Worries about food safety have led some consumers on the mainland to turn to imported goods or to plant vegetables on the balconies of their flats to ensure the quality of their diet. Now some are even going as far as making their own cooking oil.
Three years ago after a series of scandals revealed that millions of tonnes of cooking oil was being recycled and sold back to consumers, Cui Ronghua, a peanut exporter from the eastern port of Qingdao, decided to do something about it. His children were already drinking baby formula bought from overseas and the family cooked with imported olive oil.
“I know all about peanuts and sell some of the best to Japan and Europe. I thought, ‘why can’t I make the best oil for the kindergarten of my children,’” he said.
Cui spent 1.2 million yuan (HK$1.5 million) on an oil press, opened a workshop, hired an elderly oil-grinding expert and visited about 30 similar manufacturers to learn about the process.
His first batch of oil was finally produced in December last year.
Cui publishes full details of the production process online so customers know the quality of his product is assured. He also has the oil tested by quality controllers to safeguard standards. Some bottles of his oil, branded under the name Virtue Happiness, fetch as much as 75 yuan online.
Not everybody is producing oil on an industrial scale, however. Oil presses have also become popular kitchen electronic appliances at home, with some companies saying they are selling nearly 1,000 a month.
Li Ke, chairman of oil press maker Foshan TenGuard Smart Tech.Co., Ltd, said sales have increased since the machines went on the market last year and a single store can sell 300 a day, ever since a television programme made a feature on their popularity in September.
Li said the product was relatively new among home appliances and is popular in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Most customers are over 35, with good family incomes, a desire for high quality of life and an interest in food safety and health, Li said.
Amy Bian, an accountant in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, spent more than 1,600 yuan on an oil press and uses it to make peanut oil.
“I’ve been cooking with home-made peanut oil and it smells really nice,” she said.
The production process is fun and most importantly it ensures the oil is safe, Bian added.
But Fan Zhihong, associate professor at the China Agricultural University’s College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering, said home-made cooking oil should only be considered when consumers are confident it is produced from safe, high-quality raw materials.
Oil and oilseed also needs to be stored carefully as the unrefined oil can become rancid quickly under exposure to oxygen, and the seed may be contaminated by mycotoxins such as aflatoxin.
“Since the safe quality of the crude form like this is not supervised or tested, it is not allowed for sale as pre-packaged food and should be consumed as soon as possible,” Fan said.”
Home-made oil enthusiasts such as Bian are, however, confident about their produce.
“I choose the peanuts grown in the west of Liaoning province for their good quality,” Bian said. “I control the whole process and the flavour and nutrition is kept. Selective raw materials plus a finely-controlled production process and effective storage will ensure safe produce. Industrially-produced cooking oil also has its share of being problematic.”