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December 15, 2010

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Seeds shock as water turns black

SHANGHAI consumers have been warned to be on the lookout for sesame seeds which have been dyed black.

The alert by market watchdogs follows a recent investigation that found dye had been added to oranges to make them look fresher.

The sesame problem was uncovered when a customer who bought the seeds from a wet market found that when she soaked them in water it turned as black as ink.

"This is the first time that we have heard of dyed sesame," said Shen Li, an official from the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau. "We have sent teams to carry out an investigation. So far we can't confirm the composition of the coloring."

The woman, surnamed Chen, said she bought black sesame at the Huaqing wet market on Meilong Rd in Xuhui District on Monday. It was being sold at 9 yuan (US$1.35) per 500 gram, much cheaper than the 20 yuan usually charged for good-quality product. To the naked eye the black sesame looked of superior quality. But when she washed the seeds back home, the dye started to come off.

Even after half a dozen rinses the water was still black. Then she noticed that many of the seeds had turned white, an indication that they were not the prized black sesame but the cheaper white variety.

Officials from the Huaqing market's management company said they weren't aware of the dyed sesame issue and hadn't received information from the market authorities.

Black sesame contains some natural pigment, which can color the water slightly, experts say, but turning it black would be impossible.

Industry insiders said sellers could dye sesame to make them look better or they could mix cheaper white sesame into the black variety.

Over the weekend, the Shanghai bureau seized hundreds of kilograms of dyed oranges at the Yangnan Wholesale Market in the Pudong New Area.

The oranges, from Jiangxi Province, had been colored to make them look fresher, officials said. So far, colored oranges had not been found for sale in retail markets.


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