Guoba – from nuisance to delicacy

Many of mankind’s finest delicacies have been discovered by accident; sometimes literally. Cheese has probably been discovered when milk had been stored in a calf’s stomach sufficiently long enough for the rennet in the stomach to produce curds.

Problems cooks, professional or at home, often meet when preparing starchy foods in a frying pan is that part of it sticks at the bottom of the pan, forming a relatively hard layer that proves tough to get rid up. Scrubbing it is the only solution.

However, as long as the stuff that is stuck at the bottom is not too black and burnt, it can actually be very tasty. The physical-chemical reaction produces a whole range of aromachemicals that please the taste buds and the nose (though perhaps less so the eyes).

A waiter in a Spanish restaurant in Rotterdam once told me that the rice stuck at the bottom of the pan is the part they like best of their national food paella.

Pan is guo in Chinese and to stick ba. The phrase ba guo, getting stuck to the pan, is a negative cooking term. However, Chinese have also developed a liking for rice fried that way, and those two words turned around, guoba, have become the designation of a tasty snack.

Guoba as a dish

Guoba is a form of rice that is actually scorched or hard cooked to change its colour and texture. Guoba is popular in many forms of Chinese cuisine, particularly in Sichuan cooking. It is known by many names in different areas of China and surrounding countries, and may even be found worldwide in areas where Chinese cuisine is presented and appreciated.

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Initially, guoba was made by burning or heavily cooking rice to the bottom of a wok or pot. When the cook took out the rice, the leftover rice was used in various dishes. Later, demand for this sort of rice dish led to the commercial preparation of blocks of this crisped rice.

Any kind of Chinese dish can be served with guoba. Some common forms of this scorched rice food include sweet and sour dishes, as well as other international Chinese favorites like lo mein, chow mein, or other dishes. The usual choices of meat, seafood, and vegetable elements like tofu and bean curd apply to many guoba dishes.

One thing that guoba offers to cooks is the chance to include a different kind of presentation based on the shape and texture of the rice. Cooks can serve the guoba, with heavy sauces or other elements, in blocks, or crumble the rice onto the plate. The scorched rice stands up to all sorts of innovative culinary uses, which makes it popular in many restaurant kitchens, especially where innovative aesthetic presentation is a part of the culinary strategy.

Another form of this food is a “sizzling rice soup” that has become common in some parts of the world. This is not the usual form of the food, so some cooks, even authentically Chinese ones, may not be aware of the use of scorched rice in this particular soup. The general use of the scorched rice in a thinner soup or broth is another way that the rice can be served for a contrasting taste experience.

Snack

Regular readers of my blog will already have noticed that Chinese are masters in re-creating modern snack food (or in their own terminology: leisure food) from traditional dishes. This is also the case with guoba.

Already in the 1980s, Chinese snack makers launched small squares of guoba with various flavours as the Chinese alternative to the Western potato crisps. When I was stationed in China for my company, we regularly served guoba with the aperitifs when entertaining Dutch or other international guests. The all loved them.

ShGuoba

The first picture shows a package of guoba produced by Xishilai Food (Shanghai) and come in: chili, beef, five spices and BBQ flavours. The ingredients listed:

Rice, maize, vegetable oil, salt, crystal sugar, MSG, spices, additives (food flavours, rising agent, antioxidant).

GBerge

The alternative is onion-flavoured guoba produced by Sha’erge (Crazy Brother) from Dongguan (Guangdong). It has black rice as one of its ingredients, which is advertised as ‘black pearls’ or ‘the king of rice’, due to its nutritional qualities. The producer claims that this product contains vitamins A and B as well as calcium, potassium and magnesium. Ingredients:

Rice, black rice, refined vegetable oil, soybeans, starch, eggs, shortening, refined pork fat, salt, MSG, onion spices.

It had been relatively quiet on the guoba scene in terms of new developments. However, Wolong Shenchu (Divine Cook) from Hunan province launched a new type of guoba in 2018: Wolong Guoba.

The crackers look more slick than the first products and they are marketed in a high-end position, as if it is a very traditiional Chinese product. The ingredients list:

Rice, vegetable oil, chili, Sichuan pepper, spics, salt

This is definitely a healthier formulation that has cut on fat and MSG.

Guoba as market for flavour mixes

Some flavour houses have already discovered the guoba industry as a separate market segment and have develop special seasoning mixes for guoba. Beijing-based Shanwei Puda Food supplies 4 types: five spices, beef, BBQ and cumin. The ingredients list provided for the cumin mix is as follows.

salt, sugar, MSG, spices, cumin powder, food additives (not specified)

The manufacturer advises a dosage rate of 4% -6% of the weight of the end product.

Innovation: peanut guoba

Guoba has already developed as a generic type of snack in the Chinese food industry. The concept is now further stretched to guoba made from other raw materials than the traditional. Zhenyuantong (Huzhou, Zhejiang) has launched a peanut guoba. The ingredients list reads as follows:

White sesame seeds, peanuts, maltose syrup, flour, vegetable oil, coconut meat, coconut milk powder, salt.

PeanutGuoba

The company also produces: melon seed guoba:

Melon seeds, crystal sugar, flour, vegetable oil, salt.

and:

White sesame seeds, crystal sugar, flour, vegetable oil, chili oil, salt.

We are eagerly awaiting the following product to add to this post!

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 59 producers of various types of guoba.

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.

 

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Babao Porridge – food that enlightens

Babao Porridge (Babaozhou, Babaofan), a sweet rice porridge stuffed with dates, lotus seeds and other fruits, is an extremely interesting example of a traditional product revived by industrial production. The concept of babao is used in more traditional foods, e.g. zongzi, filled steamed rice cubes wrapped in leaves, which are introduced in a separate post of this blog.

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Present day Babao Porridge is derived from a southern type of porridge called Laba Porridge. La refers to the La month, the last month of the lunar calendar and ba (‘eight’) to the eighth day of that month. On the 8th day of the lunar 12th month people used to prepare a porridge using eight or more ingredients to celebrate the end of the year. Another story explains the custom as a Buddhist tradition.

Laba porridge was first cooked as a sacrifice for ancestors and gods during Laba Festival as a part of winter worship. In an agricultural society, the 12th month or layue (腊月) was a time when families consumed some of their stores from the harvest season. Cooking a porridge with rich and varied ingredients is a way to celebrate a prosperous harvest for the year, in hopes of a better one to follow.

Just like Christmas overtaking the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia, when Buddhism arrived in China, it stamped its own influence on this local tradition. For Buddhists, Laba Festival is also Buddha’s Enlightenment Day.

The legend says that Shakyamuni, after 6 years of seeking enlightenment by living frugally, once sat down under a tree, dead tired. A woman herding cows saw him and prepared a simple porridge for him using course cereals and wild fruits. Shakyamuni was so revived from eating a bowl of that porridge, that he immediately gained enlightenment. From that day on, Buddhist Temples prepared a similar type of porridge on the 8th of each 12th month.

With the increasing pace of life, modern Chinese are less and less willing to spend several hours a day in the kitchen. This includes less frequently prepared foods like Babao Porridge.

The basic production process is easy enough. The raw materials are mixed and cooked, cooled and then packed in cans, similar to those used to pack soft drinks. In this way, the porridge can be easily consumed as a convenient food, while travelling, as a snack during office work, etc. A plastic spoon is usually attached to the can, so the traveller does need to pack a metal spoon from the kitchen either.

Buddhist monestaries have to abide by the law as well, so more and more temples are producing laba porridge in a semi-industrialised clean way, to ensure that the faithful do not have to pay dearly for enjoying a bowl of laba porridge with food poisening. On the way, it earns the monestary a lot more income as well.

Formulation

The most essential aspect of the production of Babao Porridge is the combination of emulsifiers and thickeners. Babao Porridge consists of a viscous liquid part and solid parts. Manufacturers need to formulate the product in such a way, that the solid parts are more or less evenly distributed over the liquid part upon opening of the can.

A number of Chinese manufacturers of emulsifiers and thickeners supply products specially formulated for Babao Porridge. Some sources propagate CMC as the most appropriate thickener for this application.

A combination of CMC and a low calorie high intensity sweetener to replace the sugar will not only provide an authentic mouthfeel, but also decrease the caloric value.

Industrial recipes for so called ‘low calorie Babao Porridge,’ proposed by manufacturers of ingredients use sticky rice as the macro-ingredient, where part of the rice can be replaced with pumpkin. Various combinations of fruits (dates are most popular) and nuts (including peanuts) are added. Frequently suggested micro-ingredients and additives: pumpkin powder, xylitol, oligoxylose, CMC, konjac powder, and EDTA.

As a result of all the recent food safety problems, Chinese consumers have become more aware of ingredients and started asking if one food really needs so different ingredients. A recent article (24/9/2014) criticises the use of xanthan in one brand of Babao Porridge. Xanthan is known in the porridge industry under the nickname zhoubao, literally: ‘porridge treasure’. The reporter believes it is a means to hide the lack of skills of the manufacturer to produce a proper porridge.

Top brands

The following brands are recognised as China’s top brands for Babao porridge

Yinlu   PorrYinlu

The Yinlu Food Group was established in Xiamen (Fujian) in 1985 as producer of canned food and beverages. It is still one of China’s top producers of protein drinks. It now operates production units in Shandong, Hubei, Anhui and Sichuan. Nestlé has recently acquired a controlling stake in Yinlu.

Wahaha   PorrWahaha

The Wahaha Group was established in Hangzhou (Zhejiang) in 1987 as a private company operated by a school, producing tonic for school children. The founder and CEO, Mr. Zong Qinghou, is currently one of China’s richest entrepreneurs. Wahaha has 150 subsidiaries in all regions of China, employing 30,000 people. It ranks among China’s top 500 companies in 2014 It is a relatively new player in this market, but has rapidly risen to this position. The range includes a babao porridge sweetened with xylitol. Wahaha has started a new campaign for its canned porridge range in January 2015, stressing that the company is being loyal to the Chinese tradition of porridge making. The following picture says that Wahaha’s Babao Porridge ‘tastes just like mother used to cook it’

WahahPorr

Wahaha has launched another type of nutritious Babao Porridge mid 2018, under the Qingzhi brand.

Ingredients:

Koji, plant sterols, sugar, glutenous rice, barley kernels, red beans, maltitol, black rice, peanuts, red kidney beans, hulless barley, tremella, lecithin, sucrose ester, fatty acids, sodium tri-polyphosphate, acesulfame-k, EDTA-2Na, sucralose, water

Qinqi   PorrQinqi

Based in Guangzhou (Guangdong), Qinqi was the first in China to launch Babao porridge in cans, which created the market for ready to drink Babao porridge. Although no longer the number one brand, Qinqi still bears the honorary name ‘porridge king’.

Qinqin   PorrQinqin

This brand is owned by the Xinxin Food Group, established in Yangzhou (Jiangsu) in 1991, by a local factory and a Taiwan investor. It produces a range of convenience foods, including Babao porridge.

Tongfu   PorrTongfu

The name of the producer, Tongfu Bowl Porridge Co., Ltd., betrays that it is dedicated to producing exactly that: porridge in (plastic) bowls. Tongfu was the first to introduce this type of packaging in China. It is considerably lighter than the canned version. It is located in Wuhu (Anhui)

Eurasia Consult’s database 30 producers of Babao Porridge.

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

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.