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June 22, 2011

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DIY for food safety

FINDING safe food these days is like walking through a mine field - now chemically pumped-up watermelons are exploding. So worried housewives are making basic foods such as soy milk and yogurt and they're choosing very carefully. Zhang Qian reports.

What can you eat safely these days? Which undiscovered toxins are lurking out there? How can you tell which food is safest? Housewives have a lot on their minds recently as one food scandal after another unfolds. Lots of food is deliberately pumped up with growth-promoting chemicals and hormones; some food is tainted deliberately, some through negligence.

We already know about pigs injected illegally with clenbuterol to promote lean meat, and dairy farmers using melamine to fake high levels of protein.

The latest shocker is exploding watermelons - they blow up because farmers spray too much growth-promoting chemicals. They're eager to get big melons to market early.

As a result of all this bad news, uneasy housewives are educating themselves and shopping very carefully for the best, most natural, chemical-free produce. They're also making their own yogurt, many with yogurt machines, some more laboriously. They're also squeezing fresh juice, baking bread and making their own soybean milk. Some make jam and bake cakes.

Opening a vacuum flask, 30-year-old secretary Rachel Chen pours thick milky yogurt into a bowl and stirs in a bit of honey to sweeten her homemade yogurt. She has been making yogurt for the family breakfast for the past two weeks.

While many housewives are dependent on convenient ready-made and packaged foods, quite a few are kicking the habit, mostly driven by fear of unsafe foods in the market. Some are just curious. After all, cooking is not a standard skill for many young urban professional women.

Chen loves thick yogurt, but she joined the DIY gang when she heard about ingredients and additives in her favorite yogurt - sweet whey powder was used instead of more costly whey protein powder, and the manufacturer used unlisted additives in the particles of flavored fruit.

Many people use yogurt machines, which are plentiful on the market, but Chen decided to be really DIY. All she needs is a vacuum flask, thermometer, milk and small container of plain yogurt made from milk that contains no hormones.

"It is not as complicated as I thought, and I don't have to worry about dangerous additives because every step of production is within my own control," says Chen. She's open to making more homemade foods, as long as it isn't too complicated.

Echo Han, 25-year-old employee of a food company, has more experience in homemade food and has been baking cakes since last year. She not only eliminates additives - those chemicals that thicken, preserve, color and kill microbes - she also reduces sugar since most store-bought cakes are too sweet for her.

Baking a cake gives her a sense of pride and accomplishment. She loves the moment when she smells the aroma and takes the cake out of the oven. DIY cakes and cookies also solve the problem of choosing presents for family and friends.

"I bake cakes of different flavors to suit everybody's taste," says Han, "It is fun and popular."

Those who are all thumbs in the kitchen can turn to soybean milk makers.

Lucy Xu, a 26-year-old public relations employee, was impressed by a soybean milk maker at a friend's home. Compared with the cheap soybean milk packed in plastic bags or cups and sold on streets, homemade soy milk is safer and more nutritious, and she controls the ingredients.

Rather than making pure soybean milk, Lin mixes soybeans with black beans, green beans or pearl barley, since she believes that adds nutrition she might miss at regular meals.

From expert

Yang Kefeng, nutritionist at Shanghai Jiao Tong University of Medicine, says do-it-yourself foods are not necessarily more nutritious than store-bought products.

"The DIY foods may be safer due to fewer unknown additives," says Yang, "but since the ingredients are still the same, the DIY processing won't add nutrition."

But he suggests that adding more healthful raw ingredients (like various beans) can boost the nutrition, though the taste won't be the same.

DIY yogurt

Ingredients: Basic plain yogurt (60ml), milk (no hormones, 750-1,000ml), a vacuum flask, cooking thermometer


1. Let yogurt warm to room temperature to activate the lactobacillus.

2. Heat milk to around 40 degrees Celsius in microwave or on stove.

3. Put milk in the flask, add yogurt and mix thoroughly.

4. Seal the flask. Let it stand for 6-8 hours.

5. Pour into another container and refrigerate.

6. Add honey to taste before eating. Fresh fruit from a blender can also be added.

DIY bean milk

Ingredients: Soybeans (30g), black beans (10g), peanuts (10g), jujubes (10g)


1. Soak beans, peanuts and jujubes for eight hours or overnight.

2. Place all ingredients in soybean milk maker, add water, press the button.

3. Wait until the machine beeps. The milk is ready.


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