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.

 

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Babao Porridge – food that enlightens

Babao Porridge (Babaozhou, Babaofan), a sweet rice porridge stuffed with dates, lotus seeds and other fruits, is an extremely interesting example of a traditional product revived by industrial production. The concept of babao is used in more traditional foods, e.g. zongzi, filled steamed rice cubes wrapped in leaves, which are introduced in a separate post of this blog.

Image             Image

Present day Babao Porridge is derived from a southern type of porridge called Laba Porridge. La refers to the La month, the last month of the lunar calendar and ba (‘eight’) to the eighth day of that month. On the 8th day of the lunar 12th month people used to prepare a porridge using eight or more ingredients to celebrate the end of the year. Another story explains the custom as a Buddhist tradition.

Laba porridge was first cooked as a sacrifice for ancestors and gods during Laba Festival as a part of winter worship. In an agricultural society, the 12th month or layue (腊月) was a time when families consumed some of their stores from the harvest season. Cooking a porridge with rich and varied ingredients is a way to celebrate a prosperous harvest for the year, in hopes of a better one to follow.

Just like Christmas overtaking the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia, when Buddhism arrived in China, it stamped its own influence on this local tradition. For Buddhists, Laba Festival is also Buddha’s Enlightenment Day.

The legend says that Shakyamuni, after 6 years of seeking enlightenment by living frugally, once sat down under a tree, dead tired. A woman herding cows saw him and prepared a simple porridge for him using course cereals and wild fruits. Shakyamuni was so revived from eating a bowl of that porridge, that he immediately gained enlightenment. From that day on, Buddhist Temples prepared a similar type of porridge on the 8th of each 12th month.

With the increasing pace of life, modern Chinese are less and less willing to spend several hours a day in the kitchen. This includes less frequently prepared foods like Babao Porridge.

The basic production process is easy enough. The raw materials are mixed and cooked, cooled and then packed in cans, similar to those used to pack soft drinks. In this way, the porridge can be easily consumed as a convenient food, while travelling, as a snack during office work, etc. A plastic spoon is usually attached to the can, so the traveller does need to pack a metal spoon from the kitchen either.

Buddhist monestaries have to abide by the law as well, so more and more temples are producing laba porridge in a semi-industrialised clean way, to ensure that the faithful do not have to pay dearly for enjoying a bowl of laba porridge with food poisening. On the way, it earns the monestary a lot more income as well.

Formulation

The most essential aspect of the production of Babao Porridge is the combination of emulsifiers and thickeners. Babao Porridge consists of a viscous liquid part and solid parts. Manufacturers need to formulate the product in such a way, that the solid parts are more or less evenly distributed over the liquid part upon opening of the can.

A number of Chinese manufacturers of emulsifiers and thickeners supply products specially formulated for Babao Porridge. Some sources propagate CMC as the most appropriate thickener for this application.

A combination of CMC and a low calorie high intensity sweetener to replace the sugar will not only provide an authentic mouthfeel, but also decrease the caloric value.

Industrial recipes for so called ‘low calorie Babao Porridge,’ proposed by manufacturers of ingredients use sticky rice as the macro-ingredient, where part of the rice can be replaced with pumpkin. Various combinations of fruits (dates are most popular) and nuts (including peanuts) are added. Frequently suggested micro-ingredients and additives: pumpkin powder, xylitol, oligoxylose, CMC, konjac powder, and EDTA.

As a result of all the recent food safety problems, Chinese consumers have become more aware of ingredients and started asking if one food really needs so different ingredients. A recent article (24/9/2014) criticises the use of xanthan in one brand of Babao Porridge. Xanthan is known in the porridge industry under the nickname zhoubao, literally: ‘porridge treasure’. The reporter believes it is a means to hide the lack of skills of the manufacturer to produce a proper porridge.

Top brands

The following brands are recognised as China’s top brands for Babao porridge

Yinlu   PorrYinlu

The Yinlu Food Group was established in Xiamen (Fujian) in 1985 as producer of canned food and beverages. It is still one of China’s top producers of protein drinks. It now operates production units in Shandong, Hubei, Anhui and Sichuan. Nestlé has recently acquired a controlling stake in Yinlu.

Wahaha   PorrWahaha

The Wahaha Group was established in Hangzhou (Zhejiang) in 1987 as a private company operated by a school, producing tonic for school children. The founder and CEO, Mr. Zong Qinghou, is currently one of China’s richest entrepreneurs. Wahaha has 150 subsidiaries in all regions of China, employing 30,000 people. It ranks among China’s top 500 companies in 2014 It is a relatively new player in this market, but has rapidly risen to this position. The range includes a babao porridge sweetened with xylitol. Wahaha has started a new campaign for its canned porridge range in January 2015, stressing that the company is being loyal to the Chinese tradition of porridge making. The following picture says that Wahaha’s Babao Porridge ‘tastes just like mother used to cook it’

WahahPorr

Wahaha has launched another type of nutritious Babao Porridge mid 2018, under the Qingzhi brand.

Ingredients:

Koji, plant sterols, sugar, glutenous rice, barley kernels, red beans, maltitol, black rice, peanuts, red kidney beans, hulless barley, tremella, lecithin, sucrose ester, fatty acids, sodium tri-polyphosphate, acesulfame-k, EDTA-2Na, sucralose, water

Qinqi   PorrQinqi

Based in Guangzhou (Guangdong), Qinqi was the first in China to launch Babao porridge in cans, which created the market for ready to drink Babao porridge. Although no longer the number one brand, Qinqi still bears the honorary name ‘porridge king’.

Qinqin   PorrQinqin

This brand is owned by the Xinxin Food Group, established in Yangzhou (Jiangsu) in 1991, by a local factory and a Taiwan investor. It produces a range of convenience foods, including Babao porridge.

Tongfu   PorrTongfu

The name of the producer, Tongfu Bowl Porridge Co., Ltd., betrays that it is dedicated to producing exactly that: porridge in (plastic) bowls. Tongfu was the first to introduce this type of packaging in China. It is considerably lighter than the canned version. It is located in Wuhu (Anhui)

Eurasia Consult’s database 30 producers of Babao Porridge.

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

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.