Niangao – Chinese New Year Cake

Niangao is a Chinese dessert, typically eating during New Year, but enjoyed all year round

Niangao is a popular Chinese dessert. It was originally used as an offering in ritual ceremonies before it gradually became a Spring Festival food. Niangao is a prepared from glutinous rice. While it can be eaten all year round, traditionally it is most popular during Chinese New Year. It is also traditionally eaten during the Duanwu Festival. It is considered good luck to eat niangao during this time, because niangao is a homonym for “higher year.” The Chinese word nian meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to nian, meaning “year”, and the word gao, meaning “cake” is identical in sound to gao, meaning “high”. As such, eating niangao has the symbolism of raising oneself taller in each coming year (niannian gaosheng). It is also known as a rice cake. This sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can’t badmouth the human family in front of the Jade Emperor.

Niangao History

Niangao has a history of at least 1,000 years. Early in the Liao Dynasty (907–1125) people in Beijing had the custom of eating New Year cakes on the first day of the first month of the lunar year. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Niangao had already become a common folk snack, and remains so today.

The Niangao Legend

Niangao has a legend about its supposed Suzhou origin, around 2,500 years ago. In the Spring and Autumn Period (722 – 481 BC) of ancient China, the whole country was divided into different small kingdoms and people suffered from the chaos of war. At that time, Suzhou was the capital of the Wu Kingdom. Strong walls were built to protect Wu from attacks, and the king held a banquet to celebrate their completion. All of the people ceased to worry about the war, except for the Prime Minister Wu Zixu. He told his entourage: “War should not be viewed lightly. The strong wall is a good protection indeed, but if the enemy state besieges our kingdom, the wall is also a hard barrier to ourselves. In case things really go badly, remember to dig a hole under the wall.” Many years later, after Wu Zixu passed away, and his words came true. Many people starved to death during the siege. The soldiers did what Wu Zixu told them before and found that the wall under the earth was built with special bricks made from glutinous rice flour. This food saved many people from starvation. These bricks were the supposedly original niangao. After that, people made niangao every year to commemorate Wu Zixu. As time passed, niangao became what is now known as Chinese New Year cake.

How niangao is made

Niangao is usually made from glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, salt, water, and sugar. It is delicious when steamed, fried, or even eaten cold. Many people in rural areas still observe this ancient method to make New Year cakes:

  • First, put some steamed rice into a big stone container.
  • Second, beat it with a long-handled wooden hammer until the rice becomes a glutinous paste.
  • Then take the paste out, cut it into small pieces (about 150 grams per piece).
  • Lastly, roll them out into 3-centimeter-wide strips.

Niangao Types

Niangao

Within the extensive land of China, customs vary in different areas: white rice cake is eaten in north China, yellow rice cake in the northern frontier of China, water-mill-made rice cake in southern China, and hongguigao (red turtle cake) in Taiwan. The flavors of niangao can be divided into two major kinds:

  • Sweet rice cake is usually made in northern China by steaming or frying.
  • In southern China, niangao can be sweet or savory, cooked by steaming, sliced-frying, or even cooking in soup.

Beijing New Year Cake

In Beijing, New Year cakes are on sale in many snack shops, like Qianmen Snack Street and Jiumen Snack Street, especially during the Spring Festival.

Guangdong Niangao and Hainan Niangao

Guangdong niangao is often like a soft, sticky dough, made from glutinous rice flour, peanut oil, and shelled melon seeds, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Rice cakes made in this way taste soft and sweet. Hainan New Year cakes are made before the Spring Festival as gifts to share, with glutinous rice flour, sugar, sesame seeds, red dates and water as the main ingredients. There are some special ways to enjoy Hainan niangao, such as frying, baking, and boiling.

Jiangsu Niangao and Zhejiang Niangao

New Year cake New Year cake wrapped in bamboo leaves in southern China. In Jiangsu and Zhejiang (the Yangtze Delta area) choices of New Year cake fillings include sweet-scented osmanthus flower sugar, lard oil, and sweet red beans. In Zhejiang, the most common ‘year cake’  is Ningbo Niangao, made from rice which has been crushed in a water mill.

Industrial production

To survive in the present day, niangao needed to adapt itself for production on an industrial scale. Fortunately, unlike many other modernised versions of traditional Chinese foods, factory-produced niangao can stick to the basic formulation. I will take a major producer, Huangshan Tianfeng Foods Co., that produces niangao with a wide range of flavours, under the Lucky Years (Xiyunnian) brand as an example. The picture above shows the company’s generic niangao, with the basic ingredients:

Rice, water, salt.

Other flavours include:

Niangao with purple rice (basic ingredients + purple rice powder)

Niangao with pumpkin (basic ingredients + pumpkin powder)

Niangao with crispy skin (basic ingredients + sodium dehydro-acetate)

There are many more, but I would like to end with the most innovative one: cheese niangao (basic ingredients + cheese).

I have not yet heard or read any reaction about this combination of a Western ingredient with a traditional Chinese food, but I will look for it and add it hear as soon as I know.

Eurasia Consult has detailed information about Chinese manufacturers of niangao.

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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Potato growing & processing in China

Few people know that China has already been the world’s largest potato production and consumption country since 1978.

The humble potato, a staple of many a European nation, used to have only a supporting role in Chinese cuisine, even though it has been grown in China for about 400 years. Known as tudou (literally: ‘earth bean’) in colloquial Chinese, or malingshu (‘horse bell tuber’) in more formal texts, the potato traces its history in China to the Ming dynasty, and was popularised by French missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

As the name indicates, potatoes used to be seen as a vegetable in Chinese cooking. In home style cooking, in particular in Northwest China, where the potato is an indigenous crop, chunks of potato are added to stews, particularly with beef.

Chefs have created some deep fried delicacies, including tasty little patties and a finely shredded version of the French fry, which is sheer indulgence. Most common in the home and (home style food) restaurants, is the “tudousi“. This dish might come with strips of pork, slices chili, and pickled vegetables.

Image

Some cooks are even combining the foreign potato with very traditional Chinese flavours like the famous yuxiang (fish flavour) spice mix, creating dishes like yuxiang potatoes, shown in the picture below.

YXpotato

The ultimate dish in this series should be: Sweet and Sour Potatoes, a potato variation on the most typical of Chinese dishes in overseas Chinese restaurants: Sweet and Sour Pork.

SweetSourPotatoes

However, potatoes have started to challenge the great staples: millet, wheat and rice in China in recent years. The arrival of Western style restaurants and in particular fast food chains, have introduced potato dishes to virtually all urban Chinese. The countryside can be expected to follow soon.

Potato growing

China’s market year 2017/18 fresh potato production is forecast at 97 mln mt. The top regions, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, are good for 45% of the national volume.

The following table shows the regional output of potatoes in 2015.

Region Volume (mt)
Gansu 2,146,000
Inner Mongolia 1,883,000
Sichuan 1,612,000
Guizhou 1,503,000
Yunnan 1,444,000
Chongqing 1,017,000
Heilongjiang 565,000
Shaanxi 561,000
Ningxia 423,000
Hubei 415,000
Liaoning 383,000
Shanxi 362,000
Qinghai 362,000
Hebei 348,000
Hunan 285,000
Jilin 237,000
Fujian 231,000
Zhejiang 163,000
Guangdong 162,000
Anhui 49,000
Tibet 5,000

Potatoes are getting so important in China that the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange (ZCE), one of China’s two agricultural commodities exchanges, intends to introduce potato trade. ZCE is reporting problems with obtaining the necessary permits from the China Securities Regulatory Commission and other relevant central authorities, that are said to need time to “consider more about the development of the market”.

The ZCE has been mulling over the launch of the product for quite a long time. The exchange disclosed its plan to introduce potato futures trading in early 2012, saying the contract was set to be launched by the end of that year. Later that year, the agricultural authorities of Gansu province said all preparations for potato futures had been completed.

Potato growing as poverty relief

Guizhou and Gansu province are expanding the amount of land they have planted in potatoes in accordance with a Ministry of Agriculture plan which calls for around 6.7 mln hectares of them by 2020. One out of 100 towns or villages in under-developed Guizhou province is Lutang, which now has much of its land for potato growing. The head of the village, Zhang Wei, says they have 1.15 mln kgs of top quality potatoes that they plan to distribute to farmers for free to use on 200 hectares of land. Local authorities say that as many as 60 percent of the households in the area living with poverty see the potato planting as a good method to help them generate income and two special cooperatives have been set up to keep prices stable and to ensure income. The planting area is expected to reach just over 660 hectares by 2018.

China to import seed potatoes from the UK

A potato deal signed in 2018 is expected to bring major benefits to Scotland, with around 70% of the 100,000 mt of seed potatoes exported annually from the UK coming from Scottish farms. Seed potatoes are varieties intended for replanting to produce new plants and tubers. They are grown in special conditions to lower the risk of disease. Scotland’s potato crop is recognized within the European Union for its high health status. The potato is now China’s fourth staple crop after rice, corn and wheat and demand for fresh potatoes is increasing at an annual rate of around 5%. “The rapidly-growing Chinese market offers huge potential for UK farmers,” said UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. “According to research by Barclays, around 60% of people in China would actually pay more for a product, just because they knew it was British.”

Frozen French fries

Only 10% of the national output is further processed into various (semi)finished products.

In the last three years, China’s rapidly changing lifestyles and eating habits have resulted in a booming fast-food industry. Chinese consumers, especially those who live in large urban areas, have accepted Western-style fast-food restaurants that serve French fries and other popular side dishes as a way of life in China.

China’s market year 2017/18 frozen French fries (FFF) production is forecast at 250,000 mt, a 10% increase from markt year 2016/17, driven by strong domestic demand. Experts forecasts China’s market year 2017/18 FFF imports at 120,000 mt, about a 5% decrease, due to increased domestic production. The United States continues to dominate China’s FFF import market.

Frozen French fries require raw materials compliant with strict requirements, such as shape, starch content, sugar content, and color. Therefore, processors usually contract with farmers to produce potatoes which meet certain quality conditions. After a poultry disease outbreak and other problems in that industry, which affected Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s, the largest buyers, production of frozen french fries has decreased considerably. Although the scare seems to be over, production is not expected to rise considerably soon.

Foreign investors

Still, a market like this is bound to attract international investors.

  • JR Simplot established in 1992 in Beijing’s Fengtai district, is a joint venture between US-based JR Simplot , McDonald’s and Beijing Agricultural, Industrial and Commerce General Company and primarily produces french fries and hash browns for McDonald’s and other East Asian customers. It was fined a record RMB 3.9 million for water pollution in April 2015.
  • McCain Foods started construction of a French fry processing facility in Harbin (Heilongjiang) in 2004. The new company, which was registered in the Harbin Economic and Technological Development Zone, was McCain’s first processing facility in Asia.
  • Aviko has a production facility in Minle (Gansu) since 2008, and in June 2014 signed another project in Zhangjiakou (Hebei), near Beijing. The latter is a partnership with Snow Valley Agriculture.
  • Conagra has acquired TaiMei Potato Industry Limited, a potato processor in Shangdu (Inner Mongolia) in July 2014.
  • Farm Frites has signed an agreement with Inner Mongolia Linkage Potato Co. Ltd. in September 2014, to set up a joint venture in Chifeng (Inner Mongolia). The Joint venture will build a new french fry factory and target the premium segment of the Chinese french fry market. Inner Mongolia Linkage Farm Frites Co. will be for 75% owned by Linkage, while Farm Frites will own 25%.

Top 3 brands

Instead of looking at volumes, this blog prefers to introduce ‘top brands’ from a popularity perspective. Here are the top 3 french fries chain outlets according to a Chinese consumer site.

1 Calbee Crazy Potato Calbee

2 Tudou Xinyuan (Potato Wish) TudouXinyuan

3 Mofa Tudou (Magic Potato) MagicPotato

 

Potato starch

China’s 2017/18 season potato starch production is forecast at 540,000 mt, a 20% increase from the previous year. Imports are forecast at 41,000 mt, up 10%. On September 16, 2017, China’s Ministry of Commerce extended the countervailing duties levied on potato starch imported from the EU for another 5 years. Potato starch imports from the EU are subject to countervailing duties ranging from 7.5% to 12.4%. The countervailing duty is not the only duty that applies to EU potato starch exports to China. The countervailing duty is in addition to an anti-dumping duty ranging from 12.6% to 56.7%, dating back to August 2006. The anti-dumping duty is up for review in February 2018..

Top Chinese producers of potato starch are:

Company Location
Huaou Starch Inner Mongolia
Lantian Potato Gansu
Beidahuang Potato Heilongjiang
Yundian Starch Yunnan
Weston Potato Qinghai

Potato starch can be used to make noodles, be it in combination with starches from other sources. Shanghai Suiquan Food Co., Ltd. produces ‘Potato Noodles’ with the following ingredients.

Water, potato starch, corn starch, cassave starch, salt, food additives (sodium dehydro-acetate)

Potato chips

Industry sources estimate China’s market year 2017/18 sliced potato chip and fabricated potato chip production at 450,000 mt and 350,000 mt, a 7% and 13% year on year increase, respectively. The total turnover of this product group was RMB 29 bln in 2017.

Potato chips have become a popular snack food in China. Most international players are studying their options, and some of them, like Pepsi (Lay’s), have started local production. However, not any potato will do. Each must be precisely the right variety, grown into an ideal shape and size and available on the exact schedule necessary to supply the chip factories in Beijing and Shanghai. Potatoes grown by local farmers don’t always make the cut. Unless they are handled as delicately as eggs, they risk bruising — a common side-effect of China’s manual farming techniques and crude distribution methods. To ensure the yellowish color of its Lay’s chips, Pepsi also requires potatoes to

be low in both sugar and water content. The ideal specimen is about as large and round as a baseball. Even now, Pepsi’s two farms still produce only about 40% of the potatoes Pepsi needs in China.

Other major potato chip brands (manufacturers) in China are: Calbee (Calbee), Lay’s (Pepsi), Oishi (Liwayway) , Shanghai House (House), Carrefour (Jishijia). P&G has negotiated with a potential partner in China for the local production of Pringles.

Top 3 brands

Here are the top 3 potato chips brands according to another Chinese consumer site.

1 Lay’s Lays

2 Capico Capico

3 Pringles Pringles

Capico is the only domestic brand in this list. Its producer, Dali Foods (Fujian) got listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in November 2015. Dali is also one of China’s top producers of biscuits.

The following screenshot shows how the major brands seem to imitate Pringles’ packaging, while offering their chips for a significantly lower price.

PotChipsComp

The latest launch in this product group was from the Hengyou Group (Shantou, Guangdong). This company produces a range of potato chips under the Bidetu “Peter Rabbit” brand.

Mashed potato

The Chinese drive for developing novel foods is limitless. Baiguyou (Wuhan) has developed a range of instant mashed potato products under the Painini brand. It is packed in cups that can be filled with boiling water like cups of instant noodles. The product is available in several flavours, including: beef, walnut, curry, chicken, pumpkin, etc.

Potato-based instant noodles

Chinese researchers are developing a recipe and production process for instant noodles in which part of the wheat flour is replaced by potato flakes. This fits the efforts of the Chinese government to make the potato one of the country’s staple foods (see below) and will enhance the nutritional contents of instant noodles, possibly breaking the ‘junk food image’ of instant noodles. The following ingredients list appears in one of their publications.

Ingredients  ration (%)
Wheat flour 65
Potato flakes 35
Salt 2
Water as needed
Gluten 5
Complex phosphates 0.3
Sodium alginate 0.3
Soda 0.15

No such product has yet appeared on the market, but it is interesting to learn about these efforts.

Exports

The first Chinese potato chips were exported to the US in the course of 2015. However, it was not Capico, but Chak Chak, produced in Fuxin (Liaoning). Chakchak chips stand out by their bright colours, produced using natural anthocyanin. It is interesting to observe that an innovative product like Chak Chak can beat a generic version of the product (Capico) in getting accepted on the global market.

Chakchak

Potato as staple?

A discussion has started in China to improve the status of the potato as staple food. Vice-Minister of Agriculture Xu Xinrong posted a remarkable statement on the ministry’s website on January 9, 2015, entitled ‘strategies for turning potatoes into a staple’. In this concept, potatoes will gradually become China’s fourth largest staple food, after rice, wheat and maize. Xu Shaoshi, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission (an organization under the State Council), picked this up and added that potatoes will be mixed into bread, steamed buns and noodles to suit Chinese consumers’ taste and habits. the Ministry of Agriculture is planning for 50% of China’s annual production of potatoes to be consumed as a staple food on the domestic market by 2020.

As an emerging staple food in China, potatoes have to compete with bread, as introduced into our post on the position of bread in China elsewhere in this blog.

The Institute of Agro-Produce Processing Science & Technology of the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences is developing new applications of potatoes as staple food. One of the products in the pipeline is flour consisting of 35% whole potato powder and 65% wheat flour. Using machines also developed by the Institute, a range of pastas can be produced. In cooperation with Haileda Food (Beijing) it has developed a type mantou that consists for 30% of potato. The product was launched on June 1, 2015. The potato buns are yellower and harder than traditional versions. But they are more nutritious, containing extra vitamins and dietary fiber and less fat. The researchers have announced that they next step in this R&D project is to increase the potato content to 40% and further to 50%. Other potato products will also be developed, like: noodles, or bread.

 World Potato Congress in China

The 9th World Potato Congress (WPC) has been held in Yanqing county in northwest Beijing from July 28 to 30. More than 3000 representatives from over 30 countries around the world gathered in the capital for the top event by the global potato industry. More than 50 domestic and foreign well-known experts presented academic reports about the industry. Latest products and technologies were displayed during the event. There was an experience area showcasing potato food such as potato chips and potato mud to visitors. China Potato Expo, China Potato Congress and an international symposium on potato products and industrial development ran parallel to the WPC.

China Potato Expo 2016 was held in Kunming (Yunnan), June 27 – 29.

Experimental zone in Beijing suburb

Yanqing county in the northern suburb of Beijing is an ideal area to grow high-quality potatoes. The climate is perfect and the soil should produce bumper yields of the vegetable. Already the county has cultivated more than 10 varieties of potatoes at the seed stage. It is also the home of the newly established China branch of the International Potato Centre, a global scientific research organization that seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security on a sustained basis in developing countries. The centre will be China’s first international agricultural research institution and will serve the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.

The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Beijing Xisen Sanhe Potato Co, one of the country’s largest seed merchants, have also set up shop in Yanqing, where they have been working on new strains of potatoes. The research and development at their facilities, and the new International Potato Centre should help increase production not only in the area but in the rest of the country. Plans are also underway to open a high-tech scientific park for potato research in Yanqing. The project will be a joint venture with neighboring Zhangjiakou in Hebei province.

Beijing Hengde Jiahui Equity Investment Co。 is looking to fund agricultural and food firms focusing on the potato industry, and has set up a center in Yanqing county.

Dutch potatoes in Inner Mongolia

HZPC of the Netherlands has signed an agreement with Geruide Potato Co., Ltd. (Inner Mongolia) to establish a potato growing base in Taipusi (Inner Mongolia). The joint venture was announced to start on January 1, 2016, and was projected to produce 50,000 mt of potatoes p.a. Although not officially announced, I assume that HZPC’s thinking is based on the expectation that it will become the main supplier of the above mentioned foreign potato processing plants in the region. However, so far (last check April, 2018) the project does not seem to have started yet.

Potato songs

Feng Xiaoyan, 52, a potato farmer-turned-entrepreneur, has even commissioned multiple potato-themed songs to help promote the consumption of potatoes. On a recent day, Ms. Feng appeared on a local television station to sing a warbling tune expanding on the tuber’s delights. “Fry up a plate of slivered potato, eat a slice of potato flatbread! Potatoes are our fortunate eggs, potatoes are our fortunate eggs.”

Potato research institute

Yunnan Normal University intends to set up a Potato Research Institute. The univeristy stated that the establishment of the Potato Research Institute is in line with the national development strategies of positioning the potato as a staple food, and is also in accordance with Yunnan’s development plan for a green economy, food safety, and plateau agriculture. It has set up a virus-free potato seed repository, with more than 1,200 germ plasma cultivated in China and abroad. It’s one of the largest in China in terms of potato genetic diversity.

Drinking potatoes

Mengjian Biotech (Inner Mongolia) has developed a health drink made from potatoes. The beverage has a high content of Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). It is not clear when the drink will be available for consumers.

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 . . . . moon cakes?

Moon cakes are probably the most important type of traditional Chinese pastry. However, the period in the year that they are available is short, only a few weeks.

Moon cakes are the typical treat you eat around the Mid Autumn Festival, the first full moon of the Autumn according the lunar calendar.

The bulk of a moon cake consists of the filling, wrapped in a crust of traditional Chinese pastry dough (relying on fat for the texture, rather than yeast or other rising agent). Moon cakes are roughly divided into Northern types and Southern types. The Northern moon cakes are harder and dryer, while the Southern types are softer and moist.

Fillings can be based on lotus paste, bean paste, fruit, nuts, etc. Southern moon cakes can also contain small pieces of ham or other meats and often have a duck egg in the centre. Moon cakes are rich, eating one in the morning can easily count as breakfast as well as lunch. Chinese often cut a moon cake in small pieces.

The moon cake production season starts early, sometimes two months prior to the actual festival. Many traditional bakeries, and even bakeries of Western pastries, usually stop manufacturing other products, directing all man power and resources to the production of moon cakes. About 280,000 mt of moon cakes were produced in China in 2013.

It is big business for suppliers of food ingredients as well. Traders in food ingredients also stock up large quantities of moon cake ingredients and place extensive advertisements in the local media.

Here is a video of producer of moon cake production machines. It is a commercial video, but still gives an interesting insight in the industrial production of moon cakes.

Signature moon cakes

Major hotels and restaurants  have also started noticing the potential of mooncakes as a novel way of reaching out to the market. They have asked their chefs to come up with innovative flavours using unconvential ingredients. Some even experiment with Western ingredients. Here is my pick from the Beijing 2014 season.

  • The mooncakes of the Imperial Palace Restaurant are mainly Chaozhou-style (a cuisine in Guangdong) pastry mooncakes, which are handmade by chefs with more than 10 years’ experience, and are delicious and fresh, with low levels of fat and sugar. The restaurant claims that their products have no additives. In addition to the traditional mooncakes, the restaurant has introduced fillings made from fruit and vegetables, such as cranberry and white gourd.
  • The Westin Beijing Financial Street has packages that mix Western and Chinese flavors such as goose liver, truffle pumpkins and Chinese chestnut.
  • The Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing has 42 fillings at different prices, including some special flavours such as rose with red bean paste. Diabetics can choose low-sugar pumpkin mooncakes, and those who want to keep fit can buy ones containing cereal germs.

Moon cakes can not escape the problems of modern industrial production. Consumers want the products look, feel and taste exactly as the traditional hand made cakes, leaving the manufacturers with the problem to translate that wish into a recipe.

Image

Formulation issues

Modern moon cake production has a number of problems related to ingredients:

Preservatives

With the increase in the period between production and consumption preservation has become a serious problem. Moon cakes are an ideal environment for the growth of molds, especially the moist Southern style moon cakes. My latest bite of mooncake (Jan. 1, 2015; Jiayuan brand, bean paste filled) contained potassium sorbate and sodium dehydro-acetate.

Until mid 2000, many manufacturers included a small pack of dimethyl fumarate (DMF) with their moon cakes. This preservatives slowly sublimates, preventing the growth of mold. Moreover, DMF did not have to be listed on the packaging as a preservative, because it did not count as an additive. However, the use of DMF for food was prohibited in May 2000. Alternative preservatives are still being tested by the manufacturers. Especially the suppliers of Natamycin are actively promoting their products for the treatment of moon cake surfaces.

A company in Guangdong has developed a special preservative for moon cakes. The longer the shelf life the higher the price is no longer the case with moon cakes. Rules have changed, so have perceptions. The norm now is, the shorter the shelf life the higher the price.

Antioxidants

Traditional Chinese pastry dough is high in fat, creating that typical crumbly texture. This calls for antioxidants to preserve the flavour of the pastry. Recently publications on antioxidants in moon cakes seem to converge on their preference for tea polyphenol as the best solution. It is a natural ingredient and apart from its antioxidant property, it also has a preservative activity and protects the colour of the pastry. An interesting ingredient in this respect is tea, which adds colour, flavour and mouthfeel and also functions as an antioxidant. See my special post on tea as food flavour.

Sweeteners

Moon cakes are supposed to be sweet. However, Chinese consumers are also getting more aware of the problems caused by excessive intake of sucrose. The past few years have seen experiments with alternative sweeteners. A number of manufacturers are already offering moon cakes sweetened with polyols, in particular maltitol and xylitol. Beijing based Daoxiangcun produces ‘maltitol moon cakes’. According to the information on the package, the pastry contains 15% and the filling even 43% maltitol.

Branding

Most moon cakes are still produced on an ad hoc basis, and sold in bulk, without brand. However, a number of brands have started to emerge in recent years. The current top three brands are:

Huamei

Huamei

Produced by the Huamei Food Co., Ltd. In Dongguan (Guangdong), this is not only a noted brand, but also a ‘green food’, the Chinese designation for ecologically friendly foods, one grade below biological foods.

YuanlangRonghua

Yuanlang Ronghua

The producer of this brand, Ronghua Pastry Co., Ltd., is also located in Dongguan, but the mother company is from Hong Kong. This company has been engaged in a fierce legal battle with an entrepreneur from Shandong about the use of the Wingway (the Cantonese pronunciation of Ronghua) for many years. This is yet another proof of the economic importance of moon cakes.

Anqi

Anqi

Anqi Food Co., Ltd. is yet another Guangdong-based company, located in Shenzhen. It was the first to introduce ‘iced moon cakes’ in the Mainland. These are white moon cakes, with a skin made from glutinous rice.

Phantasy shapes

The only limits of what is possible with moon cakes are the limits of ones imagination. Any more or less round shape from dough with any kind of filling can be called a moon cake. The photo of this section shows a bear-shaped and elephant-shaped moon cake. The bear cake has a coffee flavour, while the elephant cake is scented with orange.

MooncakeInnov

Trend 2015 1: medicinal moon cakes

A trend in 2015 is to enrich moon cakes with traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients, like: ginseng, goji berries, or cordyceps (a fungus infected caterpillar). The resulting pastry can then be attributed medicinal functions and, hopefully, be sold at a premium price. This initiative has received mixed reactions from the market. However, whether it catches on or not, it has at least added new colours to the existing range of moon cakes, as shown by this picture.

MedMooncake

Eurasia Consult’s databases include a large number of recipes for generic and innovative moon cakes; and our database of the Chinese food industry includes 121 producers of moon cakes.

Weird, weirder, weirdest

It is not always easy to come with yet another novel type of mooncake. Here are some of the weirder examples launched in 2015.

  1. Chocolate mooncake with spicy beef filling

MC15-10

Ten years ago, a Chinese girl was reported to say to a boy, “It’s impossible for us to be together, like chocolate will never be with beef.” Today, it seems that everything is possible.

  1. Sour and spicy mooncake

MC15-09

The sourness of the mooncake filling is from pickled vegetables and hawthorns. The spiciness is made from a chilli sauce resembling to the famous brand Lao Gan Ma.

  1. Fermented bean curd mooncake

MC15-08

This is a variant of a kind of pastry made with fermented bean curd popular in Chaoshan, Guangdong province, similar to furu, also reported in an earlier post. The pastry is usually used as a sacrificial offering by local people on the first day and the middle day of each month.

  1. Mooncake with fillings of cream, truffle and goose liver

MC15-07

Expensive is still fancy in China. The “Louis Vuttion” of mooncakes is made with expensive ingredients of truffle and goose liver. This luxurious mooncake definitely deserves a bite.

6. Mooncake with leek egg filling

MC15-06

Scrambled egg is a popular filling for Chinese Jiaozi (dumpling). But for the first time, scrambled egg is being used for the traditional Mid-Autumn day dessert.

  1. “Shiren” mooncake

MC15-05

“Shiren” mooncakes have 10 kinds of nuts, doubling the traditional “Wuren” mooncake with 5 kinds of nuts. It’s four to six times larger than traditional mooncakes, and implies best wishes of “perfect in every respect”.

  1. Mooncake stuffed with braised pork and preserved vegetable in soya sauce

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Braised pork with preserved vegetable in soya sauce, or “meicai kourou” is a famous Chinese dish. The one made this special filling for mooncake must be a super fan of this dish. Like the scrambled egg moon cake, this variety is in line with another innovative type of dumpling reported in another post of this blog: dumplings with entire dishes as filling.

  1. Bamboo charcoal mooncake

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This mooncake is made by putting bamboo charcoal powder into the mooncake when baking. It’s said to have the function of absorbing toxins inside our bodies. As reported earlier, the distinction between food and medicine is much smaller in China than in the West.

  1. Instant noodle mooncake

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Putting instant noodles into the traditional mooncake will surely give you a special experience. The mooncakes are also marked with Chinese characters, “Diao Si”, which means “underprivileged losers” in a self-mocking way. Perhaps this refers to the recent decline in the instant noodle market in China.

  1. Mooncakes with bean-taste filling fried with tomatoes

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Moon cakes as ingredients. The canteen of Civil Aviation University of China had put forward a dish which fried mooncake pieces stuffed with sweet bean taste and tomatoes before decorating them with caraway. The dish became a hit on the Internet and is called the weirdest mooncakes.

No one wants to miss the boat

icecream moon cakes

Virtually any food-related chain in China is offering its own specialty in the shape of moon cakes. Häagen-Dazs is also joining in with ice cream moon cakes.

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Mooncakes with an academic flavour

Universities around Shanghai have begun competing to offer mooncakes with the most distinctive characteristics in 2016. In addition to traditional fillings such as egg yolk, lotus seed paste, “five kernel,” red bean paste and fresh meat, a variety of new flavors have been introduced, including tiramisu, durian, coffee, ham and beef, purple sweet potato and mushroom. These new flavors offer a real treat for teachers and students alike.

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Trend in 2018: small and special ingredients

More and more food companies whose products do not include pastry are launching their own specialty mooncakes this year. A prominent example is nut processor Three Squirrels with a range of 6 different flavours. The most spectacular one has a liquid caramel core as shown in the picture.

Daoxiangcun (Beijing) is a pastry maker, but has launched a series of relatively small colourful mooncakes based on a famous animation character Huangdoujun.

Qingxintang is a Guangdong-based producer of a wide range of traditional Chinese snacks. This year, the company is luring the mooncake crowd with a series of 6 mini-mooncakes that are promoted as vegetarian (many Guangdong style mooncakes contain pork or duck egg) made from selected flowers, cereals, seeds and teas.

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.