Monday, May 28, 2012

Gelatin Panic, Spreads From Yogurt to Mini-Dumplings in China

Just another week in the life of a Chinese housewife: first it was yogurt made from old shoes, then tea tainted with pesticides and now comes news that even the sacred xiaolongbao – small steamed dumplings, the signature dish of Shanghai – may be harbouring dangerous additives.

The week began with stories in Chinese newspapers claiming that industrial gelatin extracted from old shoes was being used to thicken the new "solid" yogurts which have proved wildly popular for several local dairies in China, where sour milk products were previously drunk rather than spooned.

Then came a report from Greenpeace claiming that even the pride of Chinese teas are tainted by excessive pesticide residues.

And now it is the turn of the humble dumpling. Shanghainese awoke on Friday to stories in state-owned media denying that their beloved dumplings are being made with commercial gelatin rather than homemade pigskin jelly. Such a denial is a sure signal to most Shanghainese, schooled by decades of deceptive state news management, that things are not right in the dumpling world.

Foreign residents of Shanghai – many of whom are themselves devotees of the xiaolongbao – might possibly prefer commercial gelatin to "pig skin jelly" in their dumplings anyway. But true Shanghainese say that jellied pigskin is the key ingredient in a true Shanghai dumpling. According to state media, the skin must be chopped up and boiled for hours, then cooled until it forms a gelly and can be added to the dumpling's stuffing: without doing so, it might be a dumpling – but it can't be a xiaolongbao.

In truth, the dumpling story may be proof more of a general gelatin panic than a real xiaolongbao crisis: Monday's story about gelatin in yogurt, which caused a bit of an social media panic, may well have spawned Friday's story about gelatin in dumplings.

The yogurt panic was prompted by a microblog entry by an anchorman from CCTV, the state broadcaster, warning consumers not to eat solid yogurt, because he said an investigation had revealed that "The inside story is horrible".

He later deleted the posts, and the head of the China Daily Industry Association denied the story in state media. But at the local supermarket, the shelves were full of unsold thickened yogurts on Friday, suggesting that shoppers may still be suffering from gelatophobia.

Song Kungang of the China Dairy Industry Association said producers would not dare do anything so blatant as to add banned industrial gelatin to their yogurts. In a country that, scarcely four years ago, found hundreds of thousands of children sickened by the addition of the chemical melamine to their infant formula, it may be hard to pacify the public with that kind of logic.

China's dairy industry has never been short on chutzpah, and rightly or wrongly, many consumers think the industry would not let a few old shoes stand in the way of a bit more profit.

Originally Posted: About Additive