Unhappy Meals: China's Top 10 Fake Foods
China's 1.3 billion people are hungry for wealth and riches. Too often, however, making a buck means taking a buck by foisting imitation nutrition on the unwary. These top 10 Chinese fake foods and drinks may leave a bad taste in your mouth but consider yourself lucky: you're just reading it, not eating it.
Fake Food #10: School of Hard Nuts
One can work up quite an appetite pounding the pavement in Zhengzhou, Henan province, but avoid snacking on street eats or you might end up like Charlie Brown on Halloween if you know what I mean. Remember “I gotta rock”? Buy walnuts from a kiosk in Zhengzhou and that's exactly what you might get. Good grief!
It seems canny syndicates possibly in league with Zhengzhou's dentists were taking walnuts, carefully removing the nut meats, replacing said nut meats with a lump of concrete, and gluing the shells shut.
They even took care to wrap each cement lump in paper so it wouldn't rattle when shaken by suspicious buyers. (fake Chinese food image via Ministry of Tofu)
Fake Food #9: Where's the Beef?
Alchemy: not just for medieval Merlin mimics anymore! Instead of transmuting lead into gold, though, modern China's food fakers have found a way to make pricey beef out of less-expensive pork.
All it takes is some high-grade beef extract, an easily-available glazing agent and 90 minutes of magical marination. Why bother? Well, pork may be the meat of kings but beef is the culinary choice of emperors, and emperors have deeper pockets.
Sow-ing the seeds of dietary discord is one thing, endangering your buyers' health is another. Doctors who've taken a look at the widespread practice of meat-masking state “long-term use of additives can cause slow poisoning, deformity, and even cancer.” Antibiotic-treated, char-grilled real beef sounds like a health food by comparison. (fake Chinese food image via ChinaSMACK)
Fake Food #8: A Bloody Shame
This might be the one time we'd prefer to eat the fake substitute instead of the original; the copied food item being congealed duck blood. Yeah, we get it, it's a "cultural thing" but still. Anyway, it seems that ducks (and their precious blood) are tough to find at times, what with the whole Bird Flu flock culling and all that. What to do?
If you're Chinese hot-pot restaurant chain Xiabuxiabu Catering Management (China) Holdings Co., Ltd., you sub in congealed pig blood and hope like hell (bloody hell, to boot) none of your customers are Jewish, Muslim, congealed blood aficionados or all of the above... see, there's a plan that was doomed from the get-go.
Fake Food #7: Steamed about Cardboard Buns
Welcome to the Chinese version of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, which we'll call “The Reporter Who Wolfed Down Fake Cardboard-filled Buns”... OK, not as catchy a title but an enGROSSing tale regardless. It seems that way back in 2007, a Beijing news reporter named Zi Beijiia made up a story about a restaurant owner who was fed up with the rising cost of pork. His solution was to fed up his customers with Baozi pork buns stuffed with cardboard soaked in caustic soda, pork flavoring and pork fat. Yum!!
Zi Beijiia's exposé was a little TOO successful, as it caused a public panic and an unusually intense investigation by the authorities who finally figured out the story was faked and there were no actual cardboard-stuffed buns being sold.
Trouble is, many Chinese chose to believe the fake story was real and the authorities were simply crafting a cover-up. More than a few commenters to online forums were in the former camp, stating that street-sold baozi buns tasted like cardboard at the best of times and the fake story was as good an explanation as any. (fake Chinese food image via Weird Asia News)
Fake Food #6: Bag That Rice!
You know Chinese food fakery has gone too far when it hits the centerpiece of Chinese cooking, the sacred rice bowl... and indeed it has, at least in the northern city of Taiyuan. Reports out of Singapore state that companies are producing imitation rice from potatoes, sweet potatoes and plastic industrial resin. Supposedly, the ersatz rice looks normal before cooking but afterwards remains hard and chewy. Now that's really going against the grain!
According to an official from the Chinese Restaurant Association, “eating three bowls of this fake rice would be like eating one plastic bag.” Ask some Sea Turtles how that diet's working out for them. Stung by yet another food scandal, authorities are preparing to conduct an investigation into food factories fingered for flogging phony rice. Perhaps they should be focusing on plastic factories instead. (fake Chinese food images via AsiaNewsIT and IWN)
Fake Food #5: Give (Fake) Peas A Chance
A food safety watchdog successfully cracked a case of "unsafe artificial green peas" in China's Hunan province. "The peas were an unnatural color and had a penetrating odor," according to the report on the incident. "After 20 minutes of cooking, the peas did not turn soft but the water turned green." Shuddup kids and drink your peas!
Investigators eventually traced the less than legal legumes back to a couple of small underground workshops, one of which had been operating for about three years. The workshop owner admitted to processing cheap dried peas with carcinogenic light green colorant and sodium metabisulphite, which can block the absorption of calcium. Not really a big deal since fake Chinese milk doesn't contain calcium. (fake Chinese food images via China.org.cn and Ellen Elizabeth Germain)
Fake Food #4: Formula for Disaster
Won't someone think about the children? Seems unscrupulous Chinese milk powder manufacturers aren't – they're too busy padding their pocketbooks with ill-gotten gains. Take the notorious 2009 case of 47 people accused of making or selling fake infant formula in the east-central Chinese city of Fuyang.
Scores of undernourished infants fed with the fake formula developed so-called “Big Head Disease” as a result of being fed with bogus formula containing “only tiny amounts of nutrients.” The Fuyang formula fiasco illustrates the immense scope of the problem of food counterfeiting in China.
Subsequent to the story breaking, police raided dozens of food markets and confiscated thousands of bags of fake powdered infant formula sold under 45 different brand names and made by 141 factories scattered across China. Mamma mia! (fake Chinese food image via SmartMoney)
Fake Food #3: Salt in the Wounds
Which of these salts is not like the other? It's hard to tell, they're both salty, grainy, white and... aha, one's cheaper! Unfortunately for those who like to shake a little NaCl, the cheap one is non-iodized industrial salt deemed unfit for human consumption. The practice of substituting Bad Salt for Good Salt is widespread: in a 2010 case, 12 people were convicted and jailed for up to 13 years for making, shipping and selling 788 tons of industrial salt. Even worse, this has been going on for years!
The salt-substitution scandal is particularly galling to government authorities who have enacted regulations requiring edible salt to be iodized in a longstanding effort to combat iodine insufficiency among the populace. Those who consume industrial salt on a regular basis risk mental and physical problems such as hypothyroid swelling and disorders of the reproductive system.
On the bright side, at least the purveyors of unsafe industrial salt are at least selling salt, unlike the isolated case of a man from Guangdong province who was caught selling fake pepper. When questioned, the seasoning scammer sought to justify his actions by stating his ersatz spice "would not kill people." The so-called "pepper" was actually mud. (fake Chinese food image via The Nanfang)
Fake Food #2: Wacky Waxy Noodles
Rice is nice but noodles are... not fit for poodles, if they were made at a certain production facility in Zhongshan city, Guangdong province. In the spring of 2011, complaints as to the taste and quality of starchy sweet potato noodles led to 5.5 tons of ersatz noodles suspected of being made with illegal additives.
The starch base being used to make the noodles was determined to be corn but unfortunately, the ingredients list (there wasn't one, actually) didn't stop there. Tests revealed the presence of industrial printer's ink used to achieve the natural purple tint of sweet potatoes plus paraffin wax used instead of corn which was used instead of sweet potatoes. Let's call the whole thing wax on, wax off! (fake Chinese food image via People's Daily Online)
Fake Food #1) Bad Eggs Ample
Bad enough the eggs you buy from a street seller in China may have been boiled in the urine of young boys, now it turns out the eggs themselves could be imitations... pity it wasn't the other way around.
A host of instructional videos and websites take those interested in making a $70 per day profit selling fake eggs through the production process while advising what chemicals to procure.
The average imitation egg is made from made from Alginic Acid, Potassium Alum, Gelatin, Calcium Chloride, water and artificial color. The non-eggs are secreted within eggshells made from Calcium Carbonate (CaCo3, basically Chalk).
It seems astonishing that even after buying these many ingredients and then investing the labor to craft the egg-like objects, a substantial profit can still be generated! As for the eggs, they look very similar to the real thing at first but after opening, not so much... and after cooking, the yolks often bounce – both like and unlike a forged check.
As for actually eating them, reports indicate that not only do the combined ingredients offer no nutritional value, “long-term consumption of man-made eggs can lead to memory-loss and dementia.” That's just crazy. (fake Chinese food images via Hidden Charm Travel)
Former CPC Chairman Deng Xiaoping once stated that “To get rich is glorious.” What he should have added is, “but don't do it off the bellies of your fellow citizens!”
Sadly, such is the case these days as hundreds of millions of Chinese try to keep their rice bowls filled in the face of cut-throat competition... hopefully for them, those bowls are filled with actual rice. (“Chinese Sandwich” image above via TensionNOT, top title image via Ministry of Tofu)
*** UPDATED! Originally published on February 27th, 2012
Please sign up for my latest chinese inventions articles here.