Shaji – seabuckthorn – the unknown superfruit

Shaji (sea buckthorn; Hippophae rhamnoides) is an indigenous fruit of North China. China is good for 90% of the world output of this fruit. It has been used as an ingredient of various foods and beverages in China for some time but is still not very well known abroad.

Shaji is regarded as a medicinal herb in TCM, but has been put on the official list of ‘herbs that can be used in food and medicine’ in 1987. Medicinal ingredients, including TCM, are not allowed to be used freely as food ingredients, but plants on that list are exempted from that regulation. The same applies for other super fruits like the yangmei (yumberry) introduced in another post.

Shaji have a high content of vitamin C, about 15 times greater than oranges. The fruit also contains high contents of carotenoids, vitamin E, amino acids, dietary minerals, β-sitosterol and polyphenols. Seabuckthorn oil is a good source for omega-7 fatty acid.

Shaji fruit can be used to make pies, jams, wines, etc. Fruit drinks were the earliest seabuckthorn products developed in China. Shaji berries are edible and nutritious, though very acidic (astringent) and oily, unpleasant to eat raw, unless ‘bletted’ (frosted to reduce the astringency) and/or mixed as a juice with sweeter substances such as juice of other fruits.

Sea-buckthorn berries combine nutritious agents usually only found separately. Its list of vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids reads like the label on a pack of multi-vitamin pills. All of these components are classified as natural anti-oxidants, which form a vital part of the body’s defence system.

Main Biochemical Contents of Seabuckthorn Oil

Contents Pulp oil (mg/100g) Seed oil (mg/100g) Residue oil (mg/100g)
Vitamin K 110-230 54-59
Vitamin E 206.9 171.0 300-600
Carotene 2.0-4.0 10-80
Carotenoids 30-250 300-870 1280-1860
Protein 95.55 7.06
Total acid 10.7 37.6
Total sterol 1093.6 720.6
Unsaturated fatty acids 87.4 % 66.8 % 70 %
Saturated fatty acids 11.8 % 38.8 %  –
Oleic acid 20-25 % 20-25 % 33 %
Linoleic acid 37.0 % 5-10 % 4 %
Linolenic acid 27.6 % 2.1 % 5 %
Unsaponificable matter 1-3 % 0.5-2.5 % 2-5 %
Total flavonoids 0.55 %

Since the discovery of the nutritional value of sea-buckthorn, hundreds of sea-buckthorn products made from the berries, oil, leaves, bark and their extracts have been developed.

China has become one of the largest producers and consumers of sea-buckthorn products in the world. Fruit drinks were among the earliest sea-buckthorn products developed in China. They have rapidly gained a reputation as both a satisfying drink and a nutritional beverage that enhances stamina and vitality.

Though seabuckthorn has been grown for many years in India and China, and its healthy qualities are well known, but it languishes behind other superfruits. While it is gaining increased recognition, seabuckthorn is lagging behind other so-called superfruits, such as açaí.

This is possibly because it has just slipped under the radar: applications are growing in the cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industry, and it is likely that the fruit will gain in popularity in the next few years.

The reason for China’s domination of the fruit is that China has long used the plant for soil and water conservation purposes. They typically grow in dry, sandy area, are tolerant of salt in the air and soil, and demand good sunlight.

The common seabuckthorn is by far the most widespread, with a range extending from the Atlantic coasts of Europe right across to north-western China. In western Europe, it is largely confined to sea coasts where salt spray off the sea prevents other larger plants from outcompeting it, but in central Asia it is more widespread in dry semi-desert sites where other plants cannot survive the dry conditions.

The female plants produce soft and juicy orange berries 6-9mm in diameter, rich in vitamin C (average 600mg/100g and sometimes up to 1 500mg/100g). Some varieties are also rich in vitamin A, vitamin E and oils.

The berries contain about 56-70% juice. However, the fruits have some drawbacks as far as processing goes. First, the shrubs are covered in thorns, which makes picking difficult. The fruit falls off the branches of its own accord at temperatures below -20°C, but obviously this method of natural harvesting will only work in very cold regions.

Entire branches can be removed, frozen, and then shaken to remove the fruits, but obviously this is damaging to the shrub. Mechanical harvesting, developed in the Baltic states, involves shaking the branches without freezing, but this method leaves half the berries unharvested and the shrubs can only be harvested every two years, so an effective annual yield is only 25%. In countries where labour is cheap, hand-picking remains the most effective way of harvesting seabuckthorn berries.

Must be blended

The other disadvantage is that pure seabuckthorn juice does not taste very nice. It has to be blended with other fruit juices in order to be palatable. It is also very high acid, so some form of sweetener (or a very sweet fruit juice) must also be added unless the juice is present in very small quantities in a blend. It lends itself well to being blended with pear juice, at a ratio of 30%. Seabuckthorn juice has a freezing point of -22°C, so it remains liquid even in sub-zero temperatures.

General consumer interest in seabuckthorn began about three or four years ago. China is ramping up its output of seabuckthorn. The total area in China under seabuckthorn is now a colossal 2.13 million hectares (ha), according to China’s National Administration centre on Seabuckthorn Development.

Of this total, 667 000ha are ‘wild’ trees and 1.5 million ha are cultivated, representing 90% of the world’s total population of such trees. The main purpose of seabuckthorn cultivation in China, as in India, is to control water and soil erosion and improve the ecological environment. The country is planting an additional 113 000 new seabuckthorn trees every year, as part of the Chinese government’s program to increase production of the fruit and its derivatives. The government is also funding schemes to develop new varieties which will require less or no watering during growth and which will produce much improved fruit yields.

Most seabuckthorn trees are planted in poor environments such as gullies and river beds. Fruit yields are very low. Under normal conditions, seedling plants begin to fruit in the third year and fruits will be harvested in the fifth year. Average yields are 0.75 mt/ha.

There are some 200 companies in China making seabuckthorn products, such as oils, pharmaceutical items and cosmetics. However, juice processing plants were first established in the 1980s, and plants to add the juice to other beverages appeared in the 1990s. In 2004, China produced about 10 000 tonnes of seabuckthorn juice.

Because of its healthy connotations, China sees it as an ideal fruit for organic production, and future development of seabuckthorn will move in this direction. Seabuckthorn is a key component in many health supplements and is now attracting attention as a component in juice drinks.

Shanxi-based enterprises unite

Shanxi province, China’s main producing areas of sea-buckthorn, set up an industrial association in Taiyuan, capital of the province, hoping to unite local enterprises to build their brands. This move came as most of the province’s sea buckthorn processing, production, and sales enterprises are facing operational difficulties. They hope to cooperate and adjust their industrial mode for future development. Statistics show Shanxi has more than 400,000 hectares of sea-buckthorn shrubs, accounting for nearly 70% of wild sea buckthorn across the country. Due to difficult harvest conditions and a long ramp-up time of 6 to 8 years buckthorn is a relatively expensive raw material.

However, in Shanxi, the fruits of sea buckthorn are commonly sold as fruit juice. The sea buckthorn industry is still at a very preliminary level as it has faced a series of problems, such as lagging scientific research, a lack of high-end products, small scale, poor marketing, and differentiated production standards. Other factors such as Internet sales and strong competition have squeezed the market share of Shanxi’s sea-buckthorn production companies. With its establishment, the association will help integrate industrial resources, give full play to their technology and talented people, and connect companies, bases, and farmers to form industrialization development modes.

Product overview

In this section I am introducing a few seabuckthorn-based products made in China to indicate how the fruit is currently used as a food ingredient.

Fine powder

Pure superfine seabuckthorn powder, void of any additive. Producer: Jinliang Food Technology Co., Ltd. (Shanghai).

Tea

Seabuckthorn tea produced by Wanmei (Perfect) China, Ltd. (Guangdong).

Ingredients: fructose oligosaccharides, seabuckthorn powder, black tea powder, citric acid, malic acid, Luohanguo (fructus momordicae ) extract, vitamin C, sucralose, lemon flavour,  ethyl maltol

Dried fruits

Dried seabuckthorn fruits, produced by Shihutang (Xinjiang). Consumption: put a few dried fruits in a cup of tea or glass of spirits (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.

 

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Formulated milk beverages in China

Even though dairy has been incorporated in several traditional regional cuisines, China is not known as a typical dairy nation. However, the industry has been developing rapidly during the previous decades, in spite of a number of food safety problems that have received global attention. The main reason is that Chinese, with support of the national government, strongly believe in the nutritional value of milk. Already in 2006, the prime minister stated that ideally every Chinese should drink one glass of milk per day.

China produced 35.31 million MT of raw milk in 2013. In the same year, the nation produced almost 23.36 million MT of liquid milk (in China, this term usually comprises fluid milk and yoghurt).

Still, a high volume of milk is consumed by the food industry. This is because, in spite of the healthy image of dairy, the average Chinese consumer still finds the taste of milk hard to appreciate.

Designer beverages

The combination of these facts, high nutrition + disagreeable taste, has created a very unique market segment in the Chinese dairy industry, including a broad variety of beverages with milk as their main ingredient, combined with a number of flavours and nutrients. We will refer to this product group as formulated milk beverages (FMB).

FMB can be further categorized in a number of ways. First of all there is the distinction between fermented and non-fermented beverages. Fermented FMB have a more sour taste and often contain probiotics.

Another subtype is what the Chinese industry refers to as ‘protein drinks’. These beverages used peanuts, almonds, soybeans, etc., as their main ingredients. They have a thicker texture than the average soft drink. A number of protein drinks combine milk with peanuts, red beans, or other of these protein ingredients, which makes them part of the scope of FMB.

These macro ingredients are usually supplemented with a number of other ingredients that can be divided in three main types:

  • Flavours: achieving the targeted flavour of the end product. Red bean milk will obviously contain red beans, but also needs a small amount of red bean flavour
  • Sweeteners: Chinese like their drinks sweet, so sugar is an ingredient in the bulk of FMB. However, with the growing awareness of the harm of excessive sugar intake, part or all sugar can be replaced by a combination of artificial sweeteners
  • Texturizers: texture is an essential aspect of FMB, and especially the protein beverages. Chinese consumers expect a creamy, thick, texture. Even Chinese who do regularly consumer plain fluid milk expect such a creamy mouth feel. Some Chinese ‘plain’ liquid milk products therefore contain small quantities of thickeners, to ensure that consumers do not suspect it to be diluted milk.
  • Nutrients: FMB are all marketed as nutritious products, healthier alternatives for the regular soft drinks. Milk, beans, fruits (e.g. dates; you will find a recipe in the linked blog), and vegetables already add to that nutritious impression, but special nutrients can be added as well. These include the regular vitamins and minerals, but also herbal extracts from traditional Chinese medicine, like Lingzhi fungus (Ganoderma).

Here is a representative example: Strawberry Flavoured Milk Drink

Produced by: Zhujiang (Pearl River) Beverage Company, Zhongshan, Guangdong

Image

Ingredients:

Main ingredients water, sugar, whole cream milk powder, strawberry juice
Sweeteners acesulfame‐K, sucralose
Flavour ingredients citric acid, strawberry flavour, monosodium glutamate
Other ingredients potassium sorbate, monascus colour

 

Many readers will doubt the nutritional value of a product like this, compared to simply drinking a glass of milk, which should be a lot cheaper as well. However, for the time being, this can be expected to be the mainstream in ‘dairy products’ in China.

Also see the dairy section in our item on cost price break down of several Chinese food and beverage groups.

New development: combination with probiotics, organic salt

Probiotics have become a pet ingredient in Chinese formulated dairy beverages. The total turnover in 2015 of probiotic milk drinks was RMB 11.98 billion, up 14.9% compared to 2014.

Huishan Dairy (Liaoning) has launched a new range of fermented dairy drinks with fruit and vegetable juice under the brand name Huawo. The company thus combines two major ‘healthy’ trends in the Chinese food industry: probiotics and natural juice, in one product.

Huawo

Haocaitou (Fujian) has launched a dairy drink with probiotics and natural lake salt imported from Australia, that it markets as a sports beverage.

Rusuanyan

Also look at the Xiaoxixi vinegar milk with pineapple vinegar introduced in my post on new vinegar-based foods and beverages.

A special subtype in this category are the imitations of Yakult. This Japanese product is so successful worldwide, that a number of Chinese companies have not been able to resist the urge to launch similar products. A recent one in this category is Yili (Inner Mongolia), that launched its Meiyitian lactic acid drink early 2018.

Government support

A discussion has been going on in the Chinese media whether these beverages should be allowed to be marketed as dairy products. The government has supported the industry in this debate by officially allowing these drinks to use ‘XX milk’ a product names in October 2014. In this way, the producers are allowed to position their products with a healthy image.

The trend for 2018: healthier formulations

Three Chinese dairy companies are ending the year by launching healthy dairy specialties. It is hard to say if these launches are incidental, or that they are part of a concerted action. However, these beverages can be regarded as examples of the new generation of formulated milk drinks. These beverages are not only formulated to mask the less attractive flavours of milk, but also add several functional ingredients.

Mengniu: A2 beta-casein pure milk

A2 milk is cow’s milk that mostly lacks a form of beta-casein proteins called A1 and instead has mostly the A2 form. Milk like this was brought to market by New Zealand’s a2 Milk Company and is sold mostly in Australia, New Zealand, China, United States and the United Kingdom. Mengniu has selected 2000 cows from its Future Star (Weilaixing) Farm as designated producers of A2 beta-casein milk. It is marketed as a healthy milk for children.

Yili: Changqing (clearing bowels) flavoured fermented milk

The meaning of the product name speaks for itself

Ingredients: raw milk, oat fruit jam (³8%), crystal sugar, thin cream, concentrated milk protein, hydroxypropyl distarch phosphate, pectin, DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono(di)glycerides), agar agar, lactococcus lactis, lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, lactococcus lactis subsp. diacetyl, streptococcus thermophiles, lactobacillus plantarum, lactobacillus rhamnosus.

Kedi: Soy milk milk

The English translation is rather unfortunate. The Chinese name, Doujiang niunai, literally means ‘soy sauce cow milk’, but soy sauce refers to a different product in English, and our default milk is cow milk, so we usually leave the ‘cow’ unmentioned, while we speak of ‘soy milk’, due to the colour of the liquid. Anyway, it is a combination of milk and (non-GMO) soy milk powder. In Kedi’s own words, it is the best of both.

UniPresident, non-dairy specialist has launched a Papaya Milk in March 2018

Eurasia Consult has a database of more than 130 formulated dairy drinks and their manufacturers + a large number of recipes for formulated dairy products that circulate among Chinese food technologists.

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.

 

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.