The Noodles that Became a Chinese National Dish During Coronavirus Lockdown

Elaine Yau wrote . . . . . . . . .

A humble dish of noodles from Guangxi in southwest China has become the country’s national dish during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Luosifen, or river snail rice noodles, is a speciality of the city of Liuzhou in Guangxi, but people across China have been voicing their love of instant pre-packaged versions of the noodles online. Topics about the noodles have become top-trending items on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, such as how they became many people’s favourite food during lockdown at home, and how the suspension of factories making the noodles led to huge shortages of them on e-commerce platforms.

Originally served as a cheap street snack in neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall shops in Liuzhou, luosifen’s popularity first shot up after it was featured in a 2012 hit food documentary, A Bite of China , on the country’s state TV network. There are now more than 8,000 restaurants in China specialising in the noodles across various chains.

The country’s first luosifen industry vocational school opened in May in Liuzhou, with the aim of training 500 students a year for seven programmes including manufacturing, quality control, restaurant chain operation and e-commerce.

“The yearly sales of instant pre-packaged luosifen noodles will soon surpass 10 billion yuan [US$1.4 billion], compared with 6 billion yuan in 2019, and daily production is now more than 2.5 million packets,” said Liuzhou Luosifen Association chief Ni Diaoyang in the opening ceremony for the school, adding that currently the luosifen industry severely lacks talent.

“The recommendation of A Bite of China made the popularity of the noodles spread across China. There are specialist restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and even Hong Kong, Macau and Los Angeles in the US,” he said.

But it was an enterprising manager at an instant luosifen factory in Liuzhou that caused the current fervour. With so much of the country in distress over shortages, when factories did start to open again, the manager did a live stream with popular short video platform Douyin showing how they made the noodles, and took live orders online from viewers. Over 10,000 packets were sold in two hours, according to local media. Other luosifen makers quickly followed suit, creating an online craze that has not since abated.

The first company to sell packaged luosifen was set up in Liuzhou in 2014, turning the street snack into a household food. Sales of pre-packaged luosifen reached 3 billion yuan in 2017, with export sales over 2 million yuan, according to a report by Chinese online media company coffeeO2O, which analyses dining businesses. There are more than 10,000 mainland e-commerce firms selling the noodles.

The report stated that in 2014, a huge number of shops selling the instant noodles were set up on e-commerce platform Taobao. (Taobao is owned by Alibaba, which also owns the Post.)

“The number of Taobao vendors for the noodles grew 810 per cent from 2014 to 2016. Sales exploded in 2016, registering a year-on-year increase of 3,200 per cent,” the report said.

Taobao sold over 28 million luosifen packets last year, making it the most popular food item on the platform, according to the 2019 Taobao Foodstuffs Big Data Report.

Chinese video sharing platform Bilibili has a specialist luosifen channel that has more than 9,000 videos and 130 million views, with many food vloggers posting about how they cooked and enjoyed the delicacy at home during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Famous for its pungent smell and taste, the luosifen stock is made by boiling river snails and pork or beef bones, stewing them for hours with cassia bark, licorice root, black cardamom, star anise, fennel seeds, dried tangerine peel, cloves, sand ginger, white pepper and bay leaf.

The snail meat disintegrates completely, merging with the stock after the long boiling process. The noodles are served with peanuts, pickled bamboo shoots and green beans, shredded black fungus, bean curd sheets, and green vegetables.

Chef Zhou Wen from Liuzhou runs a luosifen shop in Beijing’s Haidian district. He says the unique pungency comes from the pickled bamboo shoots, a traditional condiment kept by many Guangxi households.

“The taste comes from fermenting the sweet bamboo shoots for half a month. Without the bamboo shoots, the noodles will lose their soul. Liuzhou people love their pickled sweet bamboo shoots. They keep an urn of it at home as seasoning for other dishes,” he says.

“Luosifen’s stock is made from small-fire boiling the fried Liuzhou river snails with meat bones and 13 condiments for eight hours, which gives the soup a fishy smell. Non-Chinese eaters might not enjoy the pungent taste on their first savouring as their clothes will reek of the smell afterwards. But for diners who like it, once they smell it, they want to eat the noodles.”

Gubu Street in Liuzhou boasts the largest wholesale market of river snails in the city. Locals there traditionally ate river snails in soup or in fried dishes as a street snack. Vendors from night markets in Gubu Street, which began popping up in the late 1970s, started cooking rice noodles and the river snails together, making luosifen a popular dish for locals. The skills for making the delicacy were listed on China’s intangible cultural heritage list in 2008.

At Eighty-Eight Noodles, which has two outlets in Beijing, a bowl sells for up to 50 yuan, leading food bloggers to call it the most expensive luosifen sold in Beijing.

“Our rice noodles are handmade and the stock is made from boiling pig bones for eight hours,” says the shop’s manager, Yang Hongli, adding the first outlet opened in 2016. “Due to the long preparation time, only 200 bowls of noodles are on sale [at each outlet] every day.”

Riding on the noodles’ huge popularity, Wuling Motors, which is headquartered in Liuzhou, recently launched a limited-edition gift package of luosifen. The package comes in regal green gilt-rimmed boxes with gold-coloured utensils and gift cards.

The company says that although food and automobile manufacturing are not connected industries, it jumped on the luosifen bandwagon due to its huge popularity after the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Luosifen is easy to cook and is more healthy than [ordinary] instant noodles,” it says in a press release. “It sold so well [during the coronavirus outbreak] that it is out of stock on various e-commerce platforms. Coupled with the disruption caused to logistics chains caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, luosifen has become a hard-to-get treasure overnight.

“Since our establishment in 1985, our motto has been to manufacture whatever is needed by the people. So we launched the noodles to help satisfy public demand.”

Source: SCMP

Moroccan Prawns

Ingredients

1 lb raw peeled tiger prawns
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 bunch spring onions (scallions), finely sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

Avocado and Melon Salsa

1 ripe avocado
juice 1 lime
8 oz melon, seeded and cut into small dice
1/2 bunch spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
1 fresh red chili, cored, seeded and finely chopped
salt

Method

  1. To make the salsa, cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and peel off the skin. Dice the flesh finely and place in a bowl.
  2. Add the lime juice and mix well. Add the diced melon, spring onions (scallions), chili and salt to taste. Cover and leave to stand for 30 minutes.
  3. If necessary, remove the heads and tails from the prawns and de-vein. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen paper.
  4. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, salt, paprika, cumin, ground coriander and cayenne. Add the prawns and mix well.
  5. In a large frying pan, heat the oil. Add the prawns and spring onions (scallions) and stir fry for 5 minutes or until the prawns are pink and cooked through.
  6. Stir in the chopped coriander. Serve with the salsa and with rice.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: The Book of North African Cooking

Plant Proteins Helpful for Building Aging Muscles, but Not As Potent As Animal Protein

On a gram for gram basis, animal proteins are more effective than plant proteins in supporting the maintenance of skeletal muscle mass with advancing age, shows research presented this week at The Physiological Society’s virtual early career conference Future Physiology 2020.

The number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled since 2006, meaning that there are around 600,000 vegans in Great Britain (1). While we know plant-based diets are beneficial for the environment, we don’t actually know how healthy these diets are for keeping muscles strong in elderly people.

Scientists generally agree that the primary driver of muscle loss with age — at least in healthy individuals — is a reduction of muscle proteins being built from amino acids. These amino acids come from protein that we eat and are also formed when we exercise.

Oliver Witard of King’s College London is presenting research at The Physiological Society’s Future Physiology 2020 conference about soy and wheat proteins showing that a larger dose of these plant proteins is required to achieve a comparable response of building muscles.

Simply transitioning from an animal-based protein diet to a plant-based diet, without adjusting total protein intake, will likely to be detrimental to muscle health during ageing. A more balanced and less extreme approach to changing dietary behaviour, meaning eating both animal and plant-based proteins, is best.

Witard and his colleagues conducted carefully controlled laboratory studies in human volunteers that involve the ingestion of plant compared with animal-based protein sources. To test changes in participants’ muscles, they use several techniques including stable isotope methodology, blood sampling, and skeletal muscle biopsies to see how quickly the muscles were building up from amino acids.

It’s important to note that this research to date has only compared two plant-based protein sources, namely soy and wheat. The researchers in this field will be conducting further research on other promising plant proteins such as oat, quinoa and maize.

Commenting on the research, Oliver Witard said: “This research challenges the broad viewpoint that plant proteins don’t help build muscles as much as animal protein by highlighting the potential of alternative plant-based protein sources to maintain the size and quality of ageing muscles.”

Source: EurekaAlert!

Probiotics Alone or Combined with Prebiotics May Help Ease Depression

Probiotics either taken by themselves or when combined with prebiotics, may help to ease depression, suggests a review of the available evidence, published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.

But as to whether they might help to lessen anxiety isn’t yet clear, say the researchers.

Foods that broaden the profile of helpful bacteria in the gut are collectively known as probiotics, while prebiotics are compounds that help these bacteria to flourish.

In the UK in 2016-17, 1.4 million people were referred with mental health issues, over half of them (53%) had anxiety or stress related disorders, while a third (33%) had depression.

A two-way relationship exists between the brain and digestive tract, known as the gut-brain axis. And the possibility that the microbiome–the range and number of bacteria resident in the gut–might help treat mental ill health has become a focus of interest in recent years.

To explore this further, the researchers searched for relevant studies published in English between 2003 and 2019, which looked at the potential therapeutic contribution of pre-and probiotics in adults with depression and/or anxiety disorders.

Out of an initial haul of 71 studies, just 7 met all the criteria for inclusion. All 7 investigated at least 1 probiotic strain; 4 looked at the effect of combinations of multiple strains.

In all, 12 probiotic strains featured in the selected studies, primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidium. One study looked at combined pre-probiotic treatment, while one looked at prebiotic therapy by itself.

The studies varied considerably in their design, methods used, and clinical considerations, but all of them concluded that probiotic supplements either alone or in combination with prebiotics may be linked to measurable reductions in depression.

And every study showed a significant fall or improvement in anxiety symptoms and/or clinically relevant changes in biochemical measures of anxiety and/or depression with probiotic or combined pre-probiotic use.

Of the 12 different probiotics investigated, 11 were potentially useful, the findings showed.

The researchers highlight several caveats to their review: none of the included studies lasted very long; and the number of participants in each was small.

This makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the overall effects, whether they are long lasting, and whether there might be any unwanted side effects associated with prolonged use, they say.

Nevertheless on the basis of the preliminary evidence to date, pre- and probiotic therapy warrant further investigation, they suggest.

Probiotics may help reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals, such as cytokines, as is the case in inflammatory bowel disease, suggest the researchers. Or they may help direct the action of tryptophan, a chemical thought to be important in the gut-brain axis in psychiatric disorders.

As anxiety disorders and depression affect people very differently, they require treatment approaches that take account of these complexities, they say. “In this way, with a better understanding of the mechanisms, probiotics may prove to be a useful tool across a wide range of conditions,” they write.

People with depression and/or anxiety disorders also often have other underlying conditions, such as impaired insulin production and irritable bowel syndrome, they point out.

“As such, the effect that probiotics have on patients with [common mental disorders] may be twofold: they may directly improve depression in line with the observed findings of this review, and/or they might beneficially impact a patient’s experience of their [common mental disorder] by alleviating additional comorbidities,” they write.

“Purely from the information gathered for this review, it is valid to suggest that, for patients with clinically recognised depression: isolate, or adjuvant prebiotic therapy is unlikely to affect an individual’s experience of their condition in a quantitatively evident way; and that isolate or adjuvant, probiotic/combined prebiotic-probiotic therapy may offer a quantitatively measurable improvement in parameters relating to depression,” they conclude.

“However, there are inadequate data to suggest anything meaningful to support or refute the use of either pre/probiotic agents (or a combination of both) in patients with clinically recognised anxiety disorders; this would be a useful area to investigate further.”

Source: BMJ

75 or Older? Statins Can Still Benefit Your Heart

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Older adults with healthy hearts probably would benefit from taking a cholesterol-lowering statin, a new study contends.

People 75 and older who were free of heart disease and prescribed a statin wound up with a 25% lower risk of death from any cause and a 20% lower risk of heart-related death, researchers reported July 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Based on these data, age is not a reason to not prescribe statins,” said lead researcher Dr. Ariela Orkaby, a physician-scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System and associate epidemiologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Statins are drugs used to prevent buildup of plaques that can narrow or block arteries, leading to heart attack and stroke.

Until recently, guidelines recommended halting statin therapy at age 75, said Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, medical director of the Cardiac Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

“In 2018, the guidelines changed to say statins are a reasonable choice for those older than 75 without a life-limiting disease” like cancer or organ failure, she said.

This new study provides evidence that changing the guidelines to allow statin therapy to continue was the right move, said McLaughlin, who wasn’t part of the research.

“This age group is one of the fastest-growing groups,” she said. “The over-75 cohort is living even longer, and the first evidence of atherosclerotic disease or cardiovascular disease can be sudden death. There are many patients who are living very active and full lives into their late 80s and 90s these days.”

For this study, Orkaby’s team analyzed data from more than 300,000 veterans 75 or older who used VA health care services between 2002 and 2012. None had experienced a heart attack, stroke or other heart problem.

Of those vets, more than 57,000 started taking statins during that period. Researchers compared those who used statins against those who did not, and found that their risk of heart-related death was significantly lower.

The benefits remained for veterans at advanced ages, including those 90 or older, and also were strong among vets with dementia, results showed.

Patients on statins also had a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, researchers said.

Because the study relied on VA data, the patients involved were overwhelmingly male (97%) and white (91%), McLaughlin noted.

But randomized clinical trials now underway will provide additional evidence about statin use in a broader mix of older people, Orkaby and McLaughlin said.

There’s been an age bias in statin clinical trials, because older folks tend to have more medical problems and including them can confuse the results, Orkaby said.

“Older adults usually have more than one thing going on,” she said. “It’s much easier to study people in their 50s who may just have high blood pressure or just have diabetes. When you’re running a big trial, you may not want to include people who are going to get hospitalized for some other issue — for example, because they fell.”

As a result, “almost all the data that exists right now for statins is in younger people, even though it’s really older adults who have the highest risk of having a heart attack or a stroke,” Orkaby said.

These new results indicate it’s time to stop discriminating based on age alone and saying there is no data to support statin use in older folks, she said.

“We have some reasonably good data to suggest that statins could save lives,” Orkaby said. “If you got to 75 and you weren’t yet put on a statin, you may actually be a healthier older adult who’s likely to live another 10 or 15 years. Those people may be the ones who would benefit the most from that, long-term.”

Source: HealthDay


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