About eurasiaconsult

I am passionate about many things, but the top three are: China, food and human organizing processes. I started learning Chinese when I was 14, spontaneously. In the end this resulted into a PhD in Arts (Leiden University; 1986), 10 years of working and living experience in China as a representative of a Dutch firm and a marriage with a Chinese partner (1984). During my work in a company (Gist-brocades, now part of DSM) and as an independent consultant, I became fascinated with organization theory. This has led to a second PhD in Business Administration (Erasmus University Rotterdam; 2001). I am currently combining both interests in a long-term research project studying Chinese entrepreneurship, with a number of Chinese partners. From the day I joined the company, I picked up an interest in food, not just the final product, but also how it is produced, with an emphasis on ingredients and formulation. Once more combining that interest with my China passion, I became an avid student of the cultural and societal function of food. In this blog, I hope to blend all those ingredients into a savoury soup about China, the Chinese food industry and how the organization of that industry differs from the West.

Bird’s Nests: if you can’t eat them, drink them

One of the top delicacies in China is made from birds’ spit

Yanwo, or bird’s nest, has been regarded as a rare delicacy in China until recently, when the average spending power of Chinese consumers started booming. They are not the nests of any bird obviously, but the nests made by swiftlets (sea swallows, haiyan), with bird saliva as the main ingredient.

Hard to get

Edible bird’s nests are among the most expensive Chinese delicacies and tonics consumed by man. High quality whole clean white nests can come from Sabah, Thailand. and Vietnam and can retail at well over two thousand dollars a pound. For centuries, Chinese emperors, or m more precisely: their women, has been known to consume bird’s nest to enhance beauty and aid in disappearance of fine facial lines.

Bird’s nest are exclusively built by small birds known as swiftlets. They belong to the large family of the common swallow, but only nests from three species are edible. The nests are built from the bird’s salivary secretion which is abundant, particularly during breeding season.

These nests, often found clinging to the ceilings of caves as high as two hundred feet, are built by both parents expressly for raising their young. When the hatchlings are ready to fly off, the nests, found in many coastal caves of South East Asia including Borneo, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, are then abandoned.

Some of most costly edible nests are known as red blood nests. These are commonly misunderstood. Many think the red is stains of blood from the birds; however, their reddish hue is not blood. It is simply ferrous material, that is iron from chemical interactions of various natural factors such as temperature, humidity and contents of the cave walls where the nests cling.

Medicine

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), bird’s nest influences lung, stomach, and kidney meridians, and improves appetite and complexion. Chinese commonly use them to aid recuperation from debilitating illnesses because of their easily digestible glycoprotein and other nutrients; also because of their as yet undiscovered bio-compounds.

Science cannot yet explain the healing powers attributed to birds nests. Protein is the most abundant constituent of the nests, which contain all of the essential amino acids. They also contain six hormones, including testosterone and estradiol. The nests also contain carbohydrates, ash and a small quantity of lipids. Research has indicated that the nests contain substances that can stimulate cell division and growth, enhance tissue growth and regeneration, and that it can inhibit influenza infections.

Recent scientific findings about bird’s nest characteristics highlight the presence of a unique profile of epidermal growth factor (EGF) believed responsible for repairing skin cells and tissue. This EGF is said to be responsible for their therapeutic benefits including enhancing a person’s complexion.

Processing

Techniques of processing are minimal for whole nests with few feathers, that is if they are white and relatively clean. Nests with lots of feathers, known as black nests, need extensive processing in what is considered a cottage industry. Typically this is a long, tedious, and labour-intensive task. Generally, a space in a building close to the where the nests are gathered is transformed into a simple factory. There, workers devote themselves to cleaning, drying, sorting, grading, and packing collected uncooked nests.

First, black nests are washed and soaked with warm water for up to forty-eight hours. Hot water can cause nests to expand and their strands to unravel. Too little water makes it difficult to extract the impurities. Next, tweezers are used to pluck the feathers and other foreign particles from the wet nests. Workers are trained to pick out only impurities and not destroy or remove actual nest strands. Hard corners of the nests are trimmed and removed using scissors.

Once the nests are completely cleaned and trimmed, their long strands put into cup-shaped metal molds; see an illustration of them on this page. This helps them retain their original shape; and they are air-dried without heat. Once dried, they are graded and packed for shipping. Each piece of processed, dried, raw bird’s nest usually weighs about three and a half to four grams; that is twelve- to fifteen-tenths of an ounce. To process a batch of black nests from raw to dried and to clean them can require three or four days.

Cooking

Because edible bird’s nests can be prepared in many ways, in savoury soups, desserts with rock sugar, or infused with herbs, many Chinese and others enjoy bird’s nest dishes often during banquets and celebrations. When taken regularly, they are believed to improve a person’s overall physical health and their mental dexterity.

Preparing raw bird’s nest can be done in two ways. Premium white whole nests are made to look like a halved cup putting them in to a wire frame to shape them. The more affordable black nests are dried and molded into flat leaf-like pieces. To prepare them, the nest is rinsed quickly and then soaked in warm water to allow it to expand. Then it is either steamed or double-boiled for at least two hours. Tools and types of molded bird’s nest are also illustrated on these pages.

There are many recipes that use bird’s nests including those serving them as a soup, typically with lean chicken. Sometimes, other ingredients are added to enrich the soup. Many people love bird’s nest in dessert. One simple way is to add rock sugar with or without fruit. Some people add pitted dried red dates, lotus seeds, even white fungus. Others add coconut milk or pieces of other fruits such as papaya, mango, or pear.

The birds nest has even aroused the interest of famous Western chefs like Gordon Ramsay, as witnessed by this youtube video.

Industrial age

As hinted at the beginning of this blog, the consumption of birds nests has been affected considerably by the growing spending power of Chinese consumers. What has been regarded as a tonic for wealthy ladies for centuries, is now within reach of most Chinese women. However, instead of eating the nests directly in the traditional way, birds nests are now made available in various presentation forms, including as ingredient for health foods and drinks and cosmetics.

Today, bird’s nests can be pre-prepared and bottled for convenient culinary usage. It is important to purchase reliable brands ensuring that bird’s nests are of high quality. As is the case with many fancy foods in China, fake birds nest abound. Purchasing reputable bottled bird’s nest is not only easy, but it assures that the contents are made using real high quality edible bird’s nests.

Listed

The latest development is that the Shanghai-based producers of birds nest health beverage: Yuwenqing (both company name and brand name) Birds Nest Water,  announced that it was seeking a listing on the Shanghai stock exchange on August 15, 2017. I don’t want to vouch for the nutritional value of this drink, its ingredients are listed as:

Water, rock sugar, Malaysian birds nest

One cannot but wonder how much of the ‘birds nest water’ you can make from one nest. But this news does show that the birds nest is yet another TCM product that has successfully reinvented itself in the modern world of fast moving consumer goods.

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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China’s major food regions

There is no such thing as ‘Chinese cuisine’; it is a conglomerate of cuisines

In a huge country like China, provinces are comparable in size to individual states in a continent like Europe. The same applies to the power of their governments. Provinces are important administrative units and their governments often seem to act as governments of sovereign states. China is a vast country divided by a number of mountain ridges and rivers. In the course of history, these mountain ridges and rivers have become natural barriers surrounding plains with fertile soil. Most Chinese provinces are shaped with such a plain as its centre. The role of geography in the constructing of several provinces is reflected in their names: Shandong (East of the Mountains), Shanxi (West of the Mountains), Hebei (North of the (Yellow) River), Henan (South of the (Yellow) River), etc. This is an interesting example of how geographical structure can affect cognitive processes through the formation of a network of functionally linked cities, towns and villages. People living in such a plain will frequently interact with other people from the same plain, but contacts with people from other plains will be much more difficult due to the mountain ridges, especially in times when such ridges could only be crossed on foot or horseback.

Provinces were made into the main administrative regions of China after the establishment of the People’s Republic, but their political and economic powers were strictly controlled by the central government in Beijing. With the start of the economic reforms in the early 1980s, more and more decision-making power was moved from the central to the provincial governments. As a result, provinces, in particular the ones in the coastal region, became a major source of revenue for the central government.

In the current administrative system, China is divided into 22 provinces, 5 Autonomous Regions, i.e. regions mainly inhabited by non-Chinese minorities that have been granted a certain degree of autonomy and 4 large cities directly controlled by the State Council (the Chinese Cabinet).

Key economic regions

A number of models have been set up  to reconcile the geological and administrative regions of China. This is not the place to discuss them all in detail. Instead, I will share the division Ilike to use myself, which is based on a number of criteria. The most important criterion is the geological division by mountain ridges and rivers. Other criteria include: dialect, cuisine, foreign influence, economic development, etc.

Northeast

Administrative regions: Heilongjiang,

Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia

This region includes a number of non-Chinese minorities: Mongolians, Manchu, Koreans, etc. The region is located North of the Great Wall that was meant to keep the barbarians out of China. This regions has become Chinese only during the last dynasty (1644 – 1912). The Japanese installed a puppet government in this region during WW II. There is some Russian influence in the region, including a couple of Russian loan words in the Harbin dialect (see my special post on Harbin). It has always been there, but was intensified when many Russians settle there after the October Revolution.

It is one of the few regions in China with an indigenous dairy industry. It uses wheat as the staple, including European style baked bread. The diet is rich in protein.

North

Administrative regions: Hebei, Shandong,

Shanxi, Beijing, Tianjin

This region includes two of the cities under State control: Beijing, the national capital and Tianjin, one of China’s main sea ports. Shandong is a major food producer, good for 10% – 15% of the total turnover of the Chinese food industry, and also the home region of another major sea port: Qingdao. Yantai is often referred to as China’s food capital (see my special post on Yantai).

There has been substantial foreign influential in Beijing, as it has been the national capital since the 12th century. The same holds for Tianjin and Qingdao as foreign trade ports. Shandong had been ‘allocated’ to Germany after the end of the Opium War in 1848, and German influence is still visible in a number of buildings in coastal cities, and in the production of beer and wine (Riesling). Nowadays, the Shandong food industry has attracted significant investment from South Korea and Japan, as the products can be quickly transported from the Shandong ports to Korean and Japan. Shandong cuisine is one of China’s famous cuisines.

Wheat and maize are the typical staple foods.

Central

Administrative regions: Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi

This is a conglomerate of a few second echelon inland provinces. Henan is China’s mean cereal and meat producing region. The capital of Hubei, Wuhan is a major hub for the distribution of food in China, as it is located along the Yangtze River, and along the Beijing – Kowloon railroad.

Hunan is known for its spicy cuisine.

East

Administrative regions: Anhui, Jiangsu,

Zhejiang, Shanghai

Although this region comprises one of China’s poorer provinces (Anhui), it is one of the richest of the economic regions. Jiangsu and Zhejiang are rich coastal provinces, the home regions of a number of sea ports, and Shanghai does not need any explanation.

Rice based Huaiyang Cuisine originates from this region, noted for its many sweet dishes.

Foreign influence has been also been long and intense in East China. Shanghai is China’s largest sea port, while the capital of Jiangsu, Nanjing, has been the national capital for a number of short periods.

South

Administrative regions: Fujian, Guangdong,

Hainan, Guangxi

This is by far the richest of the regions. Guangdong, actually its capital Guangzhou and its satellite cities, are good for approximately 10% of the national GDP. The region includes several of China’s so called Special Economic Zones: Shenzhen and Zhuhai in Guangdong, Xiamen in Fujian and the entire Hainan region.

The first foreign concessions in China were located in Guangzhou and the long-time colonisation of Hong Kong and Macao have added to a strong European influence in South China. The Cantonese dialect, based on the dialect of Guangzhou, has become the Lingua Franca of overseas Chinese in Europe and North America.

This is also reflected in the local cuisines. E.g. Cantonese Cuisine includes several milk based dishes.

Southwest

Administrative regions: Guizhou,

Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing

This is the  region of China bordering Myanmar, Vietnam, etc. This is reflected in the fact that this region has a large number of non-Chinese minorities, and a lively border trade.

Sichuan is China’s most populous province and Chongqing China’s most populous city, while Chongqing is one of the four cities directly under the central government.

Yunnan, in particular the Pu’er region, is known for its tea, but has more recently developed in one of the world’s main centre’s of coffee production.

Sichuan Cuisine, known for its liberal use of chili, is one of China’s best known cuisines abroad. However, China’s most famous chili brand is still Laoganma.

West

Administrative regions: Gansu,

Shaanxi, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Tibet

This is a conglomerate of regions with a large variation in nationalities, religions, climates and cuisines. The aspect that binds them is that they are the least developed regions of China. Politically, some of them, in particular Xinjiang and Tibet, are also regions with regular ethnic conflicts. Islam is the major religion in Xinjiang and discussions regarding Halal food have increased in China recently.

The central government has been investing heavily in this region recently and is also stimulating Chinese companies to invest in the West. Tourism is one of the most promising sectors of the economy. Shaanxi’s capital Xi’an is known for the Terracotta Army, West Gansu for the Dunhuang caves with Buddhist frescos. Gansu and Xinjiang attract large numbers of Japanese tourists.

Meat (with emphasis on beef and mutton, of course) is an important ingredient of the local cuisines, while the staple food consists of a mix of various cereals. Agriculturally, Xinjiang is the most interesting region. It has, e.g., become the world’s largest production region for tomatoes. Many Italian tomato paste brands acquire a large part of their raw material from Xinjiang.

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.

Niangao – Chinese New Year Cake

Niangao is a Chinese dessert, typically eating during New Year, but enjoyed all year round

Niangao is a popular Chinese dessert. It was originally used as an offering in ritual ceremonies before it gradually became a Spring Festival food. Niangao is a prepared from glutinous rice. While it can be eaten all year round, traditionally it is most popular during Chinese New Year. It is also traditionally eaten during the Duanwu Festival. It is considered good luck to eat niangao during this time, because niangao is a homonym for “higher year.” The Chinese word nian meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to nian, meaning “year”, and the word gao, meaning “cake” is identical in sound to gao, meaning “high”. As such, eating niangao has the symbolism of raising oneself taller in each coming year (niannian gaosheng). It is also known as a rice cake. This sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can’t badmouth the human family in front of the Jade Emperor.

Niangao History

Niangao has a history of at least 1,000 years. Early in the Liao Dynasty (907–1125) people in Beijing had the custom of eating New Year cakes on the first day of the first month of the lunar year. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Niangao had already become a common folk snack, and remains so today.

The Niangao Legend

Niangao has a legend about its supposed Suzhou origin, around 2,500 years ago. In the Spring and Autumn Period (722 – 481 BC) of ancient China, the whole country was divided into different small kingdoms and people suffered from the chaos of war. At that time, Suzhou was the capital of the Wu Kingdom. Strong walls were built to protect Wu from attacks, and the king held a banquet to celebrate their completion. All of the people ceased to worry about the war, except for the Prime Minister Wu Zixu. He told his entourage: “War should not be viewed lightly. The strong wall is a good protection indeed, but if the enemy state besieges our kingdom, the wall is also a hard barrier to ourselves. In case things really go badly, remember to dig a hole under the wall.” Many years later, after Wu Zixu passed away, and his words came true. Many people starved to death during the siege. The soldiers did what Wu Zixu told them before and found that the wall under the earth was built with special bricks made from glutinous rice flour. This food saved many people from starvation. These bricks were the supposedly original niangao. After that, people made niangao every year to commemorate Wu Zixu. As time passed, niangao became what is now known as Chinese New Year cake.

How niangao is made

Niangao is usually made from glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, salt, water, and sugar. It is delicious when steamed, fried, or even eaten cold. Many people in rural areas still observe this ancient method to make New Year cakes:

  • First, put some steamed rice into a big stone container.
  • Second, beat it with a long-handled wooden hammer until the rice becomes a glutinous paste.
  • Then take the paste out, cut it into small pieces (about 150 grams per piece).
  • Lastly, roll them out into 3-centimeter-wide strips.

Niangao Types

Niangao

Within the extensive land of China, customs vary in different areas: white rice cake is eaten in north China, yellow rice cake in the northern frontier of China, water-mill-made rice cake in southern China, and hongguigao (red turtle cake) in Taiwan. The flavors of niangao can be divided into two major kinds:

  • Sweet rice cake is usually made in northern China by steaming or frying.
  • In southern China, niangao can be sweet or savory, cooked by steaming, sliced-frying, or even cooking in soup.

Beijing New Year Cake

In Beijing, New Year cakes are on sale in many snack shops, like Qianmen Snack Street and Jiumen Snack Street, especially during the Spring Festival.

Guangdong Niangao and Hainan Niangao

Guangdong niangao is often like a soft, sticky dough, made from glutinous rice flour, peanut oil, and shelled melon seeds, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Rice cakes made in this way taste soft and sweet. Hainan New Year cakes are made before the Spring Festival as gifts to share, with glutinous rice flour, sugar, sesame seeds, red dates and water as the main ingredients. There are some special ways to enjoy Hainan niangao, such as frying, baking, and boiling.

Jiangsu Niangao and Zhejiang Niangao

New Year cake New Year cake wrapped in bamboo leaves in southern China. In Jiangsu and Zhejiang (the Yangtze Delta area) choices of New Year cake fillings include sweet-scented osmanthus flower sugar, lard oil, and sweet red beans. In Zhejiang, the most common ‘year cake’  is Ningbo Niangao, made from rice which has been crushed in a water mill.

Industrial production

To survive in the present day, niangao needed to adapt itself for production on an industrial scale. Fortunately, unlike many other modernised versions of traditional Chinese foods, factory-produced niangao can stick to the basic formulation. I will take a major producer, Huangshan Tianfeng Foods Co., that produces niangao with a wide range of flavours, under the Lucky Years (Xiyunnian) brand as an example. The picture above shows the company’s generic niangao, with the basic ingredients:

Rice, water, salt.

Other flavours include:

Niangao with purple rice (basic ingredients + purple rice powder)

Niangao with pumpkin (basic ingredients + pumpkin powder)

Niangao with crispy skin (basic ingredients + sodium dehydro-acetate)

There are many more, but I would like to end with the most innovative one: cheese niangao (basic ingredients + cheese).

I have not yet heard or read any reaction about this combination of a Western ingredient with a traditional Chinese food, but I will look for it and add it hear as soon as I know.

Eurasia Consult has detailed information about Chinese manufacturers of niangao.

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.

I Love You – what Chinese do with oat

The first three words of the title of this post refer to a campaign of Xibei Youmian, a restaurant chain specialised in oat noodles. You(mian) is the Chinese word for ‘oat (noodles)’

                      

Naked oat has more than 2100 year history in China. The Chinese oat growing region reached 1.13 million ha in the 1960s, but declined from 1980s, dropping to about 0.3 million ha in 2003, the lowest in history. After that, the area increased gradually. There were about 0.7 million ha of oats in 2010, with a total yield of about 850,000 mt. The reason for the recent increase is the growing popularity of this cereal, at least partly triggered by a new successful restaurant formula.

Westerners tend to associate oat with breakfast. Oat meal cooked in water or milk is a popular alternative for bread. Oat has been eaten as a staple in a large area in Northwest China (in particular: Shanxi, Gansu, Inner Mongolia). However, while the Western oat meal has reached Chinese breakfast tables as well in recent years, the traditional shapes in which it consumed is noodles.

In the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar, people in Inner Mongolia, especially in Hohhot, eat foods made with hulless oat flour in the form of noodles, rolls or pancakes involving various flavours. Oat is the staple food there. It is a low-yield, cold-resisting and salt-alkali-resisting crop with a short mature period, contain high protein, fat and many kinds of trace elements, such as iron, calcium and phosphorus. Oat powder can be made into noodles for mutton or vegetable soup seasoned with pepper and garlic.

Regular oat noodles are usually slightly thicker than the more common wheat noodles, due to the looser texture. The most typical presentation form of youmian in China is the cup noodle; short round hollow shapes that can be dipped in a savoury sauce, adding condiments of your choice. It is this type of oat noodles around which the above mentioned restaurant chain, Xibei Youmian, has been conceived. Xibei, though deliberately written with different characters, means ‘Northeast’, referring to the home region of Chinese oat. You have learned the word youmian in the opening paragraph.

  

Yet another traditional presentation form is the ‘oat fish’. This name is based on the shape, quenelles that, with a little phantasy, look like a fish. The picture shows fishes made from a combination of oat and yam.

                            

Some innovative chefs are trying out new recipes like oat dumplings and oat pudding. Others make larger versions of the hollow oat noodles that can then be stuffed with different kinds of fillings.

 

Xibei Youmian serves oat in various shapes and other typical dishes of China’s Northwest. You can find them all over Beijing and they are crowded with returning patrons every lunch and dinner. Try it out yourself and I am sure you will join me in shouting ‘I love You!’.

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.

Enzyme applications in the Chinese food and beverage industry

I have a weak spot for enzymes, as this was one of the first type of food ingredients I worked with, when I started to get involved in the Chinese food industry. That was in 1985.

China is a huge market for food enzymes, possible the largest. This is not only due to the size of the country and the therefore equally large food and beverage industry. Fermentation has been an organic part of Chinese food processing since the Chinese starting recording their history in writing. All the ways one can change the flavour, texture and preservability of raw foods with microorganisms all boil down to the enzymes secreted by the bacteria and moulds. While identifying and producing single enzymes did not start in China, most applications found an eager market there. If you can brew more beer from the same volume of raw materials, than by all means do so. No considerations like Reinheitsgebote in China.

Apart from the use of enzymes in innovative production processes, enzymes can also be employed to turn offal from the food processing industry into valuable ingredients. And again, because of the mere size of the country, the domestic food and beverage industry produces an awful lot of offal each single day.

The road from the first attempts of producing indigenous single enzymes in China took off slowly in the early 1980s, but within a decade, the first exports of Chinese made industrial enzymes took place. Today, multinationals in this industry have to compete with a growing number of local manufacturers, whose R&D efforts generate more and more proprietary enzymes for specific applications. China produced approximately 1.2 mln mt of enzymes in 2016, with the two largest producers good for about 30% of that volume.

I have mentioned some enzyme applications in earlier posts, like the production of steamed bread (mantou). In this post, I will provide an overall summary the most important application areas of food enzymes in China.

Brewing

Adjunct cooking

Rice is relatively cheap in China, while most of the barley has to be imported. Virtually all Chinese brewers therefore use rice as adjunct, which calls for a thermostable alpha-amylase to properly liquefy the rice, before mixing it with mashed barley. 30% is the typical ratio of rice to malt, but with a really thermostable enzyme, you can increase up to 50%. Multinational suppliers still rule in this market, but the number of local producers of this enzyme is increasing.

Mashing

Unlike the liquefaction of the rice, enzymes, single beta-glucanases or compound products, are not obligatory in the mash tun. Compound enzymes as provided by the main multinationals are used in China, but not by all brewers. The larger the plant the more added value can be generated from using such products. Domestic enzyme producers are slowly gaining ground in this market as well.

Other

Adding papain for clarification and glucose oxidase for keeping beer fresh longer are very common in Chinese breweries. Both enzymes are produced in high quantity and quality domestically.

Spirits (baijiu)

As a traditional Chinese product, data for this industry are scarce and unreliable. Enzymes are reportedly widely used in the saccharification of the raw materials, but I assume that it will be mainly domestic generic enzymes, the cheaper the better.

Rice wine

Some rice wine producers use glucoamylase to improve the saccharification of the fermentation broth. Thermostable alpha-amylase, cellulase and neutral protease are also used, the latter for improving the flavour. In view of the positive publications, it can be expected that the use of enzymes will increase in this application, possibly to 100%. The reason for the slower adoption is probably that this is an indigenous Chinese application, which has escaped the radar of the multinationals. As this is a traditional Chinese product, this is mainly a segment for domestic enzymes.

Wine

Part of the wineries use enzymes, but figures indicating penetration and who are the main suppliers are lacking. Based on Chinese practice, we may assume that the smaller wineries will be more willing to use enzymes, in particular for clarification, than the larger ones that are preoccupied with creating an image of being (able to compare with) classic wine makers. All international suppliers are investing in marketing their enzymes for this application, but I have not found indications for serious use in practice.

Fruit juice

Apple

China is good for almost half of the global apple production. The country is therefore also the producer of apple juice concentrate (AJC). All apple juice concentrate (AJC) in China is processed with enzymes. 100% for clarification and probably also close to 100% for maceration. Domestic production of pectinases started later that those for starch processing as used in brewing, but quantity and quality are improving. The Chinese fruit processing industry is huge and therefore forms a lucrative market for pectinases.

Apples sometimes contain so much starch, that you need to add a little amylase to avoid problems during clarification and concentration.

Some companies use special enzymes to clean the ultrafilter.

Other fruits

Enzymes are used as well, but no reliable data are available. The general trend that Chinese processors will prefer to use enzymes, provided they are cost efficient, applies very strongly in this industry.

Bakery/Cereals:

Bread, baked and steamed

Growing demand for bread and other baked goods is presenting the local baking industries with major challenges. Enzyme design for bakery products plays an important role in overcoming these. However, the fluctuating raw material situation demands individual solutions and prompt responses from the enzyme producers.

Most to all bread in China is produced with enzymes. However, this is realised in the form of compound flour/bread improvers. These will typically include fungal alpha-amylase and sometimes xylanase, glucose oxidase and lipase, roughly in that order of frequency.

After China prohibited the use of chemical whiteners like benzoyl peroxide, industrial producers of steamed bread are coping with the problem that their product is often not as white as the customers (have learned to) accept. Lipase, or more precisely: lipoxygenase, can reduce the betacarotene in flour and thus produce whiter steamed bread. Fungal amylase and xylanase are said to produce steamed bread with a smoother surface, which gives a shiny impression.

An interesting development is taking place in this industry in China. A number of domestic enzyme producers have sprung up specialising in enzymes of the bakery industry, offering products specially formulated for a particular type of biscuit, cake, bread or traditional Chinese baking product, like steamed bread. These products can be best described as formulated enzymes, something in between single enzymes and the traditional flour improvers. This is an interesting development and a potential threat for the traditional suppliers of flour improvers, once the Chinese producers dare to bring those products to the international market.

Flour (wheat) and flour-based products

As introduced in my earlier post on flour and flour improvers or those on traditional Chinese foods like dumplings, some Chinese flour companies have developed specially formulated flours for dumplings, fried dough sticks (youtiao) or steamed bread (mantou). However, these companies hardly ever add pure enzymes, but compound flour improvers as well. The workers in this sector are not really trained to handle enzymes, while adding a standard pack of flour improver to a standard bag of flour does not require any education. The top companies like Guchuan (Beijing) will have proper R&D departments that may experiment with single enzymes, but only in small quantities.

Biscuits

The most typical enzyme application in this industry is protease (papain) for the production of crispy biscuits. Domestic enzymes do that trick very well. Some companies have developed specially formed enzyme products for a broad range of biscuits, cookies and wafers.

noodles

Lipase is the typical enzyme for noodles, or better: flour improvers for noodles. Xylanase, glucose oxidase and transglutaminase are occasionally used.

Traditional pastry

Many flour manufacturer produce specialty flours for cake and traditional pastry, but only very few domestic producers of baking enzymes have so far developed special products for this category. The flagship product among the traditional pastries is still the moon cake. One domestic enzyme producer is supplying a ‘moon cake crust improver’, consisting of compound enzymes and emulsifiers, so again more an improver than an enzyme product.

Dairy

Cheese

As mentioned in my earlier post about this topic, cheese production in China is still in its infancy and most of it is processed imported cheese. However, there definitely is an emerging market for rennet and as it is a new thing in China, that market can be expected to be interested in microbial rennet rather than the natural product.

Some domestic companies offer bromelain for cheese making, but these are generic bromelains and not specially formulated products for that application. Multinationals are mentioning it in their marketing in China, but it is not likely that they are putting in much effort.

Hydrolised milk

Only a few manufactures: Yili (Inner Mongolia), Sanyuan (Beijing), New Hope (Sichuan), Bright (Shanghai) and only limited quantities. Yili seems to be the largest in this category, marketing its product to the elderly. This is still mainly a market for international suppliers, but domestic lactases have also appeared.

Savoury products

HVP/HAP, nucleotides, soy derivatives (incl. soy sauce), fish sauce, etc.

These are again mainly traditional Chinese seasoning products. As most of these typically include a fermentation step, they are highly interesting for introducing enzymes to make the production more efficient or cleaner, turn out better tasting and healthier products. Examples mentioned in earlier posts are: fermented beancurd (furu), fermented flour paste (jiang), and old soup (lao tang).

Although these are all bulk applications and therefore interesting for enzyme suppliers, the penetration of enzymes in each product group is still not very well documented. I will add more information to this post, whenever reliable data become available.

Meat

HAP

Hydrolysing meat with protease produces raw material for a wide range of meat-flavoured seasoning products. Considerable R&D is taking place in China to improve processes for teh production of HAP from a broad range of animal-derived raw material.

Stock

Proteases are regularly used to maximise the extraction of flavour from meat in the production of stock, like the ‘old soup (laotang)‘ introduced in an earlier post.

Tenderisation

Papain is the typical enzyme for this application, followed by bromelein. For both, China is now the main production region.

Reusing offall

With such a huge slaughtering industry, China is bound to be the world’s largest producer of meat offall. Treatment of it with proteases can produce a broad range of flavouring products.

Transglutaminase

TG is the fastest growing enzyme in the Chinese food industry. Applied in meat, it can help improving the structure  of meat, which i.a. makes it easier to cut thin slices of meat.

Aquatic products

HAP

Same as for meat. Some Chinese researchers are studying the synthesis of meat flavour by enzymatic hydrolysis (trypsin) of squid skin followed by maillard reaction. The skins are offal of squid processing.

Fish sauce

The traditional production process of fish sauce is very long. It can be speeded up considerably by hydrolyzing  (part of the raw materials with proteases).

Removing scales

A combination of collagenase and pepsin can decrease the damage to the fish during mechanical removing of scales.

Deoderisation

The flesh of some fish has a considerable urea content, which causes an unpleasant odour. Soy bean powder contains urease and treating fish meat with urease can remove enough of the urea to neutralise the odour.

Preservation

A number of enzymes can help the preservation of meat, in particular lysozyme, transglutaminase, lipase triglyceride hydrolase. Considerable R&D activity is taking place in China in this respect.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Considerable R&D is also going on in China to develop enzymatic process for TCM. An example mentioned in an earlier post is enzymatic hydrolysis to produce sea cucumber powder.

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.

China and wine – a growing love affair

China is now the world’s fastest growing wine market.

China has emerged on to the global wine scene with unprecedented speed in recent years, both in terms of production and consumption. Currently, it is one of the top wine-producing countries in the world. The country has produced 11.374 mln hls of wine in 2016; up 2.04%. The national wine consumption has more than doubled in the past two decades, and only 10% of this is satisfied by imported wines. The Chinese wine import has reportedly even decreased 7.8% during the first 2 months of 2017, compared to the same period of 2016.

China’s indigenous vine species have been cultivated and used to make wine for more than 1500 years, but it was not until the end of the 19th century that wine production gained any form of scale and formality, with the help of European missionaries, in particular in Shandong province. The Changyu winery was established in Yantai (Shandong) soon after this in 1892, and retains a significant position in Chinese wine today.

changyu

At the turn of the new millennium there were an estimated 450,000 ha under vine in China, including classic varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that were introduced by foreign investors along with Western winemaking techniques. Today, many international wine companies have interests in China, including Moet Hennessy, Remy Cointreau, Pernod Ricard, Torres and the Bordeaux families of Lurton and Barons de Rothschild (of Cheval Blanc and Lafite Rothschild respectively).

China’s wine industry has experienced unprecedented growth in the past decade, and millions of dollars have been invested in establishing a wine tourism industry. However, this growth has not been without controversy: wine counterfeiting has been a major issue and the quality of Chinese wine is thus far patchy, ranging from excellent to undrinkable.

In this blog, I will introduce China’s main wine regions.

wineregions

Hebei

Hebei province, the capital city of Beijing and port city of Tianjin are de facto one region. The province spans 6 degrees of latitude between 36°N and 42°N and is home to a wide range of landscapes, from the floodplains of the Yellow River in the south to the Yan Mountains in the north. A wine industry surrounding the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety has sprung up in Hebei and there are also some smaller plantings of Chardonnay, Merlot and Marselan.

Despite the proximity of the Bohai Sea, the climate in Hebei is more continental than maritime. Hot, humid summers are followed by cold, dry winters that are subject to freezing winds from Siberia. Hebei is affected by the East Asian Monsoon, a weather system that brings cool, moist air from the Pacific and Indian oceans and causes rain when this collides with warmer air over the continent. Most rainfall occurs during the summer, and growers in certain parts of the province must be wary of the dangers of fungal vine diseases in the late summer and early fall.

Huailai sits in the shadow of the Great Wall of China in the hills surrounding Beijing and is home to several large Chinese producers. Among these is Greatwall, one of the country’s most famous wine producers. As in many parts of China, there is significant interest from French producers, and the Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard was planted in the late 1990s as a joint venture between the French and Chinese governments. Huailai’s terroir has proved well suited to viticulture, with the close proximity to Beijing’s large population providing an excellent added incentive for the development of a wine industry here. Vineyards at altitudes up to 1000 m above sea level have a much cooler climate than Beijing, and high levels of sunshine ensure that grapes receive ample sunshine for ripening.

Changli is situated on the coast just south of Qinhuangdao. Cabernet Sauvignon vines are planted in the agriculturally suitable land surrounding the city, and several large producers are located here.

Tianjin is a municipality on the east coast of China, close to Beijing. Some viticulture takes place along the Jiyan River in the east of the region. A small amount of wine is made here from Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat Hamburg and Chardonnay. Although the terroir in Tianjin is not ideal for grape-growing, the region’s main viticultural advantage is its proximity to Beijing. Dynasty Wines, one of China’s largest wine companies and a joint venture with the French company Remy Cointreau, is based in Tianjin and makes wines from grapes grown within the municipality as well as from those grown in more-famous regions such as Ningxia.

dynasty

Ningxia

Ningxia is a rapidly emerging wine-producing region in the central-north of China. The wide, heavily irrigated valley between the Yellow River and the base of Helan Mountain has proved to be one of China’s most promising vineyard areas. A range of wines are made here from grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt and Chardonnay and they vary in quality from insipid to excellent.

While Ningxia covers 66,000 sq km, most viticulture takes place in a 160 km river valley in the very north of the region. Here, the Yellow River provides sufficient water for irrigation and the arid landscape has been transformed into arable land well suited to the production of wine.

Ningxia has a thoroughly continental climate, its eastern border lying some 950 km from the nearest ocean. The summers are hot, although the high altitude of the vineyards (some more than 1200 m above sea level) helps to create a suitable climate for wine-growing. At this altitude, intense sunlight during the day is followed by much cooler nights. This diurnal temperature shift – which is exacerbated by the lack of moisture in the air – helps to slow ripening in the grapes, leading to a balance of phenols and acidity.

The short growing season in Ningxia is followed by a long, cold winter, and vines must be protected from freezing temperatures with an insulating mound of dirt piled around the base of the plant. While this is an expensive and time-consuming task, the abundance of labour in China means that it is much easier than in other parts of the world, adding a human element into the overall terroir of Ningxia.

The land at the base of Helan Mountain is part of the Yellow River floodplain, and the soils have been deposited over time by both the river and from material washed down from the mountains. These pebbly, sandy soils are free draining and have low fertility, which lessens both vigour and yield in the vine, leading to smaller, more-concentrated berries.

Helan Mountain, is particularly well regarded and in 2003 became China’s first official appellation, recognized by the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. A 2009 Helan Qing Xue Jia Bei Lan Cabernet blend made in Helan Mountain won a major trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2010. The terroir of Ningxia has not escaped international attention, and companies such as Pernod Ricard and Moet Hennessy have interests in the region, along with some of China’s largest producers. Some commentators have been quick to point out that the slower-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is perhaps not suited to the shorter growing season here. But Chardonnay and Riesling perform well, and some vignerons have expressed interest in experimenting with Syrah and the production of sparkling wine.

Shandong

Shandong is one of China’s oldest wine-producing regions. Cabernet Gernischt, Riesling and Chardonnay are the most important grape varieties grown in the province. The most viticulturally important part of the province is the 274 km Shandong Peninsula (also known as the Jiaodong Peninsula) that juts into the Yellow Sea toward Korea. The Yantai International Wine Exposition is an important annual event on the Chinese wine calendar and attracts interest and exhibitors from around the world.

The terroir of Shandong avoids the harsh continental extremes of the centre of China and instead has a maritime climate, with cooler summers and warmer winters. Shandong is affected by the East Asian Monsoon, a weather system that brings cool, moist air from the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the province, causing summer rain. Fungal vine diseases caused by high rainfall are an important consideration for vignerons in the late summer and early autumn. Most of Shandong is relatively flat, coastal terrain, although the middle of the province is marked by some hillier country; the highest peak reaches 1500 m above sea level. Many of the vineyards spread throughout the province sit on south-facing slopes where better drainage helps to lessen the impact of summer rain, ensuring the vines do not get ‘wet feet’ and become waterlogged.

Shanxi

Shanxi covers a mountainous loess plateau between the western desert and the coastal plain, Shanxi is becoming increasingly well-known for its wines. These are made predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Chardonnay and Merlot. The province of Hebei is on the eastern border, and the Yellow River makes up the western edge of the province. China’s capital city, Beijing, is about 400 km from the Shanxi capital of Taiyuan, where much of the province’s viticulture takes place. Grace Vineyards is Shanxi’s best-known grower, and is one of China’s most highly regarded producers in terms of quality. Its Shanxi vineyards are located on the deep sandy loam soils outside of Taiyuan, where excellent drainage allows the vines to grow deep root systems, encouraging the health of the vine.

gracevinyard

Shanxi has a continental climate, but is still affected by the East Asian Monsoon, which brings cool, moist air from the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the warmer land, causing rain. Most of the annual rainfall occurs in summer, and high levels of humidity can promote fungal vine diseases such as mildew. However, this rain is inconsistent from vintage to vintage, and Shanxi’s high altitude and high levels of sunshine mean that in years when there is less rain, high diurnal temperature variation results in grapes with a balance of phenolic ripeness and acidity, leading to good quality wines. Winters in Shanxi are cold and dry, due to far-reaching weather systems from Siberia. As temperatures drop below freezing, growers must bury the vines to insulate them from the devastating cold over the winter. While this is an expensive and time-consuming process, an abundance of labour means that it is possible in this part of China.

Xinjiang

Xinjiang is mostly associated with light, uncomplicated wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot. Xinjiang covers 1.6 million sq km. Much of this area is either desert or mountain, and Xinjiang is cut neatly in two by the Tianshan mountain range. It is along the southern edge of these mountains that most viticulture takes place, particularly surrounding the cities of Turpan and Bayingol.

Xinjiang’s climate is truly continental: the region contains the point on land that is furthest from any ocean. It is officially classed as a semi-arid desert climate on the Koppen climate scale, and is characterized by hot summers and very cold winters. Ample sunshine during the growing season ensures the grapes can reach full ripeness, and the low annual rainfall means that there is little pressure from fungal vine diseases. The vines are subject to winter freezes, and as such are buried during the winter for insulation. On the northern side of the mountains, where the climate is cooler and slightly more precipitous, several growers are enjoying considerable success with the production of ice wine, mostly made from the hybrid Vidal grape variety.

Wine has been made in this part of China for around 3000 years. Greek settlers brought vines and farming methods around 300 BC, and 13th Century explorer Marco Polo described Xinjiang grape wines in his writings. Although Xinjiang is currently better known for bulk wine production, the viticultural sector here is seeking to improve its winemaking techniques and select better cultivars in order to markedly increase both the quantity and quality of the wines. As a result, the region is beginning to attract attention from international investors, winemakers and consumers. Loulan wine has won an award at a Hong Kong wine tasting event.

Yunnan

Yunnan is a province in the south of China. The tropical, mountainous terrain in this part of the country is supporting an increasing amount of viticulture, mostly based around the mysterious hybrid varieties Rose Honey, French Wild and Crystal.

A chain of mountains runs through the western part of Yunnan’s 394,000 sq km, giving rise to a landscape that is not well suited to commercial, large-scale agriculture. However, the warm climate is moderated by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the growing season here is correspondingly long and favourable. A selection of crops, including rice, tea, coffee, wheat and tobacco, is produced on the few areas of arable land available in Yunnan. Viticulture has become an important part of the agricultural economy here, particularly in the past few decades. Yunnan lies between latitudes 21°N to 29°N, which is similar to the Sahara Desert in Africa. The temperatures usually associated with low latitudes are moderated by the high altitudes here, and vineyards at elevations as high as 1800 m above sea level are saved from the ill-effects of the heat by significantly cooler nights. The diurnal temperature variation during the growing season helps to extend the ripening period, allowing grapes to develop flavour along with acidity. Mineral resources are abundant in Yunnan, and as a result, soils throughout the province are rich in minerals.

Since the 1980s, Yunnan producers have focused more carefully on wine quality, and as in many other parts of China, international producers are starting to take notice. Moet Hennessy has opened a winery in Deqin County in the north of Yunnan (the supposed location of ‘Shangri-la’), and Bordeaux winemaker Pierre Lurton (of Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem) has also expressed interest in the province. More than 150 years ago, Jesuit missionaries from France introduced a honey rose strain of Cabernet grapes to the Deqin area, where they have been cultivated on a small scale ever since.

Chinese buyers own 2% of Bordeaux chateaus

Chinese are also heavily investing in foreign wineries, in particular in the Bordeaux region. More than 150 or 2% of vineyard chateaus in Bordeaux are now owned by Chinese, China Business News reported citing industry estimates. Seeking beyond import business, the chateau investors aim to lock fine wine from production phase for their booming home market. Bordeaux has seen explosive surge of Chinese investors over the past decade, while it took Belgian buyers about 70 years in comparison to acquire over 100 chateaus in the region, Li Lijuan, director of Christie’s international real estate market in China, told the newspaper. Chinese buyers spend on average EUR 5 to 10 mln on a chateau whose vineyard could take up 10 to 30 hectares, according to an industry works Le Vin, le Rouge, la Chine. Recent corporate investors include subsidiaries of local wine company Changyu and food conglomerate Bright Food Group and COFCO. Investment return could be as high as 10 percent for those who have marketing and sales channels in China, Li said, adding that Chinese buyers also see chateaus as a resort for family or good real estate investment given long return period. “About 20 years ago, Chinese economy was boosted by foreign capital including those from France, while nowadays Bordeax could use help from China to retain its world-class standard,” Somalina Nguon-Guignet, managing director of French property specialist IFL, was quoted in the book as saying. “France ought to feel pleased by interests it receives from foreign investors.”

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.

Fishy innovation – young Chinese food technologists knocking themselves out

After my recent post on innovative products based on Chinese vinegar designed by young food technologists, I am posting a similar blog about a contest for new fish-based foods. The contest has been organised by the National Engineering Research Centre of Seafood (Dalian, Liaoning). The assignment was again to create snacks, or in Chinese terms: leisure food.

First prize

Xianyousuoshu

xianyousuoshu

Fish meat wrapped in a mixture of mashed potatoes and minced shrimps and a little cheese. The name needs a some explanation. It is a pun on the Chinese expression xinyousuoshu, literally: ‘all hearts belong to someone’, meaning all people have someone they love. In the product name, xin ‘heart’ has been replaced by ‘xian’ fresh, umami, and shu ‘belonging’ to shu ‘potato’ (same sound, different character). So, the literal name translates in English like ‘umami belongs to potatoes’. If this product will ever make it to the shelves of overseas supermarkets, the producer will probably have to think of more palatable brand name.

Second prize

Millefeuille of squid

millefeuille

This is more or less literally what the name says: layers of dough with pieces of squid in-between.

Niyoubing

niyoubing

There we go again, a pun as a product name that poses a challenge for the translator. The name literally means something like: ‘you squid biscuit’. However, pronounced with different tones, you get an expressing meaning: ‘you are talking nonsense’. Great. The product is indeed a biscuit with squid flavour. According to the description it is both sweet and savoury.

Zunyushao

zunyuxiao

The name promises ‘baked trout’. According to the inventor, this product is based on an existing Japanese snack using sea bream. It also contains matsutake mushrooms and a again a little cheese to add a milky flavour.

Third prize

Fisherman’s Whorf cookies

fishwhorf

These are cookies with a fishy layer, but the description fails to mention the raw materials.

Home Bei

homebei

Home is written in Latin letters. The character bei refers to (shan)bei ‘scallops’. These are scallop flavoured potato crackers.

Yumizhixiang

fishpastefrag

The literal meaning of this name is ‘flavour of fish paste’, however zhi ‘of’ has been replaced with a homophone meaning ‘cheese’. The snacks are produced by steaming fish paste coated with cheese.

Haixian Yuanwuqu

yuanwuqu

This ‘seafood round dance’ uses rounds of squid, egg, scallops and crab meat as raw materials. According to the inventor, it this product should have a huge potential market. Who will give him an opportunity to test it out?

Fine trumpets

trumpets

In Chinese, laba ‘trumpet’ can also be used for objects with a wide mouth, hence the funny name for tartlets like these. The inspiration has come from a sweet Cantonese dim sum called ‘egg tart’, but uses whelk protein in the filling. It is positioned as a health snack by its inventor.

As with the vinegar-based products, the novel foods presented in this post give a valuable insight in the minds of young Chinese food technologists currently graduating and looking for jobs in the industry. I like these contests, so will post all of them, as they appear in the Chinese media.

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.