Time to sober up – the Chinese way

On average, the Chinese are not heavy drinkers. However, when they do drink during a business dinner or other occasions to forge good guanxi with others, they don’t honour that image. They not only drink a lot, but drink fast, throwing down one glass after another rather than sipping and enjoying their drink.

Combine this with a much lower ability to digest alcohol than the average Caucasian and you end up with a lot of problems. When Chinese are hung over, they are not only suffering from headaches, but their entire body feels awful. While Westerners regard an (occasional) hangover as something that will pass by sooner or later, Chinese, also under the influence of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), perceive it as a disease, a condition that needs tending to. And that creates a lucrative market for sobering up products.

Individual herbs

A number of TCM herbs are said to help relieve various ailments caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. The better-known ones include arrowroot, polysaccharides from razor shells, oligopeptides from maize, probiotics, etc. However, taking these products individually is not very attractive in terms of flavour or taste.

Products

Therefore, Chinese food technologists have designed a existing products enriched with one or more of these TCM ingredients, which can be marketed as help avoiding or alleviating the ills of excessive drinking. In this blog, I am introducing a three of the more popular ones.

Tianxing by Mengniu

Tianxing literally means ‘waking up gently’, which all of wish for after an alcoholic night with our mates or business relations. Tianxing is yoghurt enriched with arrowroot. Arrowroot contains glycine that helps the body to break down alcohol quickly. Please note that this is the general TCM explanation. So don’t hold me to it. Anyway, Mengniu is one of China’s top yoghurt producers, so if it does not cure your head, it still makes a healthy snack after drinking.

One Quarter Before Drinking by Bright

Shanghai Bright cannot afford to lag behind in this market with a sobering up yoghurt of its own. This product contains curcuma and goji. These are well-known super ingredients, so if does not do any good for your hangover, it still makes a healthy food.

Sobering Up Honey by Fengxiang

Beijing Fengxiang Beverage Co., Ltd. is producing this sobering up drink containing:

Honey, arrowroot, hawthorn, lemon, prunes, mulberry, orange peel, mint, liquorice and lotus leaves

This drink contains so many good ingredients, that it is bound to make you feel great, whenever you drink it. As Fengxiang is a honey processor, honey seems to be the primary ingredient, after water, of course.

Mogul

The latest adding to this list was launched in the spring of 2020. It has been developed by Fuxi Yingmen (Sichuan), a trader in alcoholic beverages and is marketed under the brand name Laoban (Mogul). Its ingredients include:

Arrowroot, goji, ginseng, hericium erinaceus (a fungus), polygonatum sibiricum, astragalus propinquus, etc.

Broader application

The Chinese market for sobering up products has apparently developed so rapidly, that newcomers have a harder time positioning their products specifically for post-alcoholic ailments. Lepur has launched its “Relax” yogurt targeting meat lovers, greasy food lovers, and those who have digestive problems after eating and drinking in 2020. The new product adds Bifidobacterium bifidum BB536 to relieve constipation symptoms and regulate intestinal ecological balance.

Does this post strike you as at least a little sarcastic? Perhaps you’re right. Sober up foods, drinks and supplements have been produced in East Asia for a long time already. I have once tried Japanese pills, containing oyster extract, that claimed to prevent alcohol entering your blood stream. Believe, me, they didn’t do the job. However, as several new products have been launched recently, this is worth a post. Moreover, the products introduced above are at least tasty beverages, so who cares if they do what they promise to do, it is an extra bonus to what is already a pleasure for the taste buds. It is always to good hydrate while drinking alcohol, right?

The best advice I can give, although I myself am not always able to heed it, is don’t drink too much, especially not of the Chinese 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 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Goji berries – China’s red gold

Chinese superfruit

Following my post on shaji, I am writing one on another superfruit: goji berries. Goji berries are native to Asia, though some species of the plant can be found growing in North America. Goji berries belong to the nightshade family, which means that they are related to potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. They have a long history of use in China. According to an early legend regarding the goji berry and its value, a doctor more than 2000 years ago visited a village that consisted mostly of centenarians. After observing them for a time, the doctor noticed that the residents who lived the longest also had homes closest to the wells were goji berry trees grew. As the fruits ripened, they would fall off into the water and their nutrients would be infused into it. Villagers who lived near the wells would drink the water and benefit from its nutrients. There are multiple variations of this legend. Documentation of the benefits of goji berries begins with a book written the mythical doctor Shen Nong in the year 250 BC, the oldest book on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Another important Chinese book written by Li Shizhen in the 16th century also includes important information on the subject of the goji berry.

High-tech picking

Goji berries have become such an important crop in Ningxia, that Ningxia’s Science and Technology Department has developed a hand-held picking machine. In tests, the small machines can harvest 25 to 30 kilograms of goji per hour, with no more than 5% of the fruit damaged. It is 3 – 5 times more efficient than hand-picking. This link will lead you to a video demonstrating the machine.

Nutrition

Goji berries are known primarily for their nutritional value and health benefits. Some of the factors that make them famous for boosting health are:

  • Amino acids: goji berries provide 8 essential amino acids that your body cannot synthesize.
  • Zeaxanthin: goji contain a high concentration of an antioxidant called zeaxanthin, good for preventing certain eye diseases. According to various studies, a diet that contains goji berries can increase a person’s zeaxanthin levels by as much as 26%.
  • Vitamins: goji berries can provide you almost twice the vitamin A that you need in a day. It also has about a third of the daily recommended vitamin C.
  • Minerals: goji berries are rich in some important minerals including iron and potassium.

Geographic spread

Goji berries grow in a large area northwest China, but Ningxia is by far the largest producer. The following table shows the regional breakdown on the output of 2017 (dried berries).

Region output (mt)
Ningxia 108,500
Gansu 105,800
Qinghai 95,000
Xinjiang 66,600
Others 34,700

Steady growth

As goji berries have been such a valuable earner of hard currency, the Chinese goji production has grown steadily during the past years, as is shown in the following table.

Year output (mt)
2018 451,000
2017 410,600
2016 360,900
2015 293,200
2014 229,600

Export

Although the demand on the world market is huge, the domestic demand is also substantial. After all, goji berries are a TCM, so have been used for ages. In fact, Western consumers got to know goji from China, like ginseng. The following table shows the export volumes of the same years as the production figures above.

Year export (mt)
2018 12,000
2017 12,600
2016 12,700
2015 9,800
2014 12,300

Goji as (health) food ingredient

Goji berries are no longer exclusively used in Chinese medicine. They have become an ingredient in a growing range of health foods and beverage. I will list a few in this section to give an impression of how goji is used by Chinese food technologists.

Herbal tea

This herbal tea by Laojin Mofang consists of dried longan slices, dates and goji berries. It is a refreshing beverage that lasts a long time, as you can add boiling water a number of times.

Halal goji drink

Qiye Qing turns goji berries into a cloudy orange-colored bottled beverage. The ad uses the alternative name for goji: wolfberries. The drink is certified halal. The manager, Mr. He Jun, believes this move is a great opportunity to cash in on the Middle Eastern and Central Asian markets. The picture shows an ad of this beverage. See my post on Halal food for more details.

In the course of 2020, China’s oldest still operative pharmacy, Tongrentang in Beijing, opened two cafes that serves coffee enriched with various medicinal herbs, including goji.

Goji as snack

With the increased interested in healthier food, dried goji berries have become an interesting snack. Check out this small helping of goji by Qilixiang.

I may add more products in the future.

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 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Medicine Food Same Source

This is a literal translation of the Chinese expression yao shi tong yuan, which indicates that in the traditional Chinese perception food and medicine are substances derived from the same raw materials. There is a strong link (overlap) between pharmaceuticals and food in traditional Chinese thinking about food, nutrition and preventing/curing disease.

The function of many medicinal plants is often referred to as restore (bu) in Chinese. Medicine brings the diseased body in balance again. The various basic flavours are also accredited medicinal functions.

One consequence of this view on food and medicine is the existence of medicinal restaurants in China. You can tell the cook about your ailments, and he will compose a meal with ingredients that address those problems. This is called yaoshan, ‘medicinal meal’, or shiliao, ‘cure through eating’, in Chinese, again a combination of medicine and food.

This part of the Chinese cultural heritage has a strong influence on Chinese policy making. A good example is the Chinese government’s strong attention to promoting public nutrition. While most Western governments believe that promoting fortified foods is misleading the public from a more healthy diet, the Chinese authorities are actively promoting fortified foods. See our special item about that topic.

If you think that the modernization and the increased influence of Western thinking in China will make this belief in the healing power of food disappear, you are very wrong. On the contrary, we have seen a number of foods fortified with traditional Chinese medicinal herbs appear on the market. An example is honey fortified with dangshen (radix codonopsis), a ginseng-like root. Ginseng itself is also more and more used as an ingredient in Chinese dishes.

The national authorities have issued a list of 87 TCM herbs that are allowed as food ingredients.

Nutritional beverages

TCM has especially inspired the development of a range of health drinks. I will mention a couple of the most representative here.

Stewed pear

Cansi’s (Nengshi) “stewed pear with rock sugar is positioned as an ancient folk recipe that has been spread for thousands of years throughout China”. Some of the claims the product makes are to “lubricate lungs” and to “relieve stress”, with pears playing an integral role in traditional Chinese medicine. The product also has TCM ingredients, such as honeysuckle and lily extract.

StewPear

Yam drink

Natural Source’s Wall Breaking Yam Juice earns it name from the technology it uses. With its yam juice processing, it’s claimed that superior technology can break the cell wall to release additional molecules for nutrition value. The result is that when consumed, it increases the absorption rate by 80%. Yam is one of many traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients that are being processed, combined with other flavours and packaged for modern times.

YamDrink

Biscuits and water for stomach problems

The Jiangzhong Pharmaceutical Group, that became famous for its successful TCM drug against stomach ailments due to indigestion, has launched a biscuit with extracts from the hericium erinaceus fungus in 2015. It is an age old ingredient in Chinese cuisine and an equally old raw material for TCM drugs against problems in the entire digestive tract.

Hougu

Early 2020, instant noodle maker Jinmailang launched a new type of bottled water that has been pre-boiled. It is marketed under the brand name Liangbaikai. This literally means ‘Cool Clear Boiled’ and has been derived from the Chinese expression ‘cool boiled water’, i.e. boiled water cooled down to an agreeable drinking temperature. According to TCM, such water is much better absorbed by the human body than tap water or other types of bottled water. The ad states that this water ‘is more suitable to the guts and stomachs of the Chinese’.

Military participation

Chinese military researchers are are also developing modern applications for traditional herbs. An interesting item we have spotted in this category is an ‘antiradiation biscuit’, a biscuit with the extracts of five Chinese medicinal ingredients. It has been developed for military use, but has also been made available to the general public. We have not yet found it on any supermarket shelf though.

The Wuhan College of Military Economy has develop a type of biscuit that can increase the body’s oxygen level and alleviate fatigue for 48 hours. The recipe includes a number of herbs from traditional Chinese medicine. Once more, this product has been developed for use by soldiers, but it will also have an interesting market in tourist destinations in high elevations, like Tibet. Problems caused by oxygen deficiency often spoils part of the fun among tourists in such regions.

Herbal coffee

One way for TCM to redefine itself to fit into the present age is to link up with a popular beverage like coffee. A time-honoured traditional Chinese medicine store Huqingyutang has opened a cafe named “HERBS EXPRESSO” to sell ‘coffee’ in Hangzhou (Zhejiang). Unlike regular coffee, which is extracted from coffee beans, the cafe’s ‘coffee’ is sourced from herbs and processed with a coffee machine. Actually, the ‘coffee’ is a coffee-flavoured herbal drink, the cafe’s manager said. Mixing fresh fruits, milk and cream, the taste of the new herbal drink is better than the traditional herbal soup. “By improving the taste of herbal drinks, we want to promote traditional Chinese medicine culture to the world,” the manager added.

HerbCoffee

Under the weather? Go to the pub!

Tongrentang Group, a renowned traditional Chinese medicine pharmacy, founded in 1669, has opened two fusion cafes that offer drinks and healthcare services in Beijing in 2020. The cafe provides different kinds of coffee drinks that are infused with herbs such as licorice, monk fruit and cinnamon. It also offers various teas that are mixed with Chinese wolfberry (goji) and grapefruit. The cafe also has an area where shoppers can buy featured products such as honey, goji, cubilose (bird’s nest) and ginseng. Tongrentang plans to open 50 flagship stores in major cities nationwide in the next five years to offer comprehensive healthcare consulting services. On top of that, it will open more than 3000 landmark cafes in major commercial areas.

Foreign interest

Multinationals have started to note this development as well. Lipton is marketing a tea on the Chinese market with extracts from Chrysanthemum, honeysuckle and lily. The tea is named: Qing heng cha, ‘clearing balance tea’.

BalanceTea

I will list the ingredients and add the various activities attributed to them according to the Chinese Materia Medica:

Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

  • Clear heat, relieve toxic fire – hot, painful swellings in the throat, breast, eyes; intestinal abscesses.
  • Expel wind-heat – fever, aversion to wind, sore throat, headache; also for summer-heat.
  • Clear damp heat from the lower jiao – dysentery, lin syndrome.

Chrysanthenum

  • Disperses wind, clears heat (bitter, cold) – headache, fever.
  • Clears liver and the eyes (sweet, cold) – wind-heat in the liver channel manifesting with red, painful, dry eyes or excessive tearing, or yin deficiency of the kidneys and liver with floaters, blurry vision, or dizziness.

Green tea

I wonder why Unilever has not yet started marketing this range (there or more such teas available on the Chinese market).

Meanwhile, the famous Pu’er tea from Yunnan is also marketed worldwide a slimming aid and a way to lower blood lipids.

Example of a foods that are ascribed medicinal functions according to TCM in this blog are: dates (jujubes) , lotus pods, sea cucumbers, and dried plums (huamei). Examples of foods enriched with medicinal ingredients introduced in this blog are: moon cakes and some military food.

TCM and COVID-19

Traditional Chinese Medicine has played an important role in the treatment of COVID-19 infections. Clinical treatment shows that several kinds of TCM used during the outbreak in China helped reduce illness in patients and improve the cure rate, according to Li Yu, director of the Department of Science and Technology, National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the next step, TCM treatment can be used for patients in the recovery stage. This is the stage in which TCM herbal compounds gradually change from pure medicines to health supplements.

TCM in animal feed

A new development is the use of selected TCM herbs as ingredients for animal feed. Practitioners in China have prescribed bitter blends of medicinal plants and herbs for centuries to ward off disease in humans. Now, farmers are adapting the age-old elixirs — a dash of ginseng here, a speck of licorice there — for use on livestock. They’re hoping to tap into the growing popularity of traditional medicine and health food in Chinese society. The expected results are not only delicious but healthy: lean, juicy meats that can protect against colds, arthritis and other illnesses. A Guangxi farmer began mixing 22 kinds of herbs into the daily feed for his livestock several years ago. The pigs that he raises sell for more than double the price of ordinary pigs, and some customers even eat his meats instead of taking medicine. Farmers like Mr. Lin hope that China’s increasingly health-conscious middle class will help bring medicinal meats into the mainstream. The health-food market in China reached $1 trillion last year, and it is expected to grow 20% annually for the next several years.

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 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.