The latest fake - Shanxi's famed mature vinegar
First it was noodle soup, then soy milk. Now vinegar is leaving a sour taste in mainland consumers' mouths after reports of false advertising of many food products.
Most of the vinegars advertised as the well-known 'Shanxi Mature Vinegar' were actually blends of undiluted acetic acid, water and various additives, China National Radio reported over the weekend.
Less than 5 per cent of the so-called 'extra aged vinegar' made in Shanxi, China's vinegar production base, 'is fermented from grains such as sorghum and barley and goes through several months of sedimentation and filtration according to manufacturing standards', an industry association leader was quoted as saying by the broadcaster.
Wang Jianzhong, vice-president of the Shanxi Vinegar Industry Association, said most vinegar used by mainland consumers was blended and made with sodium benzoate, a preservative. 'It may have the words 'extra aged' on its package, but if you look at the ingredients in detail, you will find sodium benzoate,' Wang said. 'As long as there's sodium benzoate, you can be sure that it's not mature vinegar, because mature vinegar doesn't need preservatives.'
But the Shanxi Vinegar Industry Association later distanced itself from Wang's remarks, issuing a statement last night saying that all aged vinegar and extra aged vinegar sold by 'authorised' Shanxi vinegar factories was real, natural and preservative-free.
The association said Wang's 'irresponsible comments' had seriously hurt the development of Shanxi's vinegar industry and tarnished its reputation, adding it might consider taking legal action against him.
Vinegar is the latest food item that has been falsely advertised. Mainland media recently reported that 'freshly ground' soy milk sold in several famous fast-food chains and 'long-boiled' pork bone soup at a noodle chain were made from concentrates as well as powders. In 2000, the government introduced a national standard for blended vinegar, specifying that products must contain at least 50 per cent of fermented vinegar and edible acetic acid, plus food additives.
Many vinegar brands, however, marketed products with no fermented vinegar at all, Wang Zhanyong, a senior engineer at the Beijing Jin Zhongtai Food Science and Technology Development Centre, was quoted as saying.
Some manufacturers even used industrial acetic acid to replace edible acetic acid to lower costs, Wang said. Also, food safety agencies on the mainland were incapable of testing whether industrial acetic acid was used in blended vinegar.
In an attempt to protect the industry's image, the Shanxi provincial Food Quality Supervision and Inspection Centre said yesterday in the Shanxi Daily that all mature vinegar produced in Shanxi was safe. It admitted preservatives were used, but not beyond the regulated amount.
It said not all vinegar labelled 'Shanxi Mature Vinegar' was produced by Shanxi manufacturers, and that it would co-operate with regulators in other provinces to clamp down on fake products.