Savoury ice cream in China – where East meets West

Temperatures are rising rapidly in China and that is traditionally the signal for the ice cream industry to increase production. However, ice cream is one of the products the consumption of which has increased dramatically in the first quarter of 2020, when virtually all Chinese were confined to their homes with only very limited opportunities to go out. Convenient foods like instant noodles and snack food like nuts and seeds reported year-on-year increases up to more than 100%. The increase in ice cream consumption was less spectacular, but still 20% – 30%.

However, the most interesting development in the Chinese ice cream scene is not just the increase in consumption, but the growing interest in savoury flavours. Until recently, ice cream was typically a sweet to very sweet treat. Now, the most peculiar flavoured ice creams are appearing all over the country. Can you imagine enjoying scoop after delicious scoop of ice cream laced with: seaweed, shredded meat, onion rings, etc.? Curious? Go to China this summer to try them out, one by one. This development is so sudden and overwhelming, that I am not adding this news to my earlier post on ice cream, but dedicating a special post to it. This will not be a show window of who makes what. As usual, I will give you a good look into what is happening in this market.

Chives and shred meat

I have introduced shred meat or meat floss in an earlier post on Chinese meat products. I already noted there that it can be used as an ingredient in various foods. Here it is combined with chopped spring onions. If you can keep the taste of fresh spring onions, this combination might actually work very well with a suitable ice cream flavour.

Herbal tea

As noted in my post on Chinese drinks, I introduced herbal tea (often referred to as ice tea in Chinese) as a type of beverage derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It has become extremely popular in China during recent years, so why not make it into a popsicle? The design of the packaging reflects the ‘traditional’ nature of this product.

Hot and spicy

After my introduction, you undoubtedly expect a chili flavoured variety, so here it is. The packaging promises a lot of fire. I like chili chocolate (the mild type), so I expect to like this too.

Stinky toufu

Toufu, bean curd, is known very well in the Western world, as a versatile food ingredient and an alternative to meat. Stinky toufu doesn’t sound very nice, but refers to a kind of black fermented toufu that is fried and sold as a snack at street stalls in various parts of China. A traditional hot snack in winter is now also available as a cold snack in summer.

A cold hot pot

The last, but most spectacular, type that I want to introduce in this post is hot pot ice cream. Chinese love to eat hot pot, at home and in restaurants. You can throw almost any food in the boiling water, retrieve it when done, dip it in a sauce, and savour it. This ice cream comes in a pot, with a wafer a the lid, and laced with chopped vegetables and seaweed, topped with a layer of shred meat.

Fishy ice cream

Lidaju has designed what could be the weirdest type of savoury ice cream: fishy-flavored ice cream with bits of dried squid in it. This is someone I would only recommend to the seasoned lover of crazy foods. This is corroborated by the sub-text on the packaging feichang bu kede ‘very improper’.

There are more types and undoubtedly even more will appear. I may add the ones that I find most striking later.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.


China’s many capitals – regional food chauvinism in China

The leading port of export of canned food from China is Zhangzhou – China’s Canned Food Capital (Chinese news source, 19/7/2016)

I have yet to find out when the first city in China started calling itself ‘the capital of . . .’, where … is a slot for a certain product (group), one of which that city is a national production centre. However, it now has become so important for the local economy, that it has almost become an official designation, bestowed by an industrial association.

Icons are an important aspect of the construction of social identity in Chinese culture. Chinese like to identify a famous person who they would like to become. More than a few Chinese start-up cyber-entrepreneurs are dreaming of becoming China’s Steve Jobs. Some even go as far as to try to emulate their hero’s behaviour, clothing, and speech.

In an analogous fashion, Chinese cities that are leading in a certain industry have started picking a similar foreign city, calling themselves ‘China’s …’ A city with a major car maker may call itself ‘China’s Detroit’. Unfortunately, there are several cities in China that are the home of a major automobile manufacturer, resulting in almost as many ‘Detroits of China’. So far, this has not led to conflicts between the various local governments. Detroit doesn’t care either. The city has lost most of its car-related industry and virtually turned into a ghost town.

Several posts of this blog are introducing the growing importance Chinese local governments attach to their local culinary specialties. A representative post is that about Jinhua ham. Jinhua ham is so typical for that region, that Jinhua has applied for DOC status for this product, meaning that only ham producers of Jinhua are allowed to market their ham as ‘Jinhua Ham’.

A city with a DOC-status food is likely to have a relatively large number of manufacturers of that product, and/or the top producer in that business. Instead of finding its icon elsewhere, such cities endeavour to become an icon themselves, by calling themselves ‘China’s Capital of <their typical product>’. Unlike in the case of China’s multiple Detroits, this has been a cause for chauvinist strive. As societal harmony is a top priority in China, the government has started to regulate such designation through the various sector associations. The most famous issue was giving Huhhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia the status of ‘China’s Dairy Capital’. It was initiated by Mengniu, a well-known company for the regular readers of this blog. Mengniu want Huhhot to be the first city to apply for that status, lest another city would be the first to do so. Huhhot itself was not too keen at first, but gave in at the end. Once the Dairy Association of China had recognised Huhhot as China’s Dairy Capital, no other city in China was allowed to refer to itself in that way. I am not sure if there actually is a penalty for violating this rule, but so far no other city has tried. To mark its status of China’s dairy capital, a large monument was put up in Huhhot.


In the remaining part of this post, I will list a few of the major Chinese food capitals. This list is by no means exhaustive and I will keep adding cities, whenever I encounter them in my scanning of the Chinese information streams. Some of these have a more or less official status, i.e. they are bestowed by the relevant sector association. However, most still seem to be self-assigned. This is probably why there are several capitals for some products.

This list may turn out quite useful. If you want to know quickly were a certain food is produced in China, this list can guide you directly to a/the major region. You will have to look further (e.g. using this blog’s search engine), but this is a good start.

  • China’s ‘Canned Food Capital’: Zhangzhou (Fujian).
  • China’s ‘Dairy Capital’: Huhhot (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Chili Capital’: Zunyi (Guizhou).
  • China’s ‘Capital of High Quality Maize’: Siping (Jilin).
  • China’s ‘Green Tea Capital’: Emei (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Seaweed Capital’: Rongcheng (Shandong), Fuzhou (Fujian).
  • China’s ‘Shrimp Capital’: Zhanjiang (Guangdong).
  • China’s ‘Coffee Capital’: Pu’er (Yunnan).
  • China’s ‘Beverage Capital’: Sanshui (Guangdong).
  • China’s ‘Goat Milk Capital’: Fuping (Shaanxi).
  • China’s ‘Apple Capital’: Qixia (close to Yantai, Shandong).
  • China’s ‘Kiwi Capital’: Pujiang (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Date Capital’: Cangzhou (Hebei).
  • China’s ‘Flour Capital’: Damin (Hebei).
  • China’s ‘Noodle Capital’: Yiyang (Hunan).
  • China’s ‘Beef & Mutton Capital’: Chifeng (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Meat Captial’: Linyi (Shandong).
  • China’s ‘Potato Capital’: Ulanqab (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Lemon Capital’: Ziyang, Anqiu (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Leisure Food Capital’: Longhai (Fujian).
  • China’s ‘Tilapia Capital’: Maoming (Guangdong).
  • China’s ‘Ginger Capital’: Laiwu (Shandong).
  • China’s ‘Vinegar Capital’: Qingxu (Shanxi).

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

How an Old Godmother has created China’s growing chili culture

From ‘too hot’ to chili lovers

Chili has seen a remarkable growth in China during the past couple of decades. I still remember my first year in China as a student in 1975. Sure, you could get spicy dishes in some restaurants, but the average Beijing citizen would start crying ‘hot!’, if a dish would include as much as one single tiny peppercorn.

Although chilli peppers were introduced to China in the latter half of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the fruit only really gained popularity during the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It quickly entered the cuisines of a few regions in China, in particular Sichuan and Hunan, but in many other regions spicy food was regarded as exotic. This is why the term for ‘pungency’ as one of the Five Flavours was xin (pungent) rather than la (hot).

During my later terms in China, not much change in that situation occurred, until in the course of the 1980s Sichuan restaurants started to spring up like mushrooms in the Chinese capital. And we are not talking about food with a few chillis, but Chongqing Hotpot, a kind of fondue, but then with a soup that seemingly consists purely of chili, became the favourite of the Beijingers.

Nowadays, restaurants specialising Sichuan and Hunan cuisines can be found all over China and chili in many varieties (dried, paste, oil, etc.) are top items in supermarkets. There are even shops specialising in all types of chilli. Some people have started to speak about a Chili culture (lajiao wenhua). In Chongqing you can even visit the Youjun Chili Museum.

ChilliCulture ChliMuseum

The China Food Industry Association has organized the nation’s first Spicy Industry Conference on September 15, 2020, in Beijing.

Top chili nation

During a recently held forum on chili processing, insiders have stated that China has developed into the world’s largest chili processing region. The total value of the world market for chili is estimated at USD 30 billion, and China is good for one third of this. Sichuan province alone has an annual raw chili output of approximately 1 million mt, with a value of RMB 1 billion. In some Chinese statistics, spicy sauces are referred to as ‘Sichuan sauces’. The province’s chili processing industry has an annual turnover of RMB 2 billion. R&D in new applications for chili and chili derivatives is also growing, developing products for the food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic industries.

Here is a map of China indicating the relative spiciness of the local cuisines.

The following graph shows the development of the Chinese chili paste production from 2014 to 2020 (unit: 10,000 mt).

The leading brands in 2020 were:

Brand Share (%)
Lao Gan Ma 20.5
Lee Kum Kee 9.7
La Meizi 9.2

Various shapes

Chili is not only consumed as such, fresh or dried. The fruit is processed in numerous products that themselves are used as ingredients in home cooking or industrial foods. The Food Ingredients China (FIC) 2018 trade fair will included 30 exhibitors supplying various chili-derived ingredients, including: capsaicin, capsicum oleoresin, chili powder, and chili food colour.

A special type of hot sensation is caused by the Sichuan pepper (huajiao) that produces a numbing hot sensation in the mouth, caused by the hydroxy-alpha-sanshool it contains. Sichuan pepper is often combined with chili and other peppers in savoury pastes, like the Pixian Douban reported in an earlier post in this blog.

Chili paste

The by far most common form in which chili is consumed is the chili paste. It is a mixture of ground chili and a variety of other ingredients, and can be easily used to spice up dishes or as a dip for foods that could do with some extra flavour like boiled dumplings. China has produced 5.91 ml mt of chili paste in 2018; up 1.82%. Insiders estimate that that market will be worth RMB 40 billion by 2020.

Here is a list of the top 10 Chinese chili pastes.

Laoganma (Old Godmother) Laoganma

Laoganma is THE success story of the Chinese seasoning industry. Established in 1997 in Guiyang (Guizhou; another leading chili region of China) by a lady who used to sell spicy noodles at a street corner (starting in 1989), it has rapidly grown into China’s top range of chili products. The company also exports worldwide. Watch this video reporting on Laoganma and its founder.

Laoganma has a facebook group called ‘The lao gan ma appreciation society‘, and is sold on Amazon, and many more online platforms all over the world.

The latest development regarding Laoganma is that a group of young Chinese cocktail makers have started experimenting with cocktails made with Chinese spirits (baijiu) and various hot seasonings including Laoganma. The company has also started a fashionable merchandizing campaign late 2018.

Huaqiao Huaqiao

This brand has a history of more than 300 years, deeply rooted in its home town Guilin (Guangxi).

Lameizi (Hot Sister) Lameizi

This is once more a new brand, established in 1998 in a traditional chili region: Hunan. It is part of a conglomerate that produces a wide range of foods, besides seasoning products.

Lee Kum Kee LeeKumKee

I have reported on Lee Kum Kee before, in my post on yuxiang flavours. The brand dates from 1888 and has its home in Nanshui (Guangdong). It is the best known seasoning brand in East and Southeast Asia.

Meile Meile

This is the first Sichuan brand in this list. The brand covers a wide range of seasoning products, but its Fragrant Spicy Sauce has brought the brand fame.

Huhu Huhu

This brand has been established in Qingdao (Shandong), one of China’s blander cuisines, in 1992. It specialises in fermented savoury pastes.

Modocom Maodegong

This is an English rendering of the Chinese brand name Maodegong. It has been established by a farmer from Leizhou (Guangdong).

Huangdenglong (Yellow Lantern) Huangdenglong

This brand was launched in Hainan in 1994. Its name has been inspired by a latern-shaped chili that only grows in Hainan.

Fansaoguang (All Food Devoured) Fansaoguang

This is a brand of Gaofuji Food (Sichuan). The name refers to the Chinese perception that chili paste increases the appetite. There will be no leftover of food spiced up with this product.

Haitian Haitian

Haitian is one of China’s top seasoning brands. It is currently China’s top producer of soy sauce, but its other products are popular. It is another brand with more that 300 years of history, based in Foshan (Guangdong).

Hot and cold: chili-flavoured ice cream

The latest vogue in the Chinese chili culture is the appearance of chili-flavoured ice cream. It was launched, and we are not surprised, in Sichuan’s capital Chengdu; in the high-end Chunxi shopping district to be precise. Chili is added in the shape of chili oil.

The reaction among consumers are mixed, but it seems that this product is there to stay.

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