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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Is China the future for chocolate?

The confectionery industry is a sweet line of business by itself, but it can be even sweeter in China, where market potential and a growing confectionery culture is leading to a new bonanza of sweets and chocolates.

Chocolate sales in China grew 58% from 2009-2013. They are expected to expand to USD 4.3 billion by 2019, rising nearly 60% from USD 2.7 billion in 2014, lifted by outstanding demand from the growing urban population, Bert Alfonso, president of Hershey International, forecast in a recent webcast at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference.

High-end market

Sales of China’s chocolate and confectionery boomed over the past five years after a handful of Western brands began entering the country in the 1980s. The maturing chocolate culture has prompted Chinese consumers to begin asking for a greater variety of premier products. China’s chocolate consumption is increasing 10% to 15% a year, as living standards rise and there is a growing acceptance of Western lifestyle.

 

So far, the top 20 chocolate makers have already presented themselves in the market. In a common supermarket in Shanghai, you can easily find over 70 brands of chocolate. Most of them are foreign brands. The big four (biggest four companies in China chocolate market: Dove, Ferrero, Cadbury and Leconte) have taken over 70% of the market. Of these, only Leconte is a local brand (Owned by COFCO, possibly Nestlé’s main international challenger). Among the three foreign brands, Dove alone has taken one-third of the market.

Foreign players go into lengths to ensure the quality of their products on the Chinese market. E.g., Hershey’s indicates on its packaging that it uses 100% imported milk.

HersheyImpMilk

Major potential

China’s current per capita chocolate consumption is very low at about 100 grams a person, compared with more than 10 kilograms in Europe. Even in Japan and South Korea, the figure is close to 2 kg. However, by 2016, 340 million Chinese will be middle class – more than the population of Western Europe – creating a huge market. Greater purchasing power – and the growth of large foreign retail chains – will boost consumption. This leaves plenty of room for business growth in China.

Milk chocolate is still the favourite flavour with Chinese consumers. However, in some developed regions of China, such as in the east, sophisticated customers are more likely to choose dark chocolate as it has an image of being healthier. This flavor’s share of retail value has more than quadrupled in five years to 34% in 2013. Of all the chocolate fillings, nuts are the most popular.

Selling Points of Chocolate

What are the factors to getting Chinese people buying chocolate ? A report shows that the No.1 factor Chinese consumers consider is the taste (30%), following by brand (18%) and price (7%).

  1. Taste

It’s true that in China, taste is the most important factor, but compared to western consumers, Chinese consumers don’t care about the taste nearly as much. A report shows 66% western consumers put taste as the most important factor, while only 30% of Chinese consumers think it’s the top factor.

  1. Brand

When chocolate came to China’s market, it was branded as an exotic food product which is an added extra value. And now the brand has become even more important. First of all, a big part of imported chocolates purchased in China are for gifts or ceremonial use like wedding candy.

For young Chinese men, chocolates, especially luxurious delicately packed chocolates have become a must to show their love to their girlfriends. During the Chinese Valentines’ Day this year, half of the top 10 items sold online were chocolates. That’s why imported chocolates are sold as high class food product.

Apart from their fancy look, imported chocolates also enjoys a fame of high class ingredients. With the growing concern for health and food safety, consumers are becoming more careful about the ingredients of chocolates and imported chocolate are trusted for containing more coco or milk.

  1. Price

When chocolate first appeared in China, the price for a box of imported chocolates was sky-high. Today, chocolate has become a common food product that most people can afford. But some chocolate brands are still famous for their high price such as Ferrero because Ferrero targets on high class chocolate market where price is an important tool to show its value.

A Chinese consumer can easily find reasons to buy a box of imported chocolate for its taste, brand and price. And what chocolate makers need to do is to produce nice chocolate, promote its brand and label with a suitable price.

Local players

Local competitors are still finding it hard to set up a premier brand recognition among Chinese consumers and adopted cheaper compounds to secure price competitiveness.

LeConte holds 6.7% market share and another local company, Golden Monkey (Shanghai), with 1.5% market, was recently acquired by Hershey, which took an 80% stake in this company.

LeConteMCGM-mchoc

Ingredients listed on the packaging of domestic cholocates:

  • LeConte milk chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, skimmed milk powder, lactose, food additives (soybean lecithin, food flavour), cocoa butter 35% min., cocoa solids 40% min., milk solids 26% min. The cocoa beans are imported from Ecuador.
  • Golden Monkey milk chocolate (cocoa butter alternatives):sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, cocoa powder, milk powder, whey powder, salt, food additives (lecithin, polyglycerol ricinoleic acid ester), food flavour.

On the other hand, the higher prices of global players also scare away Chinese customers, who do not have the purchasing power of their Western counterparts. There is still room for growth in second-tier cities dominated by these lower-end products. This applies particularly to China’s vast rural population. The challenge for domestic players is to develop affordable chocolate products that apply to the various local tastes and habits.

Perhaps foreign tourists can be charmed into buying chocolate replicas of the famous terra cotta soldiers from Xi’an.

chocolateWarriors

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 123 producers of chocolate products.

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.