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.

Balancing the Five Flavours – for a healthy body and a harmonious society

The ability to perfectly balance flavours is what separates a chef from a cook

If the goal of eating and drinking is to maintain and improve health, then the typical single most important element in food would be nutrition. The Chinese, however, focus on colour, fragrance, taste and form in food, looking for refinement in food vessels and elegance of the dining environment, demonstrating an artistic spirit. Hence, from the beginnings of documented history, the Chinese advocated the philosophy of ‘harmony between the five flavours (wuweitiaohe)’. It could be related to one of the core concepts of Confucianism: ‘harmonious society (hexie shehui)’. The Chinese invented ways to adjust blended ingredients and spices for a wide variety of tastes. Revolving around the ‘five flavours, which are sourness, sweetness, bitterness, pungency and saltiness, dishes can evolve into more than hundreds of different flavours.

Saltiness xian

Of the ‘five flavours’, saltiness is the principal flavour. It is the simplest and simultaneously the most crucial. Salt is needed to heighten any flavour in foods. Without it, any delicacy cannot emerge in its full glory. But from a health perspective, salt should not be taken in excessive quantities. The most important salty ingredient is obviously salt. However, soy sauce is of almost equal importance as a salty seasoning in Chinese cuisine. Soy sauce is a good example of how a few other flavours can be deftly used to cut the raw edges from pure salt.

Some salty ingredients: salt, soy sauce – regular.

Sourness suan

Sourness is also an indispensable taste in foods, especially in the northern part of China, where water supply is heavy in minerals and strong in base. So, in order to induce better digestion of food, vinegar is often used in cooking. It can also arouse appetite. Sour taste can also neutralize fishy odour and greasiness. At banquets with strong grease and heavy meat dishes, sour dishes are usually added to neutralise the greasy mouthfeel (ni in Chinese). They come in many varieties. Not only are the sour tastes of plums, fruits and vinegar different from one another, just the different types of vinegar are distinguished by its production areas, different ingredients and different production techniques, thus causing quite drastic differences in taste. Usually, the northerners regard mature vinegar made in Shanxi as orthodox, whilst the people in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang area appraise the Zhenjiang-made rice vinegar as authentic. The most typical of all places eating vinegar is the province of Shanxi. Many families there are skilled at making vinegar from crops and fruits. Their everyday meals are even more dependent on vinegar. A very interesting thing is that in the Chinese language, the word “vinegar” is used to represent the feelings of jealousy between men and women. Slang, such as ‘eat vinegar(chi cu)’ for being jealous and ‘vinegar jar (cugangzi)’ for a jealous person, are universally understood in both the north and the south.

Some sour ingredients: bitter melon-fresh, vinegar, lemon, lime, dry wine, cranberry, wild cherries.

Pungency xin

Pungency is the most stimulating and complex of the ‘five flavours’. Sometimes Chinese use ‘pungent-hot (xinla)’ as one word. In actuality, pungency and hot (la) have major differences. Hot is sense of taste, stimulating the tongue, throat and nasal cavity. Instead, pungency is not just a sense of taste as it involves sense of smell as well. Pungency is mostly obtained from ginger, while hot and spicy usually denotes the use chili pepper or black pepper. Since hot peppers were a foreign product, there was no mentioning of ‘hot’ in ancient Chinese cooking, instead it was generalised as pungency. Moreover, Chinese also has the word ma ‘numbing’, used for the sensation in the mouth caused by Sichuan peppers (huajiao). It differs from the hot sensation of peppers, but is also part of the range of pungent flavours. Ginger not only neutralizes rank taste and odour but can also bring out the great taste of fish and meats. So, ginger is a must-have when preparing fish and meat. There are also principles to using hot peppers. We should not merely seek for the degree of hotness but should rather use saltiness and natural essence of food as fundamentals, so that the hot and spicy taste comes out multi-staged, full of great aroma and not too dry. In addition, garlic, scallion, ginger and other spices can also kill bacteria, so are great for cold dishes with dressing.

Some pungent ingredients: ginger, black pepper, chili peppers, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, radish, cardamom.

Bitterness ku

Bitterness is rarely used alone in cooking but is a valuable asset. When making simmered or braised meats, adding tangerine or orange peel, clove, almond and other seasonings with a light bitter touch can rid the meat of unpleasant taste and smell, and awaken the original flavour of the food. Black foods usually also have bitter flavour notes. Traditional Chinese medicinal theories believe that bitterness is helpful for the stomach and produces saliva. Some people really enjoy bitter taste in foods, such as in the Sichuan-style ‘Strange Taste (guaiwei)’ type of foods, which have the bitter elements.

Some bitter ingredients: bitter melon-ripe, Seville orange, soy sauce-thin, garlic-raw, star anise, dry mustard, radicchio, mustard greens, endive, arugula.

Sweetness gan

Sweetness has the effect to cushion the effect of other basic flavours, whereas saltiness, sourness, pungency and bitterness are all too strong, they could be remedied by sweetness. When making dishes of other tastes, sugar can improve and embellish. However, using large amounts of sugar is not recommended, as too much sugar can be nauseous. Since many spices can produce a sweet flavour and they all taste quite different, much of the culinary world hails cane sugar as the orthodox sweetness.

Some sweet ingredients: sugar, honey, coconut, bell peppers, apples, grapes, raisons, hoisin sauce, cooking wine, garlic-cooked dates, onions-cooked, rice-cooked, bing cherries.

Freshness xian

What is not listed in the ‘five flavours’ but still holds an important status in the culinary world is the ‘freshness’, now better known as umami, factor. ‘Freshness’ is the most tempting flavour in food. Most foods all contain an ‘essence’ but it is often dormant, so making soup is often the way to awaken the taste. Chicken, pork, beef, fish and ribs can all be used as soup stock. When the unpleasant tastes and smell are eliminated during the soup-making process, the essential flavour is fully exposed by adding just a touch of salt. Stock not only can be enjoyed directly but can also be used to make other plain foods taste great. Such foods include shark’s fin, sea cucumber, bird’s nest, bean curd and gluten, which all must be cooked with essence soup to achieve its mouth-watering taste. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is an artificial essence. Its synthetic nature makes it impossible to compare to naturally made stock. So skilled chefs usually do not care for it.

Healing flavours

Five tastes in harmony, with flavour as the top priority, bringing direct pleasure to the tongue. At the same time, it is a good health-protecting and body-regulating method. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories state that pungency can regulate bodily fluids, blood and qi, and can be used to treat bone and muscle pain from coldness, kidney problems and so on. Sweetness can nourish, soothe, and improve emotional mood. Honey and red jujubes are also great tonic foods for those who have a weak and frail physique. Sour taste can cure diarrhoea and produce saliva to stop thirst. Sour vinegar can prevent colds, while eggs boiled in vinegar can stop coughing. All these are folk cures with adequate modern medical recognition. Bitterness can release heat in the body, improves vision and detoxify the body. Five tastes in harmony is an important factor to great health and long life. The picture shows that sour is linked to the liver, bitter to the heart, sweetness to the spleen, pungency to the lungs and saltiness to the kidneys.

Modern developments

Societies change and so do their cultures. Although modern Chinese cooks are still eager to balance the flavours, present day Chinese consumers have adopted a slightly different set of terms to discuss the taste of food. A major development is already hinted at in the paragraph on pungency above: the arrival of the chili pepper. Chili has become such an important ingredient all over China, that la ‘hot’ has become an independent category. This has separated ma ‘numbing’ too. Umami is an important aspect of any dish, but is not recognised as a ‘flavour category’ in every day parlance. A survey held early 2020, asking a consumer panel about their most favourite flavour, generated the following results.

Hot comes out as the most favoured flavour; by far. However, when ordering a dinner in a restaurant, or cooking one at home, Chinese still prefer to complement a hot dish with one or two with another dominant flavour. Harmony remains important.

Compound flavours

Chinese cuisine is apt in mixing and blending flavours. Spices and other seasoning ingredients can be combined in endless ways, but a small number of the them have become such favourites of Chinese chefs, that they have got used with various types of foods. An example introduced in an earlier post is yuxiang, ‘fish flavour’. In that post, I introduced the basic recipe and a number of variations developed by food technologists. This post adds another dimension to the understanding of such generic compounds: the mix of basic flavours: yuxiang is relatively hot, but the right combinations of saltiness, pungency, sourness and sweetness can bring out the delicacy of the peppers while containing excessive sharpness.

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.

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.

MilkCapMonument

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 ‘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).

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.

Eggs – Chinese like them salty

Eggs are one of the oldest ingredients of food in China, witness the 2800-year old eggs on exhibition in Nanjing.

ancientegg

China has produced 33,089,800 mt of eggs in 2019; up 5.78%.

Chinese cuisine includes many dishes with eggs as the main ingredient; fried tomatoes with eggs probably being the simplest as well as the best known. Don’t forget to add a little sugar en chopped garlic, just before turning of the heat.

Eggs can also be used as a minor ingredient to add bulk and texture to a variety of dishes, sometimes as a replacement for meat.

Fresh eggs have special meaning to the Chinese. Eggs are auspicious food, a symbol of fertility, of longevity, of new life. The birth of a child is celebrated with the delivery of hard-boiled eggs to friends and relatives, often dyed a brilliant red in honour of the occasion. Eggs are also a part of the bride’s dowry, sent by her family on the wedding day to her husband’s home as a sign of her potential fertility. They reciprocate with a gift of live chickens.

Birthdays are also marked with noodles and eggs all over China, and even as an ethnic Chinese growing up abroad, I remember my grandmother making a bowl of vermicelli for me with a large egg on top, dyed bright red, of course.

However, eggs are a perishable product, which is why many rural families still keep chickens so they have a steady supply. Chinese have developed a few ways to preserve their shelf life. I am introducing three of these in this post

Pidan – 1000-year eggs

Pidan

First, let’s set straight the myth hidden in that Western term. They have not lain forgotten for 1000 years, despite the name. Instead, pidan, as they are known in Chinese, are carefully cured for several weeks to several months so that the albumen solidifies into a dark, transparent, gel-like semisolid while the yolk hardens slightly on the outside but remains molten in the centre. There are strict culinary standards on what makes a pidan a gourmet experience.

Pidan are always eaten with condiments. They may be served with sweet slices of pink pickled ginger, doused in sesame oil and vinegar, or smothered in minced garlic or chopped cilantro leaves.

The most common raw ingredient for pidan is duck eggs, valued for the size of the yolks and the generosity of the egg white. However, chicken or quail eggs are also used, but more for novelty rather than need. A good century egg often has a snowflake pattern on the outside of the white, an indication of a well-cured egg. Its fearsome colour is the result of a chemical reaction with the curing mix usually wood ash, salt and rice husks mixed with clay or lime.

Pidan as export product

Pidan can even become a lucrative export product. The Shiqian region of Guizhou has been producing pidan for over 600 years. The local government has realised its potential value and supported modern industrial production of its traditional pidan in 1993. The state owned enterprise was dissolved in 1995, but its manager continued the production as a private entrepreneur. The company currently produces more than 10 mln eggs p.a.  Shiqian pidan were already exported to other Asian countries, in particular Malaysia, but more recently exports to the US and Canada, with their growing Chinese population, have also increased.

Xiandan – salty eggs

Xiandan

Another popular staple is the salted egg, a pure white delight that is as visually attractive as its cousin is not.

Eggs from either chicken or duck are carefully wiped clean with Chinese liquor and placed in bottles of saturated brine. After a month to several weeks, the whites would have thoroughly absorbed the salt, and the yolks hardened into little golden globes.

Salted eggs are most often boiled and then split and eaten straight from the shell. They are also used for cooking. The salted egg yolks are vital ingredients in many seasonal foods, including the rice dumplings eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival and the sweet moon cakes during Mid-Autumn festival.

Here is a salted version of quail eggs produced by Deshi.

Chayedan – tea eggs

Chayedan

Tea eggs are usually prepared at home. Brew a pot of tea. You can use any Chinese tea, but a dark tea like Pu’er will taste stronger than green tea. Place the tea and tea leaves in a pot, add a piece of star anise, a stick of cinnamon and either some cloves or cardamom. Add soy sauce and enough water for the liquid to come halfway up the pot.

Wash about 10 eggs and place them in the pot to boil. After 15 minutes, remove the eggs and gently tap them to crack the shells. Turn off the heat and return them to the infusion. You want a marbled effect. The flavours and colours improve if you also break the membranes so the tea infusion can penetrate. Then wait, to allow the eggs to soak in the tea sauce for a few hours, preferably overnight. You’ll be rewarded for your patience with the most flavourful hard-cooked eggs you have ever eaten.

You can reuse the tea sauce to cook more eggs when the first batch is finished, but remember to either add more tea or soy sauce to adjust the seasoning.

Free range eggs redefined

Innovation in food is one of the core themes of this blog. A Chinese organic farmer in Taiyuan (Shanxi) has redefined the concept of ‘natural’ eggs, better known in the Western world as ‘free range eggs’. His term is ‘original eggs (tujidan)’, which he defines as ‘eggs resulting from natural insemination of the hen by a cock’. This is even more humane that simply allowing chickens to walk around freely.

Tujidan

The yolk of the resulting eggs is brighter yellow than those of mass-produced eggs and are said to be lower in cholesterol. Strictly speaking, this is not really innovation, but simply going back to basics. Still, it is a development worth pointing out.

Dried eggs – a novel product

The general trend in the Chinese food industry towards more convenient products has also affect this sector. Recently, Master Shen Food (Anhui) launched a ready to eat egg product: dried eggs. This is a truly innovative product. It imitates traditional Chinese dried bean curd, but is made from eggs, making it a more nutritious product. The ingredients:

Egg, fermented soy sauce (includes caramel colour), sugar, salt, flavours, lemon, food additives (MSG, disodium 5’-ribonucleotide, sodium pyrophosphate, sodium tri-polyphosphate, red koji red, sodium d-isoascorbate)

The brand name is also partly imitation: Master Shen is obviously alluding to the Master Kong brand instant noodles.

Export

China exports some of its egg products as well. Hubei province was China’s top exporter of for the 10th consecutive year in 2019, generating an income of USD 90 mln.

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.