23 Spice Products Sold in Hong Kong Have Cancer-causing Substances

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found 23 spice products sold in the city contained substances that could cause cancer, with the amount in two goods exceeding local regulatory limits.

The Consumer Council revealed on Tuesday that more than half of the 44 dried spices tested were found to have either aflatoxins (AFs), ochratoxin A (OTA) or both.

AFs and OTA are mycotoxins produced by fungi, and carcinogenic, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

It urged manufacturers to improve their production to minimise the chances of mycotoxin contamination during the process and to preserve the finished products in good condition.

“It’s hard for consumers to tell which spices are problematic, so a quality check is very important,” the council’s chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

Among the 15 spices found to have AFs, the amount in two nutmeg products, often used to make western pastries such as pumpkin pies – went beyond the upper limit set by the Centre for Food Safety’s regulations of 15 micrograms per kilogram (mcg/kg).

The IARC said AFs were linked to liver cancer and may affect unborn babies.

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Ground Nutmeg from McCormick, marked as from the United States, contained 17.7mcg/kg of AFs.

Of the 17.7 micrograms of AFs, 12.4 micrograms were B1-type AFs – the most toxic kind of such mycotoxins – which exceeded the European Union’s maximum limit of 5mcg/kg.

Another nutmeg product from Yuan Heng Spice Co was found to have 17.5 micrograms of AFs, of which 14.6 micrograms was the B1-type substance.

The council has asked the local food authorities to follow up.

The study found these and two other spice products exceeded the stricter cap of 10mcg/kg set by the European Union.

An agency representing McCormick argued the council’s findings were abnormal, saying another test report by an independent laboratory suggested the product had less than five micrograms of B1-type AFs per 100kg. It said a small sample might produce unreliable results and that safety was its first priority.

Yuan Heng Spice Co’s agency representative said its investigation suggested there had been problems when stocking the products and the company had recalled and destroyed the batch of goods in question.

Nora Tam Fung-yee, from the council’s research and testing committee, insisted the test was conducted in accordance with international standards but admitted results from different batches might vary.

But Wong said no matter whether the manufacturers agreed with the results or not, they were responsible for finding out the cause of the problem and to check whether the products were safe to sell.

Meanwhile, the council’s tests also found 18 out of 44 samples contained OTA, which could cause cancer. They included capsicum spp. spices and turmeric which are essential for making curry, as well as nutmeg products.

The council noted there was currently no regulatory oversight on the maximum concentration of OTA in spice products.

Wong said the European Union had such regulations and another international body also had a recommended upper limit, so Hong Kong should keep up with the times and the test results warranted attention.

“But we want to bring a little bit of comfort to consumers. In Hong Kong food culture, the application of spices is not in high quantity. Unlike other Asian countries which consume curry more and use it more frequently. So relatively, the seriousness is not that high,” she said.

The council urged consumers to inspect the product packaging with care and check whether the spice was mouldy or had an unusual appearance.

It added once opened, the spice should be tightly closed and stored in a cool dry place.

Source: SCMP

In Pictures: Food of Kiki Noodle Bar in Hong Kong

Taiwanese-style Noodles

Hong Kong Mooncake Makeover: from Anti-extradition-bill Delights to KFC Spicy Chicken Bites

Bernice Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Mooncakes started selling like hot cakes at a Hong Kong bakery in July. Although they are traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on September 13 this year, these particular mooncakes were in demand for the political messages embossed on them related to anti-government protests that have taken over the city since June.

The slogans, including “no withdrawal, no dispersal” and “be water”, are key rallying cries of protesters who were initially united against a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be transferred to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition treaty, including mainland China. “Be water” was a tenet of martial arts star Bruce Lee’s philosophy to move quickly and fluidly.

“I started making cheeky mooncakes last year, but I usually do quirky designs on my products throughout the year,” explains Naomi Suen, the owner of Wah Yee Tang Cake Shop in the Hong Kong Island neighbourhood of Sai Ying Pun.

“This year, there were some funny phrases [from the protests], so I had the templates made.”

Naomi represents the third generation of her family to run Wah Yee Tang Cake Shop, which was founded by her grandfather in 1984. She runs it with her mother, and sales of the popular, irreverent mooncakes have helped keep the small bakery in business. They are making up to 600 mooncakes a day to keep up with demand, she says.

It’s not the first time mooncakes have been the bearers of political messages. More than 600 years ago, revolutionary notes were stuffed inside the baked goods with the intent to end the Yuan dynasty, when Han Chinese rebels were making plans to overthrow their Mongol overlords.

According to folklore, the idea was conceived by Zhu Yuanzhang, the leader of an insurgent force, together with his military adviser, Liu Bowen. The idea was that everyone who received the cakes would eat them on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, and find the messages with instructions.

If the story is true, it may have helped Zhu establish the Ming dynasty in 1368, when he declared himself the Hongwu Emperor, ruling until his death in 1398.

The last imperial dynasties ended in China in 1911, but that did not stop the tradition of eating mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival, when the moon is at its fullest, roundest and brightest.

Leung Fai-hung, Chinese executive chef at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong hotel, has fond memories of the Mid-Autumn Festival from when he was a child.

“It was my favourite time of year because we got to eat mooncakes, pomelo and peanuts. We were happy to eat mooncakes with lotus seed and salted egg yolks, and my favourite were the ones with nuts in them, like almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, melon seeds, olive seeds or pumpkin seeds, along with winter melon and Jinhua ham,” he recalls.

“When Mid-Autumn Festival was approaching, all the bakeries around town smelled so nice because of the pork lard used in the mooncakes. We would buy boxes of mooncakes and they were wrapped in butcher’s paper.

“When we came home they smelled so good, and the longer they sat there, the oil seeped out of the mooncakes, out of the tin boxes and onto the paper, making our flat smell so good. But we weren’t allowed to eat them until Mid-Autumn Festival day. I would always watch the mooncakes because I was worried my siblings would steal a piece.”

Mooncakes have also long been tied to the Chinese tradition of giving gifts to the elderly, relatives, friends and clients. However, back in the 1950s and 1960s, many Hongkongers did not have the money to pay for several boxes upfront, recalls chef Tang Chi-keung, Chinese culinary adviser at The Peninsula Hong Kong hotel.

“When I was growing up in the 1960s we would ‘mortgage’ mooncakes, like monthly car payments. Every month we would pay the bakery HK$10 or HK$20 and they would record it in their register. The amount you paid each month depended on how many boxes of mooncakes you ordered ahead of time,” Tang explains, adding that the practice no longer exists in Hong Kong.

These days customers may pay months in advance to order mooncakes, with the ones from The Peninsula Boutique being among the bestselling in Hong Kong. Tang says they are so popular that a few years ago someone was robbed, but the thief did not take the victim’s money. It was the boxes of Peninsula mooncakes he was after.

In 1986, the hotel decided to concoct a different kind of mooncake to the traditional ones that use lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk, or nuts.

Tang says the idea for an egg custard mooncake was inspired by the popular steamed egg custard buns that can be found on dim sum menus. Inside the white, fluffy round bun is a molten-lava-like mixture of salted egg yolk custard.

“So we thought, how can we try to make that into a mooncake? If we used an egg custard filling it could not be too runny, and we did not want to use a traditional mooncake dough, but a cookie one for a more delicious smell,” he says.

After some trial and error, Tang says, the first batch of egg custard mooncakes was given away to guests. They liked them so much that the hotel decided to put them on sale the following year.

“Every year we can’t make enough to satisfy demand,” he says. “At first we made 10,000 mooncakes, but nowadays it’s 60,000. Every year people complain they can’t buy our mooncakes. This is the reality.”

Besides Hong Kong, The Peninsula Boutique also sells the mooncakes in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and Macau. This year the new egg custard flavours are walnut, for a bit of a crunch, and the subtle tastes of dried longan (or dragon eye) fruit.

Around the time The Peninsula developed its egg custard mooncakes, Hong Kong’s Taipan Bakery came out with its snowy mooncakes, with fillings such as bean paste and fruits covered in a glutinous rice dough of flavours including mochi. These are not baked but need to be refrigerated.

Since then other hotels and restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon, producing ever more new fillings, and this year is no different.

Riffing off a nostalgic pastry featuring century eggs and pickled ginger, Shang Palace in the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel has made a mooncake using savoury preserved duck eggs encased in a mooncake pastry crust with a lingering hint of pickled ginger.

For durian fans, Dynasty in the Renaissance Harbour View hotel has developed mooncakes filled with highly prized musang king durians from Malaysia. It has more of a pungent smell, though the texture of the filling is stringy and creamy, like cheese.

Chef Leung at the InterContinental Grand Stanford has made his signature dessert, almond cream with egg white, into a mooncake this year, and it is light with a subtle almond flavour.

And for the curious, American fast food chain KFC has delved into the mooncake craze with one featuring spicy chicken and nuts. It takes an adventurous palate to try them – chicken floss is intermingled with nuts such as almonds and sunflower seeds for a savoury and sweet taste followed by a subtle spicy aftertaste. It’s not for everyone.

Meanwhile, making mooncakes by hand isn’t something many families do these days, but I had a chance to try my hand at it back in June when The Peninsula Hong Kong invited members of the media to test their skills.

Though the fillings and dough were pre-made and perfectly portioned out, we had to assemble them into mooncakes using traditional wooden moulds that resemble paddles with a round design cut into them.

As instructed by chef Tang, we flattened the dough in between our hands, then placed the round filling in the middle of it and covered it in the dough. We rolled them into a cylindrical shape before pushing them into the mould.

The fun part was turning the paddle on one side and hitting it against the edge of the table, then repeating the action on the other side. To get the mooncake out, the paddle is placed face down and hit against the edge of the table one more time, with your other hand waiting below to catch the mooncake.

The mooncakes were baked for 12 to 15 minutes and came out of the oven with a slightly browned top. Freshly baked mooncakes. Now that is a sweet treat.

Source: SCMP

Hong Kong Consumer Council Issues Warning Over Labels for Vegetarian Meat

Kanis Leung wrote . . . . . . . . .

Hong Kong’s vegetarian “meat” might not be as healthy and nutritious as manufacturers claim, with one sample found to contain animal genes, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warned on Thursday.

The Consumer Council examined 35 samples of pre-packaged vegetarian meat, saying all failed to fully comply with the technical guidance of the Centre for Food Safety requirements on nutrition labelling.

Releasing the findings, the watchdog said four samples found to contain animal genes or animal-derived ingredients were inaccurately labelled.

Fish and pig genes were detected in vegetarian fishballs sold under the Saturday brand, manufactured in Taiwan, despite the product being labelled as “ovo-lacto” – containing dairy and egg ingredients.

Three other products, which claimed to be “lacto”– with dairy elements – also contained traces of egg.

The council’s publicity and community relations committee chairman Clement Chan Kam-wing said the reasons could be manufacturers had used animal-derived condiments or ingredients, or egg white as a binding agent. The production line being contaminated by the materials in question could also be a factor.

“The council stressed that food producers have the responsibility to ensure vegetarian meat products do not contain ingredients from animal genes or animal sources,” he said.

The watchdog added incorrect labelling might mislead consumers and the disparity between the declared qualities and actual ones in products could be a contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

Under the ordinance, any trader who applies a false or misleading trade description to a service or product using aggressive commercial practices or bait advertising is liable to a maximum fine of HK$500,000 (US$63,727) and up to five years in prison.

In a reply to the council, the agent for Saturday said the product in question was made in a factory that also processed meat. Even though the manufacturer did not add meat ingredients to the fishball product, it could not guarantee that in the shared facility the product would not get contaminated during production.

The agent also said the product’s label told consumers that part of the manufacturing process was conducted in regular food factories, using the words “if there is any doubt, consumption is not recommended”.

It promised to study ways to ensure there would no longer be contamination in the manufacturing process. If it could not ultimately satisfy the requirements, it might stop importing the product.

Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han urged manufacturers to be more careful in producing vegetarian meats because it was difficult for consumers to identify whether the products were as they claimed to be.

“No consumer has the ability to test the meat they buy before eating,” she said.

The study also found that nearly 60 per cent, or 20 samples examined, were classified as high in salt, containing more than 600 mg of sodium per 100 g, according to the guidelines laid out by the Centre for Food Safety.

The protein content in three vegetarian seafood samples tested was said to be generally low.

One vegan prawn product by Batata Greens, which is also marked as manufactured in Taiwan, was labelled as having 2.3 g of protein per 100 g, but it was found to have none.

The agent of Batata Greens explained to the council that the labelling requirements in the product’s jurisdiction of manufacture are different from those in Hong Kong, causing the disparity. It had immediately got in touch with the manufacturers and related departments to stop selling the products.

Meanwhile, the examination detected preservatives in six products, even though none of the samples provided information of such substances on their lists of ingredients.

Wong suggested the government take note of practices in other countries and introduce laws or guidelines governing the definition of vegetarian meat and its labelling.

Source: SCMP

Video: Chrysanthemum Tofu – Cheap Chinese Staple Gets Upgrade into Top-tier Treat

Chinese cuisine chef Junno Li Zhenlong puts his mastery of intricate knife skills to good use with a series of dishes he has created at The Chinese Library restaurant.

Watch video at You Tube (3:57 minutes) . . . . .