In another blow to one of the sacred breakfast street foods of Beijing, intrepid journalists at The Beijing News arranged to have 10 youtiao (fried dough sticks) tested by a laboratory, and found eight of them to have exceeded recommended limits for chemical leavening agents, some by a whopping 83%.

Leavening agents such as sodium aluminum sulfate and sodium aluminum phosphate are commonly used by streetside vendors to make your youtiaos nice and puffy, as any youtiao lover will attest is critical to their appeal.

Such leaveners are common in household baking powder -- however, in an arms race for puffiness, eight of the vendors used so much leavening that chemical analysis of their makeup resulted in an average of 62% more aluminum than the mandated maximum.

Aluminum is non-toxic except in extremely high doses. However, it can collect in body tissues, is non-essential to humans and can block iron and calcium absorption. High doses can cause nerve damage, and it is linked by some researchers to the development of senility.

Beijing News journos sampled 10 youtiaos in Beijing's Fengtai district; eight from streetside carts and two from fast food joints (a local chain Jiahe Yipin as well as KFC). All of the street vendors failed the test, while KFC and Jiahe were well within limits.

When questioned about their usage of aluminum-containing leaveners, six of the street vendors said they did not use them, one said they did (but that it was no big deal because everyone does), and one said he added some kind of leavener but had no idea what it contained. Comforting.

One food safety expert quoted in the story recommended that consumers who just can’t resist the pull of streetside snacks limit their youtiao intake to no more than one a week.

The expert also opined that when nosing around to see if your youtiaos are kosher, look for ones that are more solid and less puffy – extreme puffiness is a tell-tale sign of the use of excessive additives. Additionally, if breaking open a freshly fried youtiao results in a whiff of ammonia, this may also be a sign of excessive use of additives.

So with concerns over additives and the threat of recycled gutter oil, I guess it's time to give streetside youtiaos a pass.

Image: Gary Stevens (Flickr)


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