Crab Roe Flavoured Seed Kernels – a fine example of Chinese food engineering

While celebrating Chinese New Year where it should be celebrated: in China, a saw a friend nibbling on a product that I had never seen before. As a Chinese food blogger, I had to taste it and study the packaging. The list of ingredients was impressive.

Crab Roe Flavoured Seed Kernels (fried type)

Anhui Zhanshi Food Co., Ltd.

Ingredients: sun flower seed kernels, vegetable oil, glutinous rice powder, corn starch, modified starch, salt, crystal sugar, crab roe seasoning (glucose, shrimp powder, squid powder, crab roe powder, soy sauce powder, MSG, dextrin, yeast extract, spices), food additives: ammonium bicarbonate, citric acid, tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), aspartame, disodium 5’-ribonucleotide, food flavour

Nutrition information

Energy

2120 kj

Protein

13.6 g

Fat

29.1 g

Carbohydrates

46.7

Sodium

860 mg

IMG_20150219_102750

This blog combines a number of story lines. Chinese food and culture is obvious a leading theme. Frequently recurring themes include: adapting traditional Chinese foods and beverage to the age of modern mass production and consumption, novel foods Chinese style, fusion foods and drinks combining Chinese and Western concepts.

If we compare these story lines with warps in weaving, than the wefts are a number of technical issues related to those topics. A major weft is the use of additives to reach the goals of the food technologists. To adapt the recipe of a traditional food for economic scale industrial production, additives are often needed to retain the traditional flavour, colour and texture of the food. This is obviously not a typically Chinese problem, but it appears to be more prominent in China.

Chinese are demanding consumers when it comes to traditional foods. Where many Westerners would settle for a generic sandwich to still an upcoming pang of hunger while on the run to an appointment or waiting for our plane at the gate of the airport, Chinese would prefer a steaming bowl of noodles, spiced to perfection, with condiments, succulent chunks of meat, and topped with a pinch of chopped spring onions. Who is going to cook that for you? Just try to imagine one of those noodle vendors that you can see on almost any Chinese street corner setting up shop in an airport!

So this is why Chinese supermarkets have such an astonishing number of different types of instant noodles on their shelves. You open a pack, place the dried noodles in a bowl, tear open the bag with dry seasoning and poor it over the noodles, open the additional pack with wet seasoning past, dried beef, or dehydrated vegetables and add it all to the noodles. Then infuse it with boiling water and let it all soak for a few minutes. Now you are ready to eat. And yes, this cannot compare with the noodles you regular get from Boss Wang who runs a mobile noodle cookery near the subway station, but it is better than a bland cold sandwich.

Modern instant noodles are gems of modern-day Chinese food engineering. No time or effort, or ingredient, is spared to re-create the experience of road side noodles.

These same drivers motivate Chinese food technologists in inventing new traditional foods like the product that has lent its name to the title of this post.

Chinese love to nibble on seeds. Melon seeds, sunflower seeds, pine seeds, all kinds of nuts, form an important subgroup of the typical Chinese food category of leisure food, that has been the topic of an earlier post in this blog.

EatingMelonSeeds

The seeds are often flavoured to give the product of a certain manufacturer a less generic touch. So you can buy ‘cream flavoured melon seeds’, or ‘garlic flavoured peanuts’.

The product I want to introduce here, however, has taken the process of creating a unique nibbling experience to a new level.

The main raw material are the kernels sunflower seeds. The hulls have been removed by the manufacturer. Actually, Chinese like to do that themselves using their teeth, but in this case it would be hard to add the flavoured coating to the hulls, so the manufacturer has taken the risk of invoking criticism and removed the hulls in the plant. Indeed, the Chinese friend who showed me this product was a little disappointed that she had been deprived of the pleasure of chewing on a seed and spit out the hull.

The kernels are fried in vegetable oil. The manufacturer does not specify the type of oil used.

Most of the other ingredients are used for the crab flavoured coating. We see a number of flours and starches for the coating material. The follows a list of ingredient in the compound ‘crab roe seasoning’. The term that I translate here with ‘crab roe’ is xiehuang, which refers to all edible parts of the crab other than the meat. Interestingly, shrimp and squid powder are apparently needed to enhance the flavour of the crab, like lemon juice can intensify the flavour of strawberries. A whole army of taste enhancers is called upon to make the crab flavour even more prominent. Most of these are well known. Soy sauce powder is typically Chinese product that is obtained by spicing up and drying soy sauce.

The way to indicate the ingredients of the compound ‘crab roe seasoning’ using brackets is part of the labelling regulations. It is likely that Zhanshi Food is buying the compound from a flavour company, so not blending it in house. The flavour houses are such a major group of food ingredients in China, that the annual Food Ingredients China (FIC) trade fair has set up a dedicated hall for flavour suppliers.

The single food additives are indicate by the word ‘food additives’ followed by a colon and the list of additives. This shows, e.g., that glutinous rice powder is an ingredient, but not recognised as an additive.

The use of TBHQ as an antioxidant is interesting, because it has not been very popular in China lately.

So, what is the final verdict about the total eating experience of these seeds? They are tiny morsels of coated kernels. You take out a few, put them in your mouth and chew on them. They are definitely crunchy and have a distinct seafood flavour, although I would probably not have been able guess that it was ‘crab’ without seeing the pack. The small pack is finished quickly, especially because the hulls have already been removed.

Perhaps it could be served by airlines to accompany the pre-dinner drinks. My KLM has been serving almonds for as long as I can remember, so this could be an interesting alternative. However, the ingredients list of these kernels is considerably longer than that of KLM’s almonds. The question is do we want stuff like TBHQ or nucleotides to accompany our drink, regarding how low the dosage rate? I will leave the answer to my readers.

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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What on earth are . . . saqima?

Saqima is a kind of pastry adored by Manchu people of northeast China. They were originally made for sacrificial offerings. After the imperial court of the Qing Dynasty (the emperors of that dynasty were from the Manchu nationality) moved its capital to Beijing, a large number of Manchus settled in this city. This facilitated the spread of Saqima among Han Chinese. it soon became recognised as a Beijing treat and currently as a general Chinese pastry. It is available in China supermarkets in every part of the world with a considerable Chinese community.

Saqima

Basic recipe

The basic recipe is as follows: first mix the flour and egg into noodles, fry them and then blend them with sugar syrup. The next step is to put the sweetened noodles in moulds to form a big block, which is then cut into small square or oblong pieces. Proper saqima taste sweet but not greasy, and should be crisp.

Industrial production

As all traditional Chinese foods, saqima need to go through the process of adaptation to industrial production, to survive in the modern consumption environment. Points for attention for food formulators are: the crispy mouth feel and the flavour and fragrance that should be rich but not greasy. This video shows an industrial production line for saqima.

Help from Nestlé

Hsu Fu Chi (already featuring in a number of other posts in this blog; use the search function to surf to those posts) is one of the more important industrial producers of saqima. Nestlé has a 60% stake in this company and has assisted in developing a recipe and process to increase crispiness in Saqima to draw in younger consumers. The new recipe comprises fried dough, syrup and flavorings – the latter of which could be anything from cheese, seaweed, mango or chocolate. Importantly, it said the fried dough should represent 55-72 wt% (percentage of total product weight); syrup 22-35wt% and flavoring 1.5-5.5wt%. The fried dough is made using high gluten flour and baking powder as a leavening agent and the syrup using brown sugar, sweeteners or a mix. The final syrup has to be made using certain ratios – sugar (10-25wt%); 65-80wt% glucose syrup; 0.21wt% salt and 5 – 12% water.

This is a picture of one of the packaging and the ingredients list as provided by the manufacturer.

Glucose syrup, wheat flour, palm oil, eggs, crystal sugar, milk powder, sesame seed, salt, food additives (sodium bi-carbonate, disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, TBHQ).

XFJsaqima

Other innovative producers sometimes add currents or preserved fruit pieces before pressing the blocks to create more variety in flavours and textures. The pictures shows a saqima made from black rice and also containing peanuts.

BlackSaqima

In another post of this blog tea as flavouring I am introducing a tea flavoured saqima.

Specially formulated ingredients

One sign of the maturation of the industrial production of saqima is that a number of food ingredients producers have started developing products specially formulated for this application. One Chinese enzyme producer is marketing a compound enzyme to improve flour for the production of saqima, improving the crispiness of that first bite that is so defining for a good old fashioned (though industrially produced) saqima.

A number of flour mills are supplying wheat flour with a high gluten content for saqima producers.

SaqimaFlour

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.