What on earth are . . . youtiao?

It has been some time that I uploaded a ‘What on earth . . .’ post, so here is a new one. Youtiao literally means ‘oily stick’. That does not sound very appetizing, which would be inappropriate for a traditional food that virtually every Chinese likes. A rather long English rendition I have come across is ‘deep-fried bread stick’. This is more like a description than a translation. If I remember correctly, I have also once read ‘fritter’ as the translation for youtiao somewhere. That is certainly a convenient one, but our fritters are incomparable with youtiao. In line with the philosophy of this blog, let’s not translate this word then and get used to youtiao, as my regular readers should be used to mantou by now (in case you have forgotten this term, look it up using the convenient search function of this site).

Youtiao are deep-fried twists of dough. They are almost exclusively a breakfast food and are usually eaten with congee or with a bowl of steaming sweetened soy milk. The vendors get started at around 5 am and are still making them way past eleven, for all the late-risers. It’s so commonplace to see someone in pyjamas and flip-flops walking back home with a plastic bag filled with three or four youtiao for the family breakfast. The reason is that youtiao are delicious when then have just left the deep-fryer, but their texture quickly becomes rubbery with the lowering of the temperature. Making them at home is not a real option. It is a waste of oil and the oily fumes are not good for your walls, furniture, your clothes and anything else in your home. Better have a street vendor fry them for you in the open air.

Youtiao are fantastic when pulled fresh from the deep-fryer. The foot-long bread can be separated into two side-by-side pieces, with a crisp, almost waffle-like exterior, and a light and chewy interior. Like all fried things, the flavour depends entirely on the quality of oil being used and the freshness.

Youtiao are made from yeast dough, rolled flat, then cut into short narrow strips. Each strip is placed on top of a second, then pressed lightly together lengthways to make the join that can later be pulled apart after cooking. The baker then deftly twists and stretches them until they are the right length, and lays them side by side in the deep fryer until they are golden brown and nicely crisp.


Here is a typical recipe for youtiao dough.

Ingredient dosage
wheat flour, sieved 500 g
yeast 1/2 teaspoon
sodium bicarbonate 1/4 teaspoon
water 1 1/4 cups
sugar, diluted in the water 1 teaspoon
salt 1/2 teaspoon

Special flour (improvers)

As I have reported in several posts on flour-based products, Chinese flour producers have developed specially formulated flours for youtiao. The motivation is not so much to encourage Chinese consumers to make their own youtiao at home, but to stimulate the industrial production of youtiao. The same applies to the development of flour improvers for youtiao. Several producers of flour improvers are offering improvers for youtiao, containing mixes of enzymes, improvers, starch, etc. A popular brand of youtiao flour is Beijing-based Guchuan.

This product lists the following ingredients:

Wheat flour, starch, sugar, salt, food additives (sodium bicarbonate, sodium pyrophosphate, calcium dihydrogenphosphate, calcium carbonate, citric acid)

An alternative for youtiao producers is to buy specially formulated flour improvers that can be added to plain flour. An example is that produced by Weihaili. You need to add 250 gr of Weihaili’s improver to 10 kgs of flour, together with 100 gr of salt and 6.5 litres of water.

The ingredients of Weihail are:

Sodium bicarbonate, suplhate, d-glucono-lactone, potassium tartrate, maize starch

Industrial production

The main challenge for industrial production is to retain the crispy texture of youtiao. Perhaps a workable solution would be a semi-finished youtiao that consumers can buy in their supermarket and heat in an oven or air-fryer.

An enthusiastic insider has attempted to calculate the maximum value of the youtiao market in 2019. With an urban population of 750 mln people, 65% of which consuming 1 youtiao every 10 days, paying RMB 2/youtiao, he arrived at an estimate of RMB 17.8 billion. Obviously, the market for any food item is big in China, but in this case it points at interesting perspectives for industrial producers.

There are several manufacturers of quick frozen classic youtiao. China’s leading producer of traditional snack food Sanquan, has developed a fennel flavoured youtiao. They are somewhat smaller than regular youtiao.

You can bake them off at home. Ingredients:

Wheat flour, water, vegetable oil, spring onions, fennel, salt, yeast, spices.

Whenever Sanquan comes up with a product, competitor Sinian can’t afford to lag behind. Sinian has launched a small type of youtiao that can be eaten with hot pot, hence the name Hot Pot Youtiao.

The ingredients listed are:

Flour, vegetable oil, water, salt . . .

That ‘. . .’ is not very nice to the consumers, but I will revert as soon as I have the entire ingredients list.

Youtiao are becoming a major growth product. Annual sales have increased from RMB 250 mln in 2015 to more than RMB 1 bln in 2018.

Pre-fried youtiao

A number of companies produce pre-fried youtiao, comparable to the pre-baked bread that you can buy in Europe. They are quick-frozen and can be fried without defrosting.

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.


What on earth are . . . saqima?

Saqima is a kind of pastry adored by Manchu people of northeast China. They were originally made for sacrificial offerings. After the imperial court of the Qing Dynasty (the emperors of that dynasty were from the Manchu nationality) moved its capital to Beijing, a large number of Manchus settled in this city. This facilitated the spread of Saqima among Han Chinese. it soon became recognised as a Beijing treat and currently as a general Chinese pastry. It is available in China supermarkets in every part of the world with a considerable Chinese community.


Basic recipe

The basic recipe is as follows: first mix the flour and egg into noodles, fry them and then blend them with sugar syrup. The next step is to put the sweetened noodles in moulds to form a big block, which is then cut into small square or oblong pieces. Proper saqima taste sweet but not greasy, and should be crisp.

Industrial production

As all traditional Chinese foods, saqima need to go through the process of adaptation to industrial production, to survive in the modern consumption environment. Points for attention for food formulators are: the crispy mouth feel and the flavour and fragrance that should be rich but not greasy. This video shows an industrial production line for saqima.

Help from Nestlé

Hsu Fu Chi (already featuring in a number of other posts in this blog; use the search function to surf to those posts) is one of the more important industrial producers of saqima. Nestlé has a 60% stake in this company and has assisted in developing a recipe and process to increase crispiness in Saqima to draw in younger consumers. The new recipe comprises fried dough, syrup and flavorings – the latter of which could be anything from cheese, seaweed, mango or chocolate. Importantly, it said the fried dough should represent 55-72 wt% (percentage of total product weight); syrup 22-35wt% and flavoring 1.5-5.5wt%. The fried dough is made using high gluten flour and baking powder as a leavening agent and the syrup using brown sugar, sweeteners or a mix. The final syrup has to be made using certain ratios – sugar (10-25wt%); 65-80wt% glucose syrup; 0.21wt% salt and 5 – 12% water.

This is a picture of one of the packaging and the ingredients list as provided by the manufacturer.

Glucose syrup, wheat flour, palm oil, eggs, crystal sugar, milk powder, sesame seed, salt, food additives (sodium bi-carbonate, disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, TBHQ).


Other innovative producers sometimes add currents or preserved fruit pieces before pressing the blocks to create more variety in flavours and textures. The pictures shows a saqima made from black rice and also containing peanuts.


In another post of this blog tea as flavouring I am introducing a tea flavoured saqima.

Saqima with a Western touch: cheese saqima

Hsu Fu Chi has launched another innovative variety of saqima in 2021: cheese saqima, flavoured with Danish cheese.


Specially formulated ingredients

One sign of the maturation of the industrial production of saqima is that a number of food ingredients producers have started developing products specially formulated for this application. One Chinese enzyme producer is marketing a compound enzyme to improve flour for the production of saqima, improving the crispiness of that first bite that is so defining for a good old fashioned (though industrially produced) saqima.

A number of flour mills are supplying wheat flour with a high gluten content for saqima producers.


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