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)

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.

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 baked then 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.

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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New dairy ads reflects cultural change in China

Yili Dairy, China’s top dairy brand (and second food brand in 2014), based in the capital of Inner Mongolia, Huhhot, has launched remarkable marketing campaigns for some of its popular products. Mengniu, located in the same city, has followed suit.

Oat milk

Breakfast milk is; another member of the expanding Chinese family of formulated dairy products. Yili has entered this market with Oat Milk.

The phenomenon breakfast milk is a product of the increasing of the pace of life in China. From the beginning of the Chinese nation to very recent times, three hot meals a day were sacred in China. Gobbling down a sandwich on your way to work, a familiar sight in my home region, would abhor any Chinese. That thing with the sandwich is still rare in China, but the quick ready-made breakfast is emerging.

The ad for Oat Milk shows Taiwanese singer Eddy Peng drinking (well, at least one end of the straw is in his mouth and the other in a carton of Oat Milk) striking a masculine pose. The text introduces him as a nanshen ‘male god’. Although Chinese women are just as attracted to males like this as their sisters in any other part of the world, such direct sexual remarks are rather un-Chinese. And I am not talking about post 1949 China. Han Chinese are usually rather reserved about this type of emotions.

Eddy

The text adds that male gods are busy chasing their ideals, but impeded by the hardship of work. I have translated the Chinese word ouxiang ‘icon’ here as ideal. It alludes that Peng is the male icon of many Chinese men, but also an object of worship for most women.

The Oat Milk slogan is: four special functions:

OatMilk

Overtime Miracle

Travel Mate

Slimming Success

Ideal Snack

Overtime has entered China already a while ago. China is one of the few nations the constitution of which includes the right to rest for all citizens. However, overtime now seems to be more normal than in many Western countries. What Yili seems to be suggesting is that its Oat Milk can be used to replace the meal that a proper employer would provide to staff members who agree to overtime. A carton of milk with chunks of oat floating in it, that you can consume while continuing to work, would until recently never be accepted. Now, the marketers of Yili seem to believe that this suggestion will no longer elicit protests.

The Chinese term lütu banlü has been coined after kafei banlü Coffee Mate. However, the latter is a powder that is much easier (and again quicker) to use than liquid coffee creamer. Oat Milk is a liquid that you are advised through this ad to carry with you while travelling. A quick bite/sip on the road. Once more, this suggested use is a replacement of the meal that Chinese travellers would usually not be willing to skip. Chinese travellers board a train heavily packed, not with clothes, but food and drinks to consume while chatting with their companions and enjoying the landscape.

Both functions seem to indicate that the pace of life is accelerating in China. One of the cultural rituals affect most strongly by this development is that of eating three warm meals a day.

The oat fibre in Oat Milk is said to help keeping your waist slim. That by itself would not be much more than an empty promise, but the picture of a man Eddy Peng makes it real. Drink Yili Oat Milk and look like Eddy Peng.

The word ‘snack’ in my translation of the final term refers to the Chinese concept of lingshi. It literally means ‘fragmentary food’, food that you can eat any time between meals. When you look at the scope of what is regarded as lingshi by Chinese it seems to be basically identical to xiuxian shipinleisure food’, about which I have devoted an entire post in this blog. Lingshi then seems to be a more colloquial term, while xiuxian shipin is used in a more commercial context. Why it is called ideal seems obvious: as you are snacking anyway, you might as well do it on healthy food. However, I wonder if people would be willing to pack a relatively heavy carton of beverage instead of that pack of melon seeds, preserved plums or other traditional snacks.

Regardless whether Yili’s Oat Milk will be a success or a failure, its ad already is making history.

So, what’s in it? Here is the ingredients list:

Fresh milk, water, crystal sugar, oat grains, oat meal, Vit. A, Vit. D3, iron (fe edta), zinc, food additives (microcrystalline cellulose, CMC, gellan gum, carrageenan, monoglyceride,sucrose ester, sodium bicarbonate), food flavour.

So it is not completely natural, but we would not have expected it to be to begin with.

In the course of 2018, Yili has launched another oat milk, this time flavoured with coconut, marketed under the Guliduo (‘Lots of Cereals’) brand. It is said be made of Vietnamese coconut, carefully selected milk and Australian oat.

You Yoghurt

Yili has hired the services of another Tainwanese star, Jack Chou, to advertise for one of its yoghurt ranges: You Yoghurt (you means ‘best’). Jack Chou is shown sitting in a director’s chair, shouting ‘I want You’. The scene is derived from the TV program Voice of China.

YiliYouAd

Note that the makers of this ad assume that the intended audience have a command of English sound enough to recognise the pun. The deeper reference to the old American military posters telling young American men that ‘Uncle Sam wants you’ will escape the attention of most of them, though.

Winter Olympics

Yili is one of the first Chinese food companies to respond to Beijing’s winning of the Winter Olympics in 2022. The company has launched the following commercial:

YiliOlymp

The text reads: ‘I have a seven-year appointment with the Olympic Games‘. And again we see the emerging individualism in this frame. The lonely icehockey player, instead of a team and the use of ‘I’ instead of ‘we’.

It is fascinating to see how a traditional state owned enterprise is able to reinvent itself to fit into the 21st Century. According to the Rabobank survey, Yili now ranks among the world’s 20 largest dairy companies.

Yoghurt icecream

Mengniu, China’s second largest dairy company, has recently launched one of China’s first yoghurt icecreams, marketed under the Dilan brand. The company started the promotion campaign with handing out samples for free to white collar workers in Beijing’s major commercial buildings. Dilan’s ads also indicate that the product is geared to that market segment: the individualist young professionals focused on their careers.

DailanYoghIce

Male vs Female

Yet another product of Yili is a lactic acid beverage branded Changyi that is marketed as being beneficial to the ‘male spirit’ (nanshen). Most of Yili’s new ads introduced above use male bodies as icons for position various dairy products. This product takes this trend one step further by directly referring to the male spirit.

Changyi

Mengniu has launched a sweetened milk, Tianxiaohai, that comes in separate female (pink) and male (blue) packagings

MnFemPack  MnMalePack

However, the ingredients are exactly the same; no gender-related formulation.

Fresh milk (>= 80%), sugar, additives (sucrose ester, monoglyceride, carrageenan), flavour

No sharing with others

Specialists in national culture all agree that Chinese culture is collectivist, placing the group’s interests above that of the individual. This trait of Chinese culture has left a huge mark on the Chinese practice of eating and drinking, in which sharing is a key concept. A Chinese meal is typically eaten around a round table with all dishes placed in the middle, for all participants to share. An now, in 2016, Yili launches this ad.

YiliWangpai

The ad is for Weikezi Chocolate Milk and the boy is saying: ‘Weikezi is delicious, no way I’m going to share it with you’. That statement sounds outrageously un-Chinese. So, is this a sign that young Chinese are becoming more individualist, or is this ad perhaps meant to provoke? I am sure it will make more than few Chinese eyebrows rise.

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 are . . . dumplings?

What do Chinese eat, when they have something to celebrate: dumplings!

Dumplings are small round sheets of dough (flour + water) filled with minced meat + condiments + vegetables. After a piece of filling has been placed in the centre of the dough, the latter is folded into a shape that vaguely resembles a horn, in particular that of a cow. This shape is the origin of the Chinese name: jiaozi. Jiao is ‘horn’ in Chinese and jiaozi means something like ‘small horn.’ Later, the link between dumplings and horns eroded and as dumplings became an important part of Chinese cuisine (in particular in the Northern part of China), a special character was coined for this food.

Dumplings

Dumplings are an old food, as is shown by various archeological finds. According to an archaeologist from the Museum of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the three dumplings unearthed in the region’s Turpan area were determined to have been made during the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-589). Archaeologists also found two complete dumplings made during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in Turpan. The dumplings were 5 cm long, 1.5 cm wide and resembled the new moon in shape. Further research revealed the dumpling wrappers were made from wheat flour and the stuffing was meat.

Already in traditional Chinese cuisine, some variation was applied in the preparation of dumplings. While pork was the main type of meat for the filling, beef and mutton were also used, combined with different vegetables. In Southern China seafood, especially shrimps, were used as filling as well. Vegetarian types of dumplings with, e.g., eggs, cucumber slices and glass noodles, etc. were known as Three Delicacies Dumplings.

Dumplings have developed into a Chinese type of fast food and special small restaurants only serving a wide variety of dumplings can be found on street corners of Beijing and other Northern cities.

Industrial production

The dramatic change in life style of the past two decades has had a great impact on dumplings. While making dumplings (preparing the filling and the dough, folding the dumplings and, of course, eating them) used to be the number one family occupation during the weekends in the North, the quickening of the pace of life has decreased the interest in this time consuming preparation. It has not, however, tempered the love for dumplings of the Chinese. Towards the end of the 20th Century, a number of food manufacturers started experimenting with the industrial production of quick frozen dumplings (one of these, Sanquan, already ranks among China’s top food brands), to cash in on the increasing pace of life of Chinese consumers. the current production is approximately 15 mln mt p.a., with 100 – 150 kt exported.

The latest news (October 2014) is that China’s top fruit juice producer, Huiyuan, is considering to invest in the production of quick frozen dumplings. This is a clear sign that dumplings are perceived as a lucrative business.

Apart from the quick frozen mass production, there are also machines that produce dumplings for use in restaurants and other types catering business.

DumplingMachine

This video shows part of the production of quick frozen dumplings at Sanquan.

Formulation

This development has created exciting new challenges for ingredients suppliers (see my blog on the Quick Frozen Tradition). First of all, do the manufacturers of frozen dumplings buy their own raw meat, vegetables, etc., or do they purchase minced meat and chopped vegetables. Especially for the meat, it seems more appropriate to have meat processing companies supply ready-to-use minced meat. Other ingredients used in the fillings include: flavours, taste enhancers, and dehydrated spices. The dough poses challenging opportunities for suppliers of enzymes. To mention one example:  fungal α-amylase can lower the viscosity of the of the gelatinized starch, generating dextrin and a small quantity of glucose and maltose, which will make the dumplings softer and not stick to the teeth.

Here is a recipe for quick frozen dumpling skin that I picked up from a food technology site.

Ingredient Volume (gr.)
High gluten flour 100
Modified potato starch 20
Wheat Gluten 6
Sodium hexametaphosphate 0.26
Sodium tripolyphosphate 0.14
sodium pyrophosphate 0.05
Sodium bicarbonate 0.2
CSL-SSL 0.3
Salt 1.5
Water 35
Guar gum 0.3
Shortening 4

Special seasoning

The booming industrial production of dumplings and the resulting increased consumption has also triggered developments in related industries. A typical example is the appearance of ‘dumpling vinegar’. Dumplings are traditionally dipped in rice vinegar before consumption. China’s top vinegar brand Hengshun is now also available in a convenient table top packing. The label clearly indicates the motivation for this variety.

Innovation

Haibawang in Shantou (Guangdong) has launched innovative dumplings in September 2014 are ‘fish skin dumplings’. The wrapping of these dumplings contains 40% fish meat (probably in the form of fish paste). This makes them highly transparent. Highbawang has clearly stated that it intends to challenge the top producers of frozen dumplings like Sanquan with this novel product.

dumplings-HaibawangFish

 

A month later, in October 2014, Sinian (Zhengzhou, Henan) has launched a new range of dumplings with well known Chinese dishes like Sichuan Pepper Beef or Lime Beef fillings. Until this launch, the fillings of dumplings, whether home made or produced commercially, consisted of minced meat and a type of vegetable as the main ingredients, with spices and seasoning as added to finish the flavor. Stuffing a complete dish in a dumpling is revolutionary.

These so called ‘high end’ dumplings are gaining popularity. During a tasting contest held in September 2014, insiders revealed that high end dumplings were good for 2.5% of the market in 2005, while that figure has increased to 16% in 2014.

Dumplings for children

Children are a major market segment for the Chinese food and beverage industry. Although a second child is a possibility now, for parents who are themselves single children, most children in China are still the ‘little emperors’ of the household who are doted on by parents and grandparents. Producers of quick frozen dumplings have also developed dumplings for children. They are marketed as more nutritious than the regular product and the skins are often coloured (typically red or green) to appeal more to the young. Sanquan‘s ‘King Shrimp Dumplings’ ended first in a taste panel test organized before Children’s Day (June 1), 2017.

Vegetarian

Although minced meat is the typical main ingredient of the fillings of dumplings, vegetarian dumplings exist as well. For home cooking, they do not pose a particular problem. However, the transformation to industrial production of vegetarian dumplings has its particular problems, the most prominent being the dehydration of the filling. Jiajiamei Seasoning (Zhoukou, Henan) has developed a seasoning mix specially formulated for vegetarian dumplings to deal with that problem.

VegDumpling

(Towards) organic

Another way of distinguishing yourself in the growing mass of industrial dumpling makers is going for high quality, getting rid of unnecessary additives, perhaps going for organic in the near future. Such a company is Chuange (Qingdao, Shandong). Founded in 2009, it produces a range of hand-made seafood dumplings. It markets its products as an industrial reproduction of traditional seafood dumplings eaten by the local fishermen. Its product range even includes sepia dumplings, marked by its distinct colour, not unlike the sepia noodles from Italy, or sepia paella from Spain.

Spin-off products

Dumplings are such a popular food, that it has lead to the development of various products related to the making or eating dumplings. E.g., many producers of vinegar or soy sauce have developed special products for dipping dumplings. Some chefs have started making dumplings using other cereals, like the oat dumplings of the restaurant chain Xibei Youmian.

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 10 producers of dumplings., industrial recipes, and more.

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.