Sour is the new sweet in China – young Chinese food scientists play with vinegar

Vinegar, i.e. the Chinese cereals-based vinegar, has been an important ingredient in Chinese cuisine for ages. A famous application is vinegar-based dipping for dumplings.

Vinegar is a growth product in China. Insiders estimate that the 2019 turnover of the Chinese vinegar industry can reach RMB 9.407 billion; up from RMB 4.017 billion in 2013.

However, it was not regarded as something for direct consumption by most Chinese, who preferred their snacks and soft drinks sweet, sweeter, sweetest. Until recently, that is. The past 2 – 3 years have seen a surge in so called ‘vinegar beverages’ (cuyinliao). These are mildly acid drinks made of naturally acidified fruit juice (apple vinegar is the top product in this category) or drinks produced by mixing vinegar with other ingredients. These products are advertised as healthier choices than the traditional sugary drinks.

This product group has grown so rapidly, that China’s top vinegar producer, Hengshun, has organised a competition for students of food science in various Chinese universities to design new types of drinks, but also foods, based on vinegar. The various products the next generation of Chinese food scientists came up with is so interesting, that I will list the top products in this post.

First prize

Apple Vinegar drink

appvinegar

As introduced above, this is not a new type of drink, but the jury still awarded it the first prize due its innovative production process. Apples are first baked to the pectin of the apples in small active molecules and increase flavour through the maillard reaction. The juice is then fermented twice.

Second prizes

Cuxian-xian (literally: Vinegar Fibre – Fibre)

cuxianxian

Arrowroot starch is fermented with Acetobacter xylinus to obtain a high fibre refreshing drink.

Hua Young fruit fibre and probiotics effervescent tablets

huayoung

These are ascribed a medicinal function: increasing appetite and relieving bowel and stomach trouble.

Water melon double vinegar

watermeltwo

This drink consists of two varieties made from the flesh and skin of water melon, hence the two colours.

Third prizes

Vinegar strawberries

vinstrawberries

These are preserved strawberries made with Hengshun vinegar and honey.

Cranberry flavoured healthy plum vinegar

cranplum

Green plums (qingmei) are fermented and flavoured with cranberries, resulting in a refreshing sweet and sour beverage.

Konjac vinegar jelly

vinjelly

Fruit jelly has been a favourite snack all over Asia for the past few years, and this product adds an innovative new member to the already extended family of fruit jellies.

Vinegar love

vinlove

Fruit juice is mixed with white vinegar and flavoured with flower petals, resulting in romantic colours.

Hengshun crispy bones

vinbones

Crispy bones are soaked in Hengshun vinegar giving the bones a sweet and sour taste. It is chewy and rich in calcium.

Most innovative prizes

Filled thousand layer vinegar

vinlayers

Crackers are filled with a combination of jam and Hengshun vinegar. It is positioned as a healthy snack.

Lactobacillus in vinegar

vinlacto

Lactobacillus is added to traditional vinegar. The strain is acid and heat resistant. It enhances the antioxidant activity of the vinegar.

Best packaging prize

Vinegar lotus eggs

vinlotus

Soft sweet lotus pod is flavour with a mixture of sardines and Hengshun vinegar and a touch of chili sauce, producing sweet & sour crispy fish balls.

Best marketing prize

Xiaoxixi (laugh hi hi) vinegar milk

vinmilk

Formulated milk drinks are already popular in China. Milk is mixed with pineapple vinegar, creating a kind of yoghurt with a unique flavour.

Not all of these products will make it to the shelves of Chinese supermarkets, but this list provides a rare glimpse into the perception of young Chinese food scientists.

Apart from this contest, vinegar-flavoured icecream has appeared in China as well in the course of 2018. This photo has been taken in Taiyuan (Shanxi).

Interested? Eurasia Consult can help you get in contact with the scientists.

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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Grapes of wealth – Boxi Vineyard in Pengshui

The life of a farmer is not usually regarded in terms of wealth creation. Even though farmers can be regarded as mankind’s first entrepreneurs, tilling the soil and tending to plants seven days a week until fruits or vegetables can be harvested is hard work that rarely leads to high profits. However, trading traditional crops for plants with a higher added value can mean a lot for a poor farmer or backward farming region. This applies even more to many of China’s national minorities.

Most ethnic minorities in China inhabit the less fertile regions, like deserts, or mountains whose slopes are not easy to tend. Farmers in those regions have been living on the verge of poverty for generations. The governments of various levels have been generous in providing all kind of subsidies or aid to alleviate the worst problems, but these measures are often more like a medicine to battle the symptoms, rather than a cure for the disease.

Fortunately, a number of minority farmers with an entrepreneurial spirit have taken the initiative to learn about more interesting crops and techniques to grow them on their own land. One such farmer-entrepreneur is Mr. Wang Minggang. In modern Chinese parlance, Mr Wang is a ‘rural migrant worker returned to the countryside (fanxiang chuangye nongmingong)’. He went to the big city at an early age to find his fortune. However, he found something much more valuable: techniques to make a fortune for himself and his fellow villagers. He learned about grape growing and developed the idea to grow grapes in his home region, Pengshui county of Chongqing, a minority region inhabited by Miao and Tujia people. Although Pengshui’s soil is fertile, it is a mountainous region that until recently was a few days travelling away from the nearest city. The government has greatly improved Pengshui’s accessibility by building an impressive web of roads, but that did not provide the minority farmers with a higher income.

boxigrapes

Wang Minggang started growing grapes and strawberries in his home region, the Ayi River Region of Pengshui. However, his own plot was insufficient to yield a substantial crop. He then proposed to all his neighbours to lease their land, thus increasing his vineyard considerably. In that way, his fellow villagers had a steady income and he could reach a profitable volume.

Another great idea was to start growing ecologically from the beginning. Biological fruits can be sold for a higher price, now that the urban Chinese are starting to recognise biological produce. Wang had some problems with adapting the things he had learned in northern China to the climate of his home region, but now the grapes are hanging proudly on the vines, when the harvest time is nearing. I personally visited Boxi Vineyard on September 27. The grapes were already gone, but the sight of the vines was impressive.

boxime

Many villagers rebuilt their homes, adding guest rooms that can be rented to city people who like to experience rural life for a few days. Those that choose the Ayi River Area at the time the grapes are ripe can pick a certain quantity of grapes themselves and take them home. While having fun, those urbanites can get an idea how the fruits that only knew from the way they were sold in supermarkets are actually grown by the farmers. Even though the project is still relatively young, its effect on the villagers’ lives is evident.

An interesting side effect of this enterprise is that it has introduced crops to the Pengshui region that have never been grown there before. It has contributed to the biodiversity of the region. This story so interesting, that I will post of more these stories on this blog.

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.

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.