Two days ago, the Shanghai Consumer Council (SCC) released its report on the youtiao (fried dough stick) sold around town. Several restaurants were found to be selling unsafe youtiao, including McDonald’s, whose product was proven to contain plasticizers.
Youtiao is a popular choice for breakfast in Shanghai. However, it is often accused of being unhealthy as some restaurants tend to add toxic chemicals during production to enhance the flavor and lower the costs.
As a result, many restaurants try to claim that their youtiao are healthy and toxic-free. To validate this, the SCC tested 29 samples from 25 food brands such as McDonald’s, KFC and Yonghe Dawang. Unfortunately, the results prove many of these ‘healthy’ claims are false.
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The first index tested by the SCC was potassium alum, which is often used as a leavening agent in the process of youtiao. Since the chemical compound contains alum, long-term and excessive intake of potassium alum may affect the brain.
The results show that, without exception, all of the youtiao contain potassium alum, even those labeled as ‘alum-free.’ The only vague upside is the amount of potassium alum contained in most samples is relatively safe in terms of what’s regulated in China’s Standard for Food Additive.
Only Sida Jingang, the eatery located on Chengshan Road, is found to contain excessive potassium alum, which is 980 milligrams per kilogram, nearly ten times what’s regulated.
The SCC also tested the polar component of the youtiao, which is an index to indicate the quality of the oil. If the index goes too high, chances are the restaurant seldom changes its cooking oil.
“Repeated use of cooking oil can not only lower the nutritive of the food,” alerts Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration. “It will even produce carcinogens.”
The national standard for the index is 27%, and nine samples from seven brands failed this test, including Xinya Dabao, the popular Chinese fast-food chain.
Another index tested is saturated fat. “Although saturated fat is not directly linked to obesity,” explains Guo Hongwei, director of Shanghai Nutrition Society, “It can result in bone problems, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer.”
Anxin (Chinese for reassuring) Youtiao from KFC’s outlet on Kongjiang Road is found to contain the highest amount of saturated fat, which is 6.81 grams per 100 grams, equivalent to that of 21 grams of fat meat. It seems that the youtiao from KFC is not reassuring at all.
The last index tested by SCC is diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). The plasticizer is infamous for its connection with cardiovascular diseases and liver cancer. Among 29 samples, only 3 samples are detected to contain DEHP and two of which are from McDonald’s.
McDonald’s declared that they do not add DEHP during the production and packing process of their youtiao, and they had no idea why their youtiao was found to contain DEHP. They have advised they will investigate the issue further, but for now, no additional statement has been made.
So, I think the only safe thing about youtiao is not eating it for breakfast (or any meal for that matter), and choosing something else more nutritious is a better way to start your day.