A storm in the Haday soy sauce cup affords food for thought
For your information, soy sauce is a dark brown sauce made by fermenting soy beans in salty water, an indispensable food flavoring in Chinese cooking.
Haday is a leading brewer of the sauce and has recently been facing charges of double standards after a number of social media platforms published a blitzkrieg of videos and articles condemning the No. 1 soy sauce maker in China for adopting different standards in its products for domestic and overseas markets.
In some of its overseas products, they claimed, one can find, clearly indicated on its labels, all natural ingredients: Water, soy beans, wheat, etc, while in its domestic products there is a lineup of additives: flavor enhancers, preservatives, and sweeteners.
In a recent rebuttal of the charges, Haday stated that the fear of additives is groundless.
"Of the many kinds of food we come into contact with in our daily life, whether they are for domestic consumption or exports, most will use food additives, and it is no exaggeration that food additives have become part and parcel of the modern food industry," the company explained.
This was confirmed by industry observers.
According to the China Flavorings Association, all flavoring manufacturers would, in light of unified national standards, choose to use food additives scientifically and rationally, in view of differentiated market demands.
Chen Qiao, a doctor from PLA General Hospital, added in a recent interview that food additives are a "double-edged sword," in that that their absence detracts much from the flavor, color and shelf life of the food in question, though the use of additives should be minimized in cooked food and red meat products.
While those with ulterior motives (in the words of Haday) seek to exploit the public's irrational fear of additives, Haday does have a full spectrum of products catering to consumer penchant for flavorings, including those without food additives made for the domestic market.
Haday started making additive-free products 10 years ago.
As a matter of fact, many of us do not need to go far to check up on the authenticity of Haday's claims. I opened the refrigerator at home, and found one Zero Jinbiao Shengchou (gold standard soy sauce used for cooking vegetables) which claims to be "palatable yet inexpensive," with five zeros: zero preservatives, zero sweeteners, zero colorants, zero MSG, zero flavoring essence and spices, and zero defatted soy beans.
In actuality, this zero brand was even slightly cheaper than a similar product with additives. In its flagship online store, the "zero" brand is priced at 9.9 yuan (US$1.4), while its counterpart with additives is priced at 10.9 yuan, effectively debunking the myth that Haday is purveying its premium sauce to the more privileged overseas consumers.
Importantly, the flavorings association articulates its support for adversely impacted companies to resort to legal means in defending their legitimate rights, by bringing rumor-mongers to justice.
It is not easy in the digital era.
At the time when social media platforms have acquired the property, but not necessarily the responsibility, of media, it becomes easy for those with an agenda to mount a surprise attack on a target by fertilizing an avalanche of sensational videos or articles.
Unsophisticated audience would gorge themselves on these tidbits, take alarm, and then no amount of clarifications can make much difference.
While digital platforms are de facto media, it is surprising not all are subject to the kind of rigorous supervision due to traditional media.
And this felt immunity will encourage more platforms in hosting sensational but misleading disinformation.