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. 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 in that part of the world. 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.

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 generate more and more proprietary enzymes for specific applications.

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.

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.

Sour is the new sweet in China – young Chinese food scientists play with vinegar

Vinegar, i.e. the Chinese cereals-based vinegar, has been an important ingredient in Chinese cuisine for ages. 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, 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.

First prize

Apple Vinegar drink

appvinegar

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.

Second prizes

Cuxian-xian (literally: Vinegar Fibre – Fibre)

cuxianxian

Arrowroot starch is fermented with Acetobacter xylinus to obtain a high fibre refreshing drink.

Hua Young fruit fibre and probiotics effervescent tablets

huayoung

These are ascribed a medicinal function: increasing appetite and relieving bowel and stomach trouble.

Water melon double vinegar

watermeltwo

This drink consists of two varieties made from the flesh and skin of water melon, hence the two colours.

Third prizes

Vinegar strawberries

vinstrawberries

These are preserved strawberries made with Hengshun vinegar and honey.

Cranberry flavoured healthy plum vinegar

cranplum

Green plums (qingmei) are fermented and flavoured with cranberries, resulting in a refreshing sweet and sour beverage.

Konjac vinegar jelly

vinjelly

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.

Vinegar love

vinlove

Fruit juice is mixed with white vinegar and flavoured with flower petals, resulting in romantic colours.

Hengshun crispy bones

vinbones

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

vinlayers

Crackers are filled with a combination of jam and Hengshun vinegar. It is positioned as a healthy snack.

Lactobacillus in vinegar

vinlacto

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

vinlotus

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

vinmilk

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.

Interested? Eurasia Consult can help you get in contact with the scientists.

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’s breakfast revolution

Introduction

The meal that most people find hardest to change is breakfast. Most people are willing to experiment with different foods during lunch or dinner, but when you are still waking up, you prefer to do so with those familiar breakfast items. The following video gives a good impression of a traditional Chinese breakfast.

However, diets in China, including breakfast, are moving to incorporate more western-style foods, driven by economic growth, urbanization, and market liberation. Yet, few studies use microeconomic data to identify the factors driving the trends, particularly to link the rapidly changing demographics to specific western-style foods. Research jointly conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Washington State University, North Dakota State University, University of Florida, and Economic Research Service at USDA used household-level data that were collected in Beijing, Nanjing, and Chengdu in recent years to provide new insights on this issue.

The data were collected through a week-long food diary approach, asking the selected households to record all the detailed food consumption by meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), including each ingredient prepared or eaten in the meal, no matter the meal occurred at home or away from home. The tracked food items includes each item’s name, price, purchase venue, and amount consumed for that meal, which allow us easily to identify and distinguish the western-style items from traditional Chinese diets. A full list of western style breakfasts and the observed frequency for each item are presented in Table 1.

Table 1 Observed Western style breakfast items

Tab1

Western-style Foods Have Gained Significant Popularity

Most of Western-style breakfast menu items can be found on Chinese dining tables for breakfast, and they have become increasingly popular in urban areas. In Table 1, all observed western breakfasts are grouped into three categories, including bread and cake, milk, and other western foods. Each category further includes several kinds of specific western foods. Clearly, 83% of surveyed households consumed at least one kind of the listed food in Table 1 during the survey week. Of which, fluid cow milk is the most popular, with 564 households reported consumption, accounting for over 70% of the entire sample. Following fluid cow milk are the bread and cake categories, with 47.3% and 16.1% of surveyed households reported consumption, respectively. Although less frequently consumed, it is notable that sausage, cheese, and coffee, three very western items, have been incorporated in Chinese breakfast menus.

Urban households more frequently incorporate the western-style foods in breakfast as income rises

Table 2 Frequency of the Western Foods to Be Consumed In Breakfast in the Survey Week

Tab2

On average, there were about four breakfasts out of seven (in the survey week) where at least one kind of western food was consumed for each household. Income, as expected, has a significantly positive effect. The number of breakfasts included at least one kind of western-style food is 3.83 for the lowest income group, while it increases to 4.63 for the highest income group. Similar trends can be found for bread, milk, and other western foods consumption in terms of meal number. For bread, the weekly consumption frequency for the highest income group is 2.42 breakfasts, which is one breakfast more than that for the lowest income group.

The positive income effect can also be seen in terms of per capita consumption (Figure 1).

Fig1

Fig. 1: Per Capita Consumption of the Western-Style Foods in Survey Week

Women in command

Women (mothers) play an important role in deciding the ingredients on a Chinese breakfast table.The western food consumption varies by demographics, including the characteristics of the female head of household (FHH). In Figure 2, we can see that families with wives who hold college or advanced degrees more frequently incorporate western foods in breakfast than other families. It is also the case for per capita western food consumption, with 1.26kg for families with a highly-educated FHH versus 0.98kg for others.

Fig2

Fig. 2: Wife’s Education Effect on the Western-Food Choice Is Positive

Younger Generations leading the Westernization of Chinese Breakfast

Family composition also matters, but the effect differs across food types. For instance, families with children tend to consume more bread at breakfast than other families, but the difference is not that remarkable for milk and other western foods. Also, families with adolescents or young adults more frequently consume bread at breakfast than their counterparts, but families with seniors consume bread less frequently, but more frequently consume other western food products. Families with dual-career parents do not present consistent differences from single-career families.

Table 3 Effects of Family Composition on the Western Food Consumption

Table2

Regional Effects Are Significant

Western food consumption differs remarkably across cities. Beijing is leading in consuming western foods in terms of the number of breakfasts consuming western foods. On average, there are 4.42 breakfasts including at least one type of western-style food, which leads Chengdu by 0.42 breakfast meals and Nanjing by 1.23. Similar comparisons can be found if we focus on bread, milk, and other western foods. In terms of consumption quantity, however, Chengdu takes over the leading position with per person consumption of1.53kg, nearly double the level of Beijing (0.85kg) and Nanjing (0.79kg). It is noted that the differences across cities may not exactly reflect the regional difference as these surveys in three cities were not conducted at the same time.

Fig3

Figure 3: Western Food Consumption by City

Entrepreneurial activities

A number of companies have already started cashing in the above mentioned trends by launching foods and beverages specifically formulated for breakfast. Several dairy companies have launched breakfast milk, like Yili’s Oat Milk introduced in an earlier post. In my post on public nutrition in China, I selected a fortified bread from Oishi that is also marketed as a breakfast food. The common element in all these products is: get all the nutrients you need from one single sip or bite.

Conclusions

The western-style foods, in particular bread and milk, have gained popularity in China and become an important part of urban Chinese breakfasts. In the future, with further income growth, the demand for the western foods will continue to grow remarkably. This finding has important implications for agricultural production and food processing industry. Since making bread requires higher protein wheat flour relative to making noodles, fried dough (youtiao), and steamed buns (mantou). The increasing demand for bread herein is challenging China’s wheat breeding and high-protein wheat production. A potential to rely on imports might be a solution considering China’s limited land for high-protein wheat production such as hard red winter and hard red spring, and its relatively logged wheat breeding technologies.

Regarding milk, it is well known that the recent milk safety incidents such as melamine-contaminated baby formula have terribly damaged consumers’ confidence in consuming domestic produced milk and shocked milk production in China. The fact that Chinese consumers are demanding more milk with the growing income and health desire, however, is unchanged according to our findings from this study. Therefore, how to supply sufficient and safe milk becomes a critical question for policymakers and milk industry to pay enough attention. The western-style food consumption is also significantly related the female head of household’s education achievement and family composition. Particularly, the researchers found that younger generations in urban household are leading the trend for westernization of Chinese breakfasts. Since people often formed their food preferences at young and will stick on when aging, the findings thereby suggests that western-style foods will be included in all age groups in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the FHH’s education is found to have a significantly positive effect on western food consumption, both in frequency and in consumption level. This result suggests that any effort to promote western-style foods in China’s market can increase returns by targeting the FHH.

The other direction: the sophistication of traditional Chinese breakfast

Against the background of growing nationalism in China, it will be no surprise that the opposite of the westernisation of Chinese breakfast, the sophistication of traditional breakfast foods, can also be observed. A good example is a recently opened fast-food outlet of the famous Goubuli Baozi (steamed fill buns) restaurant in Beijing. Apart from its steamed buns, the menu also features typical breakfast items like jianbing and doufunao.

Jianbing resemble French crêpes and are sold on almost every corner of the street in Beijing during breakfast time. The ones sold in Goubuli include Peking duck jianbing cooked with cucumber, sliced Peking duck, pickles and the sweet paste of flour. Three other varieties of jianbing are available: traditional Tianjin-style; bacon; and seafood. The pictures compare a jianbing as sold by street vendors and Goubuli’s Peking Duck jianbing.

JB-street     JB-GBL

Doufunao literally means bean curd brains and is made of soft silken bean curd with sauces and garnishes usually served sweet in southern China, and salty in northern China. At Goubuli it is topped with crumbs of mahua (fried dough twist, Tianjin’s most famous snack), rousong (meat floss), and furu (fermented bean curd). This combination makes each spoonful of doufunao tasty and complex thanks to the savory furu and soybean paste, crispy mahua, and silken bean curd.

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.