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When bland white gourd masquerades as 'fruit'

MANY fruit mooncakes are supposed to be filled with fresh fruit, as their names and package pictures suggest, but quite a few are made of common bland white gourd and a dash of flavoring.

The Shanghai Food Association warns buyers to read the ingredient list carefully when choosing a fruit version of the cake to see if it contains gourd or fruit.

"As far as I know, very few fruit mooncakes on the market truly contain fresh fruit," said an association official surnamed Gao.

Fruit mooncakes must contain 20 percent fruit to label themselves fruit mooncakes; otherwise they can only claim to be fruit-flavored cakes. That's a national regulation, but it is not always observed.

The word "flavor" is often hard to find on packages and some manufacturers place the word in an inconspicuous spot.

Gao said many producers used white gourds as the main ingredient because the gourds are cheap and have a light taste that can be easily altered by flavoring.

"Fresh fruit adds to the cost and adds another problem: fresh fruit cakes must be kept in cold storage, making them difficult to transport," said Gao.

A Shanghai Daily investigation found that many small mooncake producers are selling "fruit mooncakes" without listing the ingredients.

Although some producers, such as Yilong Mooncake and Guaiguaiyang Mooncake, list ingredients, the percentage of each is not shown.

On one box the ingredient "white gourd" can be seen clearly at the top of the ingredients list, followed by "pear flavor."

Some expensive mooncakes, such as bird's nest and abalone cakes, only contained 3 to 7 percent of the valuable ingredients in their fillings.

Many customers said they had no idea white gourds were commonly used as they seldom read the ingredient list.

An official with the city's Consumer Protection Committee said around 50 complaints about mooncakes had been received since August, but none was about white gourd.

"I feel like I'm being cheated," said a buyer surnamed Xie. "If the cakes are mainly made of white gourds, that should be on the boxes."

But some people say it doesn't matter.

"Who cares? It's only a gift at a traditional festival," said a resident surnamed Wang. "The cakes will be fine as long as they taste good."


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