This may not surprise longtime readers of WiC, but what had long been rumoured has now been made official: restaurants in China are adding addictive compounds to their foods to make their customers crave them and come back for more. On Friday the Xinhua News Agency reported on an investigation which found that 35 restaurants had been lacing their food with poppy capsules. The case came to light, the state media outlet reported, when a noodle shop in Shaanxi province was investigated for putting poppy capsules in mutton noodles. The capsules – made from the seed pod of an opium poppy plant and containing alkaloids like morphine and cocaine – can be used medicinally but are banned as a food additive in China. The use of poppy capsules in food can lead to 15 days in detention, and so chefs have devised cunning ways to disguise them from food inspectors. For example, they used to add them to spicy hotpot soups but when this ruse was discovered they switched tack and ground them down instead into sauces.
Clearly the use of this addictive opiate is sensitive for the government, as opium is associated with a ‘weak China’. As the New York Times points out: “China has a long and complicated history with the opium poppy. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Qing emperors issued orders to try to ban the import of opium. Britain, the main exporter to China, fought two wars with the Qing to keep the trade flowing.”
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