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, although only 30% of the output is branded vinegar with the remaining 70% workshop-style factories. Insiders estimate that the 2020 turnover of the Chinese vinegar industry can reach RMB 13.42 billion; up from RMB 4.017 billion in 2013.
A traditionally important vinegar region is Shanxi province. Qingxu county in Shanxi is often referred to as the ‘vinegar capital‘ of China.
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, with 83.8% market share in 2018, 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.
Apple Vinegar drink
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.
Cuxian-xian (literally: Vinegar Fibre – Fibre)
Arrowroot starch is fermented with Acetobacter xylinus to obtain a high fibre refreshing drink.
Hua Young fruit fibre and probiotics effervescent tablets
These are ascribed a medicinal function: increasing appetite and relieving bowel and stomach trouble.
Water melon double vinegar
This drink consists of two varieties made from the flesh and skin of water melon, hence the two colours.
These are preserved strawberries made with Hengshun vinegar and honey.
Cranberry flavoured healthy plum vinegar
Green plums (qingmei) are fermented and flavoured with cranberries, resulting in a refreshing sweet and sour beverage.
Konjac vinegar jelly
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.
Fruit juice is mixed with white vinegar and flavoured with flower petals, resulting in romantic colours.
Hengshun crispy bones
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
Crackers are filled with a combination of jam and Hengshun vinegar. It is positioned as a healthy snack.
Lactobacillus in vinegar
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
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
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).
Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.