How do you keep your cabbage wrinkle-free? Chinese cabbage vendors are now freshening their wares with embalming fluid, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. The formaldehyde solution is more commonly used to plump out corpses for a funeral, or to pickle anatomical specimens for science. It preserves dead things remarkably well - unfortunately, it is also lethal for the living. Formaldehyde is known to cause:
b) chemical burns, and
c) spontaneous abortion.
Less than an ounce of formaledehyde diluted in water will kill an adult.
Yet the Chinese public seems unfazed by revelations of formaldehyde-contaminated cabbages. Chalk it up to a certain stoicism Chinese consumers have had to develop, to go with their rapidly thinning stomach linings, in the wake of a series of food scandals: poison milk, chlorinated coke, carcinogenic popcorn. As with previous scandals, the embalmed cabbages were not an isolated incident, but a trend in the industry - dozens of grocers in Shandong Province regularly palm off embalmed cabbages to unwitting restaurants and individuals.
But skipping meals for fear of scary food additives or origins would mean missing out on 3000 years of Chinese gastronomy and eight radically different regional cuisines. In the case of carcinogenic cabbage, the toxic temptation is tender braised cabbage with whole chili peppers and thick cuts of smoked bacon from Sichuan Province.
Recipe: Embalmer's Cabbage
1. Ingredients: cabbage, smoked country bacon, whole dried chilies, sichuan peppercorns, garlic, onion, a cast-iron wok.
2. Sauté onion, garlic and chilies in bacon fat.
3. Brown the bacon. Add cabbage and cover, shaking occasionally to prevent burning on the bottom.
4. Fire up the flame to create "wok hay", the smell and taste of a quick sear.
5. Serve. Feel your formaldehyde fears evaporate in a cloud of savory steam.
Text: Caitlin Hu