Shaji – seabuckthorn – the unknown superfruit

Shaji (sea buckthorn; Hippophae rhamnoides) is an indigenous fruit of North China. China is good for 90% of the world output of this fruit. It has been used as an ingredient of various foods and beverages in China for some time but is still not very well known abroad.

Shaji is regarded as a medicinal herb in TCM, but has been put on the official list of ‘herbs that can be used in food and medicine’ in 1987. Medicinal ingredients, including TCM, are not allowed to be used freely as food ingredients, but plants on that list are exempted from that regulation. The same applies for other super fruits like the yangmei (yumberry) introduced in another post.

Shaji have a high content of vitamin C, about 15 times greater than oranges. The fruit also contains high contents of carotenoids, vitamin E, amino acids, dietary minerals, β-sitosterol and polyphenols. Seabuckthorn oil is a good source for omega-7 fatty acid.

Shaji fruit can be used to make pies, jams, wines, etc. Fruit drinks were the earliest seabuckthorn products developed in China. Shaji berries are edible and nutritious, though very acidic (astringent) and oily, unpleasant to eat raw, unless ‘bletted’ (frosted to reduce the astringency) and/or mixed as a juice with sweeter substances such as juice of other fruits.

Sea-buckthorn berries combine nutritious agents usually only found separately. Its list of vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids reads like the label on a pack of multi-vitamin pills. All of these components are classified as natural anti-oxidants, which form a vital part of the body’s defence system.

Main Biochemical Contents of Seabuckthorn Oil

Contents Pulp oil (mg/100g) Seed oil (mg/100g) Residue oil (mg/100g)
Vitamin K 110-230 54-59
Vitamin E 206.9 171.0 300-600
Carotene 2.0-4.0 10-80
Carotenoids 30-250 300-870 1280-1860
Protein 95.55 7.06
Total acid 10.7 37.6
Total sterol 1093.6 720.6
Unsaturated fatty acids 87.4 % 66.8 % 70 %
Saturated fatty acids 11.8 % 38.8 %  –
Oleic acid 20-25 % 20-25 % 33 %
Linoleic acid 37.0 % 5-10 % 4 %
Linolenic acid 27.6 % 2.1 % 5 %
Unsaponificable matter 1-3 % 0.5-2.5 % 2-5 %
Total flavonoids 0.55 %

Since the discovery of the nutritional value of sea-buckthorn, hundreds of sea-buckthorn products made from the berries, oil, leaves, bark and their extracts have been developed.

China has become one of the largest producers and consumers of sea-buckthorn products in the world. Fruit drinks were among the earliest sea-buckthorn products developed in China. They have rapidly gained a reputation as both a satisfying drink and a nutritional beverage that enhances stamina and vitality.

Though seabuckthorn has been grown for many years in India and China, and its healthy qualities are well known, but it languishes behind other superfruits. While it is gaining increased recognition, seabuckthorn is lagging behind other so-called superfruits, such as açaí.

This is possibly because it has just slipped under the radar: applications are growing in the cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industry, and it is likely that the fruit will gain in popularity in the next few years.

The reason for China’s domination of the fruit is that China has long used the plant for soil and water conservation purposes. They typically grow in dry, sandy area, are tolerant of salt in the air and soil, and demand good sunlight.

The common seabuckthorn is by far the most widespread, with a range extending from the Atlantic coasts of Europe right across to north-western China. In western Europe, it is largely confined to sea coasts where salt spray off the sea prevents other larger plants from outcompeting it, but in central Asia it is more widespread in dry semi-desert sites where other plants cannot survive the dry conditions.

The female plants produce soft and juicy orange berries 6-9mm in diameter, rich in vitamin C (average 600mg/100g and sometimes up to 1 500mg/100g). Some varieties are also rich in vitamin A, vitamin E and oils.

The berries contain about 56-70% juice. However, the fruits have some drawbacks as far as processing goes. First, the shrubs are covered in thorns, which makes picking difficult. The fruit falls off the branches of its own accord at temperatures below -20°C, but obviously this method of natural harvesting will only work in very cold regions.

Entire branches can be removed, frozen, and then shaken to remove the fruits, but obviously this is damaging to the shrub. Mechanical harvesting, developed in the Baltic states, involves shaking the branches without freezing, but this method leaves half the berries unharvested and the shrubs can only be harvested every two years, so an effective annual yield is only 25%. In countries where labour is cheap, hand-picking remains the most effective way of harvesting seabuckthorn berries.

Must be blended

The other disadvantage is that pure seabuckthorn juice does not taste very nice. It has to be blended with other fruit juices in order to be palatable. It is also very high acid, so some form of sweetener (or a very sweet fruit juice) must also be added unless the juice is present in very small quantities in a blend. It lends itself well to being blended with pear juice, at a ratio of 30%. Seabuckthorn juice has a freezing point of -22°C, so it remains liquid even in sub-zero temperatures.

General consumer interest in seabuckthorn began about three or four years ago. China is ramping up its output of seabuckthorn. The total area in China under seabuckthorn is now a colossal 2.13 million hectares (ha), according to China’s National Administration centre on Seabuckthorn Development.

Of this total, 667 000ha are ‘wild’ trees and 1.5 million ha are cultivated, representing 90% of the world’s total population of such trees. The main purpose of seabuckthorn cultivation in China, as in India, is to control water and soil erosion and improve the ecological environment. The country is planting an additional 113 000 new seabuckthorn trees every year, as part of the Chinese government’s program to increase production of the fruit and its derivatives. The government is also funding schemes to develop new varieties which will require less or no watering during growth and which will produce much improved fruit yields.

Most seabuckthorn trees are planted in poor environments such as gullies and river beds. Fruit yields are very low. Under normal conditions, seedling plants begin to fruit in the third year and fruits will be harvested in the fifth year. Average yields are 0.75 mt/ha.

There are some 200 companies in China making seabuckthorn products, such as oils, pharmaceutical items and cosmetics. However, juice processing plants were first established in the 1980s, and plants to add the juice to other beverages appeared in the 1990s. In 2004, China produced about 10 000 tonnes of seabuckthorn juice.

Because of its healthy connotations, China sees it as an ideal fruit for organic production, and future development of seabuckthorn will move in this direction. Seabuckthorn is a key component in many health supplements and is now attracting attention as a component in juice drinks.

Shanxi-based enterprises unite

Shanxi province, China’s main producing areas of sea-buckthorn, set up an industrial association in Taiyuan, capital of the province, hoping to unite local enterprises to build their brands. This move came as most of the province’s sea buckthorn processing, production, and sales enterprises are facing operational difficulties. They hope to cooperate and adjust their industrial mode for future development. Statistics show Shanxi has more than 400,000 hectares of sea-buckthorn shrubs, accounting for nearly 70% of wild sea buckthorn across the country. Due to difficult harvest conditions and a long ramp-up time of 6 to 8 years buckthorn is a relatively expensive raw material.

However, in Shanxi, the fruits of sea buckthorn are commonly sold as fruit juice. The sea buckthorn industry is still at a very preliminary level as it has faced a series of problems, such as lagging scientific research, a lack of high-end products, small scale, poor marketing, and differentiated production standards. Other factors such as Internet sales and strong competition have squeezed the market share of Shanxi’s sea-buckthorn production companies. With its establishment, the association will help integrate industrial resources, give full play to their technology and talented people, and connect companies, bases, and farmers to form industrialization development modes.

Product overview

In this section I am introducing a few seabuckthorn-based products made in China to indicate how the fruit is currently used as a food ingredient.

Fine powder

Pure superfine seabuckthorn powder, void of any additive. Producer: Jinliang Food Technology Co., Ltd. (Shanghai).

Tea

Seabuckthorn tea produced by Wanmei (Perfect) China, Ltd. (Guangdong).

Ingredients: fructose oligosaccharides, seabuckthorn powder, black tea powder, citric acid, malic acid, Luohanguo (fructus momordicae ) extract, vitamin C, sucralose, lemon flavour,  ethyl maltol

Dried fruits

Dried seabuckthorn fruits, produced by Shihutang (Xinjiang). Consumption: put a few dried fruits in a cup of tea or glass of spirits (baijiu).

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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The Chinese sense of strawberries – candy among fruits

On this Valentine Day, it is appropriate to post something about what probably is one of the most romantic fruits: the strawberry. It’s hard to imagine why the apple is the “forbidden fruit” of lore, when the voluptuous and fragile strawberry is so much more tempting. Strawberries are temptingly red and sweet. The are an all time favourite flavour for ice cream, candy, cake, pie and other sweet treats.

According to analysts’ estimates, China has produced more than 4 mln mt of fresh strawberries in 2017. Moreover, higher production of fresh strawberries will back further development of the strawberry processing sector in the country. It is estimated that China’s frozen strawberry production will increase by 15% year-on-year to 150,000 mt.

The 7th International Strawberry Symposium was held in Beijing in 2012. The following video gives an impression.

As regards exports, China’s fresh strawberry exports are insignificant due to high shipping costs. The following table shows the Chinese exports of frozen strawberries during the past few years

Year exports (mt)
2014 73,854
2013 97,254
2012 135,560
2011 129,613
2010 112,390

These figures show a high fluctuation, as can be expected of a product relying on parameters that are hard to predict (market, climate, policies, etc.).

The same figures for imported frozen strawberries seem less volatile.

Year imports (mt)
2014 7,131
2013 8,076
2012 7,429
2011 5,511
2010 8,276

There seems to be no clear proportion between imports and exports.

The following video is less slick than the one shown above, but gives a direct insight in a Chinese diced strawberry plant.

Strawberry as ingredient

Strawberries are rarely used by the food and beverage industry as whole fruits. They are usually processed into powder, jam, pulp, etc. While such products are mainly supplied to industrial clients, Youlian Food (Longhai, Fujian) also markets its freeze dried strawberry powder in 50 gr packages to consumers that like to bake strawberry flavoured cakes.

Youlian

The Food Ingredients China (FIC) trade fair, March 23 – 25, 2016, included 6 exhibitors with strawberry-derived ingredients.

Ingredient number
Juice 3
Powder 2
Frozen 1

I have shown an example of a strawberry flavoured milk beverage in an earlier post. In this post, I will list a few other examples of strawberry flavoured foods and drinks. Also see the vinegar strawberries in my post on vinegar-based foods and beverages.

 

Meijing brand Strawberry sugar free candy

CandyTuoyuan

Meijing Food Co., Ltd., Shanghai

Ingredients:

strawberry powder, additives (liquid maltitol, citric acid, food flavour, acesulfame-K, ponceau 4R colour).

Although strawberry powder is used, both colour and flavour require enhancement with additives.

 

Laobute Strawberry Flaky Pastry

Laobute

Quanjia Food Co., Ltd., Beijing

Ingredients:

Crust: wheat flour, butter, food additives(maltitol, xylitol(2%)), eggs, skimmed milk powder.

Filling: wax gourd, additives (maltitol), strawberry pulp, veg oil, water.

The interesting aspect of this recipe is that wax gourd (donggua) is used to create a fruity mouth feel, which is apparently not accomplished by the strawberry pulp by itself.

 

Mengniu Strawberry Milk

MengniuStrMilk

Mengniu Dairy, Huhhot, Inner Mongolia

Ingredients:

water, fresh milk, coconut milk, crystal sugar, HFCS, strawberry cubes, food additives (CMC, citric acid, lactic acid, sodium citrate, aspartame, sodium cyclamate), food flavour

This is a good example of a Chinese formulated dairy drink in which milk is but one of the many ingredients. The brand name Zhen Guoli translates as ‘Real Strawberry Cubes’. That may be true, but it is a far cry from real milk.

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.

 

Formulated milk beverages in China

Even though dairy has been incorporated in several traditional regional cuisines, China is not known as a typical dairy nation. However, the industry has been developing rapidly during the previous decades, in spite of a number of food safety problems that have received global attention. The main reason is that Chinese, with support of the national government, strongly believe in the nutritional value of milk. Already in 2006, the prime minister stated that ideally every Chinese should drink one glass of milk per day.

China produced 35.31 million MT of raw milk in 2013. In the same year, the nation produced almost 23.36 million MT of liquid milk (in China, this term usually comprises fluid milk and yoghurt).

Still, a high volume of milk is consumed by the food industry. This is because, in spite of the healthy image of dairy, the average Chinese consumer still finds the taste of milk hard to appreciate.

Designer beverages

The combination of these facts, high nutrition + disagreeable taste, has created a very unique market segment in the Chinese dairy industry, including a broad variety of beverages with milk as their main ingredient, combined with a number of flavours and nutrients. We will refer to this product group as formulated milk beverages (FMB).

FMB can be further categorized in a number of ways. First of all there is the distinction between fermented and non-fermented beverages. Fermented FMB have a more sour taste and often contain probiotics.

Another subtype is what the Chinese industry refers to as ‘protein drinks’. These beverages used peanuts, almonds, soybeans, etc., as their main ingredients. They have a thicker texture than the average soft drink. A number of protein drinks combine milk with peanuts, red beans, or other of these protein ingredients, which makes them part of the scope of FMB.

These macro ingredients are usually supplemented with a number of other ingredients that can be divided in three main types:

  • Flavours: achieving the targeted flavour of the end product. Red bean milk will obviously contain red beans, but also needs a small amount of red bean flavour
  • Sweeteners: Chinese like their drinks sweet, so sugar is an ingredient in the bulk of FMB. However, with the growing awareness of the harm of excessive sugar intake, part or all sugar can be replaced by a combination of artificial sweeteners
  • Texturizers: texture is an essential aspect of FMB, and especially the protein beverages. Chinese consumers expect a creamy, thick, texture. Even Chinese who do regularly consumer plain fluid milk expect such a creamy mouth feel. Some Chinese ‘plain’ liquid milk products therefore contain small quantities of thickeners, to ensure that consumers do not suspect it to be diluted milk.
  • Nutrients: FMB are all marketed as nutritious products, healthier alternatives for the regular soft drinks. Milk, beans, fruits (e.g. dates; you will find a recipe in the linked blog), and vegetables already add to that nutritious impression, but special nutrients can be added as well. These include the regular vitamins and minerals, but also herbal extracts from traditional Chinese medicine, like Lingzhi fungus (Ganoderma).

Here is a representative example: Strawberry Flavoured Milk Drink

Produced by: Zhujiang (Pearl River) Beverage Company, Zhongshan, Guangdong

Image

Ingredients:

Main ingredients water, sugar, whole cream milk powder, strawberry juice
Sweeteners acesulfame‐K, sucralose
Flavour ingredients citric acid, strawberry flavour, monosodium glutamate
Other ingredients potassium sorbate, monascus colour

 

Many readers will doubt the nutritional value of a product like this, compared to simply drinking a glass of milk, which should be a lot cheaper as well. However, for the time being, this can be expected to be the mainstream in ‘dairy products’ in China.

Also see the dairy section in our item on cost price break down of several Chinese food and beverage groups.

New development: combination with probiotics, organic salt

Probiotics have become a pet ingredient in Chinese formulated dairy beverages. The total turnover in 2015 of probiotic milk drinks was RMB 11.98 billion, up 14.9% compared to 2014.

Huishan Dairy (Liaoning) has launched a new range of fermented dairy drinks with fruit and vegetable juice under the brand name Huawo. The company thus combines two major ‘healthy’ trends in the Chinese food industry: probiotics and natural juice, in one product.

Huawo

Haocaitou (Fujian) has launched a dairy drink with probiotics and natural lake salt imported from Australia, that it markets as a sports beverage.

Rusuanyan

Also look at the Xiaoxixi vinegar milk with pineapple vinegar introduced in my post on new vinegar-based foods and beverages.

A special subtype in this category are the imitations of Yakult. This Japanese product is so successful worldwide, that a number of Chinese companies have not been able to resist the urge to launch similar products. A recent one in this category is Yili (Inner Mongolia), that launched its Meiyitian lactic acid drink early 2018.

Government support

A discussion has been going on in the Chinese media whether these beverages should be allowed to be marketed as dairy products. The government has supported the industry in this debate by officially allowing these drinks to use ‘XX milk’ a product names in October 2014. In this way, the producers are allowed to position their products with a healthy image.

The trend for 2018: healthier formulations

Three Chinese dairy companies are ending the year by launching healthy dairy specialties. It is hard to say if these launches are incidental, or that they are part of a concerted action. However, these beverages can be regarded as examples of the new generation of formulated milk drinks. These beverages are not only formulated to mask the less attractive flavours of milk, but also add several functional ingredients.

Mengniu: A2 beta-casein pure milk

A2 milk is cow’s milk that mostly lacks a form of beta-casein proteins called A1 and instead has mostly the A2 form. Milk like this was brought to market by New Zealand’s a2 Milk Company and is sold mostly in Australia, New Zealand, China, United States and the United Kingdom. Mengniu has selected 2000 cows from its Future Star (Weilaixing) Farm as designated producers of A2 beta-casein milk. It is marketed as a healthy milk for children.

Yili: Changqing (clearing bowels) flavoured fermented milk

The meaning of the product name speaks for itself

Ingredients: raw milk, oat fruit jam (³8%), crystal sugar, thin cream, concentrated milk protein, hydroxypropyl distarch phosphate, pectin, DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono(di)glycerides), agar agar, lactococcus lactis, lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, lactococcus lactis subsp. diacetyl, streptococcus thermophiles, lactobacillus plantarum, lactobacillus rhamnosus.

Kedi: Soy milk milk

The English translation is rather unfortunate. The Chinese name, Doujiang niunai, literally means ‘soy sauce cow milk’, but soy sauce refers to a different product in English, and our default milk is cow milk, so we usually leave the ‘cow’ unmentioned, while we speak of ‘soy milk’, due to the colour of the liquid. Anyway, it is a combination of milk and (non-GMO) soy milk powder. In Kedi’s own words, it is the best of both.

UniPresident, non-dairy specialist has launched a Papaya Milk in March 2018

Eurasia Consult has a database of more than 130 formulated dairy drinks and their manufacturers + a large number of recipes for formulated dairy products that circulate among Chinese food technologists.

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.

 

Date (jujube) Processing in China – spotted in New Mexico

China is the kingdom of dates (jujubes or ziziphus jujuba). The national output was 4.6 million mt in 2012 and exported about 7821.638 mt of dates in 2014. They come in various varieties; so many that the New Mexico State University has started exploring them as alternatives for local jujubes.

The Chinese have known them for their medicinal properties, but have also been using them as snack food (leisure food) for ages. Now them are also processing dates into various food ingredients.

Jujube cake (Zaogao)

Along most the streets in Tianjin, you will find these little bakery shops. You don’t need to read Chinese to be able to spot one. Not only do you have the amazing smell coming from these small window bakeries. They are also kind enough to display these amazing breakfast cakes in the window. These cakes are made from dried jujubes and normally come 3 for RMB 10. After just one bite, you will find that they are not only sweet but also moist. These are a great alternative for someone in the mood for a light but filling breakfast. They can also be used for a snack between meals.

Zaogao

Medicinal properties

Dates are packed with nutrients: vitamins, minerals and various alkaloids. Chinese dates are also a great natural source of antioxidants. Jujube fruits assist very well in a healthy digestive system through its high fiber content, saponins and triterpenoids which prevent constipation, cramping and other gastrointestinal disorders. Chinese dates are said to support the strength of bones, muscles and teeth. They support the health of the nervous system and assist in alleviating stress, sleeping disorders and anxiety. The high antixodiant levels in Chinese dates take care for immunity, blood detoxification and a healthy skin.

A special type of dates with medicinal properties are grown in Leling (Shandong). The dates there belong to the ‘golden thread (jinsi)’ variety and are very rich in selenium and vitamin C. They also contain considerable amounts of calcium, phosphorous, potassium and iron.

Image                      Image

Small fruits big business

Dates have become such an important product now, that they have recently played a leading role in a civil law suit. A Shanghai-based company, Dashanhe, produced and marketed dates with Hetian Tianzao (Khotan Heavenly Dates) printed on the packaging. Heavenly Dates, however, is a brand owned by a company in Xinjiang, Tianhai Oasis. This company produces a range of luxury date products (see picture), and sued Dashanhe for infringing on its brand. It won the suit. Dates have become big business in China.

Tianzao

 

The Kunlunshan Date Co. (also Xinjiang)’s Khotan Jade Dates (Hetian Yuzao) have been incorporated in ‘China 100 Best Agricultural Products’ in 2013. This company was founded on the basis of a military operated collective farm in 2005, and was reorganized into a limited company in 2012. Dates are indeed a conduit to success in China.

Here is a video demonstrating the processing of dates in China.

Innovative products

Innovation is the trend in the present day Chinese food industry. This innovation is taking place in a number of different directions, one of which is using traditional ingredients to produce foods and beverages that suit the lifestyle of modern hasty city dwellers, but still remind them of the traditional flavors, and retain the medicinal activities ascribed to them according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

An example of such a product using dates as ingredient is: date juice breakfast milk, a good example of one of the many formulated dairy drinks produced in China at the moment.

Here is a reference recipe

Image

Stabilizer RH6 is a branded compound consisting of: sucrose ester, monoglyceride, sodium alginate, CMC and potassium dihydrogen phosphate. Ajiao (or ejiao) is a Chinese medicinal substance obtained from donkey skin that is often used in combination with dates. The complete text of the production process indicates that low calorie sweeteners can be used to. It is an experimental recipe.

Fuyuan Food (Binzhou, Shandong), is also producing a date enriched with ejiao: Changsi brand Ejiao Royal Dates. Another, sweeter and stickier, version is sold under the Selective (Zhenxuan) brand (Zibo, Shandong).

The latter’s ingredients list is as follows:

Dates, sugar, maltose syrup, ejiao (0.5%), food additives (citric acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, sodium pyrosulphate).

An interesting fusion between Chinese dates and Western food and beverage is: Manccio Jujube Coffee, produced by Manccio Co. (Xi’an, Shaanxi). Coffee is rapidly gaining popularity in China, but it still has a Western character. This product is therefore marketed as ‘China’s own coffee’. Its ingredients list is simple.

Date powder, instant coffee, microcrystal cellulose.

DateCoffee

Manccio cooperates with a coffee supplier in Malaysia. I haven’t been able to sample the product myself, but I will report on the taste as soon as I have had an opportunity.

Yimin Modern Farming (Jiaxian, Shaanxi) has developed a range of date wines and spirits.

Date-derived ingredients

Some Chinese companies have developed food ingredients from dates like date powder. Our database includes a recipe for a type of bread using this ingredient. Dates are also used in babao porridge, birds nest soup, and zongzi, introduced in another posts of this blog.

The Food Ingredients China (FIC) 2018 (Shanghai, March 22 – 24) exhibitor list includes the following date products:

Ingredient number
Concentrated juice 3
Powder 7
Jam 1
Particles 1

Eurasia Consult’s database of Chinese industrial recipes includes numerous products with dates as a main ingredient, both traditional and innovative, including products like: date cake, date pudding, date juice, etc.

Date sausage

As the world’s date country par excellence, Chinese food technologists like to develop new foods with date as one of the ingredients. A recent proposition I picked up is a date flavoured sausage. The meat is a mixture of chicken and pork (ratio: 3:7), with dates added as a paste, made by mixing water and dates (ratio: 1:1). The total ingredients list is as follows.

Chicken meat, pork, ice water, modified starch, protein powder, glucose, salt, sugar, compound phosphate, koji red colour, pork flavour, red date pulp, red date paste, white pepper powder, ethyl maltol.

Nestlé adapts to Chinese taste

Nestlé has deftly noted the Chinese liking for dates and date flavoured products. The company has launched a red date flavoured oatmeal under the Nesvita brand. The product contains 400 gr of date powder per 1000 gr of finished product.

Nesvita

Branded dates

The following table lists the top 10 branded date products of 2017. The brand logos are shown in the figure.

Rank Brand Region
1 Haoxiangni Henan
2 Hetian Yuzao Xinjiang
3 Ruoqiang Hongzao Xinjiang
4 Loulan Miyu Hubei
5 Sanzhisongshu Anhui
6 Loulan Hongzao Xinjiang
7 Qiangdu Xinjiang
8 Baicaowei Zhejiang
9 Liangzi Puzi Hubei
10 Tianjiaohong Shanxi

The number one: Haoxiangni Jujube Co Ltd.

Haoxiangni (litterally: ‘I think of you a lot’), based in Xinzheng, Henan province, is the only listed company in China’s date industry. It is combines R&D, manufacturing, and distribution of jujube series products. The company primarily offers various jujube products, including royal jujubes, crystal jujubes and fragrant jujubes, and others; jujube chips and donkey-hide gelatin jujube chips; preserved products comprising preserved jujubes, wild jujubes, and ejiao (donkey-hide gelatin, an ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine TCM) jujubes; and dried jujube products, such as dried crystal jujubes and dried fragrant jujubes. It also provides jujube powders, which include original flavor jujube powders and high-calcium jujube powders; and honey products, such as jujube honey and acacia honey, as well as prepared and crisp jujube products, jujube beverages, and other series of products. The company was founded in 1992 and is based in Zhengzhou (Henan).

Jujube is not a rare food, but Haoxiangni made it into a luxury good, by selling gift boxes of jujube for several hundred yuan. The brand’s high-end image was its main attribute but now it is hard to maintain. After cooperating with Trout & Partners Ltd, a global consulting firm, in 2012, Haoxiangni started an overhaul of its brand image in 2013 by promoting low-price products for less than RMB 100.

According to Shi Jubin, the chairman of Haoxiangni, the company will focus on quality rather than number of franchisees by closing 600 of its 1819 stores, according to a statement released on the company’s website.

The government of Henan has included Haoxiangni in the provincial Immaterial Cultural Heritage in December 2014.

Haoxiangni suffered from the government’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. It saw a decrease in revenue, though small, in 2013. It was the first time it had seen a decline in revenue since being listed in 2011. The company filed a turnover of RMB 973 million for 2014, up 7.10%. 65% of that turnover was derived from the company’s dedicated outlets. Unfortunately, the first quarter of 2015 turned out particularly disappointing, with a drop in net profits of almost 47%. Insiders attribute this to the ongoing change of strategy from focusing on special shops to multiple channels. Haoxiangni is also in the midst of a construction project. These investments are eating up a considerable part of the profit, but the company is still regarded as healthy and promising. Haoxiangni is also broading the raw material of its products, like: lotus seeds and yin’er (silver fungus). The first quarter of 2017 saw a huge increase again with a turnover of RMB 1.2 bln, up 300%.

HaoxiangniStore

 

Haoxiangni has also sponsored a ‘China Date Culture Museum’ in its home town.

The government of Xinzheng has also adopted date growing a symbol of the local economy. The city’s website is laden with date flavour.

To counter the problems of relying to heavily on one product line, Haoxiangni launched a broad range of fruit snacks like dried fruits based on different kinds of fruits in 2018.

As part of the same diversification strategy, Haoxiangni has also launched a fruit nectar made from dates and hawthorn. The latter is a typical Chinese fruit, used in the famous North-China winter snack tanghulu.

Interesting new comer

A relatively new player in this market that is arousing nation wide interest with innovative products and promotion campaigns is Baiweicao (Bee & Cherry) (Hangzhou, Zhejiang). It is a general producer of nut and fruit-based snacks. One of its flagship products is a combination of those two: dates stuffed with walnut, marketed under the Baobaoguo (literally: Wrapped Fruits) brand name. It is packed in a series of boxes with drawings of various animals.

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 259 companies producing date products.

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.

 

What on earth is . . . furu?

Furu is a fermented soybean product. It is a cheese-like product with a spreadable creamy consistency and a very distinct flavour.

Furu is a popular seasoning for breakfast rice or steamed bread (mantou). It has a long history and written records date back to the 3rd century.

Furu is made by fungal solid state fermentation of tofu (soybean curd) followed by aging in brine containing salt and alcohol.

The production process consists of two fermentation steps. Square blocks of regular white bean curd (4.3 x 4.3 x 1.5 cm) are rubbed with Mucor fungus and soybean meal, placed on wooden boards, and fermented for 2 – 3 days in a room with a temperature of 35 – 40 ºC, during which they are regularly turned around. Then they are placed in jar with brine and soaked for 7 days.

Finally, the beancurd cubes are placed in a jar with a mixture of red koji powder, fermented paste, pickled daylily, distilled liquor (baijiu), spices, some rice wine and water. The jars are sealed with paper and fermented for 3 months at 30 ºC.

The following video introduces the industrial production of furu. It is in Chinese without English subtitles, but I think it is informative enough for food technologists.

Typology

Several types of furu can be distinguished, according to processing method or according to colour and flavour.

Choice of processing can result in mould fermented furu, naturally fermented furu, bacterial fermented furu, or enzymatically ripened furu. Fungal starters include Actinomucor spp., Mucor spp. and Rhizopus spp.

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Top furu brands

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Wangzhihe is the oldest existing brand, founded in 1669.

Innovation

Wangzhihe (founded in 1669) is also actively developing its formulation. A newly launched version is Xylitol Furu.

FuruXylitol

The ingredients as listed on the label:

Water, soybeans, alcohol, salt, wheat flour, additives(xylitol, red koji, magnesium chlorate, citric acid), spices.

Let’s have a look at the nutrition information (100 gr) of the xylitol furu and the regular version, both by Wangzhihe.

Item xylitol regular unit
Energy 136.20 153.00 kcal
Carbohydrates 3.00 0.60 gr
Fat 10.00 11.60 gr
Protein 9.00 9.00 gr

So some of the fat has been replaced by carbohydrates, and additives are used to restore the texture, colour and other organoleptic properties of the ‘real thing’.

Wangzhihe has also launched a ‘low salt furu’.

Wang Jiahuai, General Manager of the Wangzhihe Group, stated in an interview in April 2015, “It takes at least 100 days to ferment furu while natto (Japanese soy food) ferments in about one week. There is a wide gap in texture, fermentation and nutrition between Chinese furu and the Japanese natto.”

The furu range of Lanting Food (Shaoxing) includes a ‘ham furu’. The ingredients include Shaoxing rice wine and Jinhua ham, two local specialties of Zhejiang province. This product fits in with a popular trend in food innovation in China that tries to cash in on famous local products.

HamFuru

Academic cooperation

One route to innovation is a strategic alliance between a manufacturer and a university. Chunming Seasoning (Qingdao, Shandong) has established a Qingdao Chunming Seasoning Research & Development Centre in cooperation with the Food & Beverage Research Institute of Qingdao University. Apart from developing new and better products, this project is also a good breeding ground for new engineers for the company.

National cultural heritage

Wangzhihe’s furu got national recognition as a cultural heritage item, in June, 2008. The company gives all its suppliers an evaluation and certification before allowing them to supply. They are mostly located in the northeastern provinces of Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang, which have high-quality soya beans.

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 55 producers of furu.

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

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Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.