Cooks grilled over seasoning

THIRTY-FIVE restaurants across China, including a popular Beijing (北京) hot pot chain, have been found illegally using opium poppies as seasoning, one of the more unusual practices bedevilling the country’s food regulators.

Five restaurants are being prosecuted while the others, ranging from Shanghai (上海) dumpling restaurants to noodle shops in Chongqing (重慶), are under investigation, said the China Food and Drug Administration (國家食品藥品監督管理總局).

Cases of cooks sprinkling ground poppy powder, which contains low amounts of opiates like morphine and codeine, in soup and seafood are not new in China, though it is unclear whether they can effectively hook a customer or deliver a noticeable excitement.

Shaanxi (陝西) provincial police arrested a noodle seller in 2014 after being tipped off by a failed drugs test. Seven restaurants were closed in Ningxia (寧夏) province in 2012 for using the additive and Guizhou (貴州) province shut down 215 restaurants in 2004.

Hu Ling, the general manager of Hu Da, a popular chain with several adjacent locations on the busy Beijing nightlife strip known as Ghost Street (簋街), confirmed that the company was under investigation, saying it may have unknowingly sourced seasoning containing opiates. She declined further comment.

Poppy powder, made from capsules and shells that contain higher opiate content than the seeds commonly seen on bagels, can be easily purchased in markets in western China for about US$60 (HK$468) a kilogram. The additives were commonly mixed with chilli oil and powders, making detection difficult without laboratory equipment.

(This article is published on The Student Standard on 27 January 2016)

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