been made in this part of China for around 3000 years. Greek settlers brought vines and farming methods around 300 BC, and 13th Century explorer Marco Polo described Xinjiang grape wines in his writings. Although Xinjiang is currently better known for bulk wine production, the viticultural sector here is seeking to improve its winemaking techniques and select better cultivars in order to markedly increase both the quantity and quality of the wines. As a result, the region is beginning to attract attention from international investors, winemakers and consumers. Loulan wine has won an award at a Hong Kong wine tasting event.


Yunnan is a province in the south of China. The tropical, mountainous terrain in this part of the country is supporting an increasing amount of viticulture, mostly based around the mysterious hybrid varieties Rose Honey, French Wild and Crystal.

A chain of mountains runs through the western part of Yunnan’s 394,000 sq km, giving rise to a landscape that is not well suited to commercial, large-scale agriculture. However, the warm climate is moderated by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the growing season here is correspondingly long and favourable. A selection of crops, including rice, tea, coffee, wheat and tobacco, is produced on the few areas of arable land available in Yunnan. Viticulture has become an important part of the agricultural economy here, particularly in the past few decades. Yunnan lies between latitudes 21°N to 29°N, which is similar to the Sahara Desert in Africa. The temperatures usually associated with low latitudes are moderated by the high altitudes here, and vineyards at elevations as high as 1800 m above sea level are saved from the ill-effects of the heat by significantly cooler nights. The diurnal temperature variation during the growing season helps to extend the ripening period, allowing grapes to develop flavour along with acidity. Mineral resources are abundant in Yunnan, and as a result, soils throughout the province are rich in minerals.

Since the 1980s, Yunnan producers have focused more carefully on wine quality, and as in many other parts of China, international producers are starting to take notice. Moet Hennessy has opened a winery in Deqin County in the north of Yunnan (the supposed location of ‘Shangri-la’), and Bordeaux winemaker Pierre Lurton (of Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem) has also expressed interest in the province. More than 150 years ago, Jesuit missionaries from France introduced a honey rose strain of Cabernet grapes to the Deqin area, where they have been cultivated on a small scale ever since.

Chinese buyers own 2% of Bordeaux chateaus

Chinese are also heavily investing in foreign wineries, in particular in the Bordeaux region. More than 150 or 2% of vineyard chateaus in Bordeaux are now owned by Chinese, China Business News reported citing industry estimates. Seeking beyond import business, the chateau investors aim to lock fine wine from production phase for their booming home market. Bordeaux has seen explosive surge of Chinese investors over the past decade, while it took Belgian buyers about 70 years in comparison to acquire over 100 chateaus in the region, Li Lijuan, director of Christie’s international real estate market in China, told the newspaper. Chinese buyers spend on average EUR 5 to 10 mln on a chateau whose vineyard could take up 10 to 30 hectares, according to an industry works Le Vin, le Rouge, la Chine. Recent corporate investors include subsidiaries of local wine company Changyu and food conglomerate Bright Food Group and COFCO. Investment return could be as high as 10 percent for those who have marketing and sales channels in China, Li said, adding that Chinese buyers also see chateaus as a resort for family or good real estate investment given long return period. “About 20 years ago, Chinese economy was boosted by foreign capital including those from France, while nowadays Bordeax could use help from China to retain its world-class standard,” Somalina Nguon-Guignet, managing director of French property specialist IFL, was quoted in the book as saying. “France ought to feel pleased by interests it receives from foreign investors.”

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.

Fishy innovation – young Chinese food technologists knocking themselves out

After my recent post on innovative products based on Chinese vinegar designed by young food technologists, I am posting a similar blog about a contest for new fish-based foods. The contest has been organised by the National Engineering Research Centre of Seafood (Dalian, Liaoning). The assignment was again to create snacks, or in Chinese terms: leisure food.

First prize



Fish meat wrapped in a mixture of mashed potatoes and minced shrimps and a little cheese. The name needs a some explanation. It is a pun on the Chinese expression xinyousuoshu, literally: ‘all hearts belong to someone’, meaning all people have someone they love. In the product name, xin ‘heart’ has been replaced by ‘xian’ fresh, umami, and shu ‘belonging’ to shu ‘potato’ (same sound, different character). So, the literal name translates in English like ‘umami belongs to potatoes’. If this product will ever make it to the shelves of overseas supermarkets, the producer will probably have to think of more palatable brand name.

Second prize

Millefeuille of squid


This is more or less literally what the name says: layers of dough with pieces of squid in-between.



There we go again, a pun as a product name that poses a challenge for the translator. The name literally means something like: ‘you squid biscuit’. However, pronounced with different tones, you get an expressing meaning: ‘you are talking nonsense’. Great. The product is indeed a biscuit with squid flavour. According to the description it is both sweet and savoury.



The name promises ‘baked trout’. According to the inventor, this product is based on an existing Japanese snack using sea bream. It also contains matsutake mushrooms and a again a little cheese to add a milky flavour.

Third prize

Fisherman’s Whorf cookies


These are cookies with a fishy layer, but the description fails to mention the raw materials.

Home Bei


Home is written in Latin letters. The character bei refers to (shan)bei ‘scallops’. These are scallop flavoured potato crackers.



The literal meaning of this name is ‘flavour of fish paste’, however zhi ‘of’ has been replaced with a homophone meaning ‘cheese’. The snacks are produced by steaming fish paste coated with cheese.

Haixian Yuanwuqu


This ‘seafood round dance’ uses rounds of squid, egg, scallops and crab meat as raw materials. According to the inventor, it this product should have a huge potential market. Who will give him an opportunity to test it out?

Fine trumpets


In Chinese, laba ‘trumpet’ can also be used for objects with a wide mouth, hence the funny name for tartlets like these. The inspiration has come from a sweet Cantonese dim sum called ‘egg tart’, but uses whelk protein in the filling. It is positioned as a health snack by its inventor.

As with the vinegar-based products, the novel foods presented in this post give a valuable insight in the minds of young Chinese food technologists currently graduating and looking for jobs in the industry. I like these contests, so will post all of them, as they appear in the Chinese media.

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.

Soy sauce, like jiang but more liquid

The Chinese word for soy sauce is jiangyou, literally ‘jiang oil’, or oil of fermented paste. It is not chemically an oil, but it probably struck the early users as oily.

If we were to conduct a survey in any European city and ask people what they see as the most typical ingredient of Chinese food, the top substance on the list of answer will definitely be soy sauce. Soy sauce indeed originates from China. It is first mentioned in texts from the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 220 – 265). Early recipe books indicate that it was at first mainly used to season salads, cold cuts and other cold dishes Chinese typically start a dinner with. The use in various ways of cooking pops up in the 12th Century.


Current Chinese commercial texts distinguish 4 types of soy sauce:

  • Cantonese soy sauce: represented by Haitian and Zhimeiyuan; based on solid fermentation (see below).
  • Shanghai soy sauce: represented by Amoy and Laocai; mainly using liquid fermentation.
  • Foreign soy sauce: represented by Maggi, Kikkoman, Lee Kum Kee, Wadakan; foreign invested, mainly using liquid fermentation.
  • Local soy sauces: e.g. Jinshi (Beijing), Zhenji (Shijiazhuang), Tianli (Tianjin), etc.; small plants or even workshops using proprietary processes.

Most Chinese households have a regular stock of two types of soy sauce in their kitchen: light and dark. Light soy sauce is the original product, while the dark version is produced by adding additional caramel, which also makes the sauce a little thicker. Dark soy sauce is mostly used to flavour and colour meat.


There are various ways to produced soy sauce. The main raw materials are always (soy) beans and cereals. The main distinction is between natural fermentation and the chemical process. The latter is obviously not a traditional process, but a cheap and quick way to cut the long chains of the proteins and starches in the raw materials. Chemical soy sauce is nowadays regarded as inferior. All major brands employ some kind of fermentation.

The earliest fermentation process used so called ‘solid fermentation’, in which a relatively thick broth was inoculated with the moulds to start the fermentation. After the fermentation, salty water was added and after a second period of fermentation the sauce was ready to be packed. The first part of this process resembles that introduced in my earlier post on jiang, fermented pastes, and explains why soy sauce is called jiang sauce in Chinese. A number of local plants still use a variety of the traditional process, often adding their own proprietary mix of ingredients to produce an original local product.


Many top brands use the ‘wet fermentation’ process in which the main ingredients: beans, cereals and salt are processed into a liquid that is then fermented. This process leads to a very fragrant sauce that preserves the nutrients of the ingredients. It also has a much higher yield than the traditional process. However, it is considerably longer and can take up to 6 months.


Industry structure

The current national soy sauce output is around 10 mln mt p.a. As many traditional Chinese food products, the soy sauce industry consists of a large number of very small manufacturers. China’s top producer is Haitian (Foshan, Guangdong), which is approximately good for 2% of the national output. Haitian is known for the fact that it has scaled the traditional solid fermentation process up to modern industrial proportions. This results in top quality soy sauce, but the output cannot be easily increased. Perhaps this is a good in thing in the long run. While China has not (yet) produced a Kikkoman, Chinese soy sauce has a much richer flavour than the generic Japanese product.

Top 10 soy sauce brands 2016

The following list has been compiled on the basis of the opinion of Chinese consumers. However, the most popular brand is also the top producer in volume.

Rank brand region
1 Haitian Guangdong
2 Lee Kum Kee Hong Kong
3 Chubang Guangdong
4 Jiajia Hunan
5 Amoy Shanghai
6 Master Guangdong
7 Shinho Shandong
8 Kikkoman Japan
9 Donggu Shandong
10 Totole Shanghai

Guangdong also here stands out as the top region with 3 companies; 4 if we also regard Hong Kong as de facto part of Guangdong. Shanghai and Shandong are the runners up with 2 each.

Derived products

A number of variations on soy sauce have appeared in recent years. An earlier variety is oyster sauce, which is soy sauce flavoured with ground oysters to give it a fishy flavour. Other flavours include mushroom and chilli. Some companies produce soy sauces for special applications like soy sauce for meat, soy sauce for mixing salads, or table top soy sauce for dipping cold cuts or dumplings.



In line with the trend towards low fat, low salt, low sugar foods, a number of Chinese soy sauce manufacturers have developed low salt varieties. In the course of 2017, Cuiwei Food (Sichuan) launched a salt-free soy sauce, produced by natural fermentation. While salt reduction is a positive development, soy sauce has always been a fypical savoury seasoning product, so completely salt-free soy sauce can only succeed when marketed as a new type of ingredient, a flavouring agent rather than a savoury ingredient.

Eurasia Consult has detailed information about many top soy sauce producers

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.