Green tea and seafood are among a few of the many mooncake flavour variations you might be served across during the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of China’s most cherished festivals that falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Resembling an ornately decorated, circular flat pie, mooncakes are stuffed with lotus paste and sometimes custard and salted egg yolk. This year, however, a surge in egg prices could see market forces interfere with China’s love of mooncakes.
The mooncake custom has evolved through time. Legend has it that during the Tang Dynasty – following military victory against the nomadic peoples of Central Asia – a Turpan businessman offered cakes to the Emperor Taizong. The emperor gazed at the moon and shared the cakes with his ministers – with these ‘mooncakes’ henceforth being a staple of the festival.
Later during the Yuan Dynasty, another folk tale suggested rebel leaders distributed mooncakes to Han Chinese in the capital. Each of these cakes had within it a piece of paper with a message rallying them to stage an uprising against the Mongolian rulers during the Mid-Autumn Festival night.
Regardless of their origins, mooncakes are adored, not only in China, but in the wider Chinese diaspora too. Now is the peak time for mooncake production and in Hong Kong companies such as Maxim’s Group and Wing Wah are purchasing the raw materials to ramp up their baking ahead of the festival.
Yet this seasonal surge in the demand for eggs has coincided with unexpected yolk shortages.
Owing to a sharp drop in the supply of pork due to the spread of African swine fever, demand for poultry and eggs has subsequently soared. Pork, as one of the most popular meat choices among the Chinese, has been replaced with eggs and chicken by protein-lovers.
July in particular has seen higher volatility in egg prices – due also to hot weather negatively impacting the supply of eggs. Xinhua recently forecast the price of eggs would continue to surge, despite already having increased 17.5% since the beginning of the year. On July 11, the price of eggs reached Rmb4,725 per 500kg, a record high.
Eggs laid by hens are a vital mooncake ingredient. Adding to the problem, the price inflation has spilled over to duck eggs, the most common source of salted egg yolk for many mooncake varieties.
Some insiders predict an increase in mooncake prices when purchasing demand picks up in September and bakeries pass on some of their increased raw material costs. Traditionally it has been a lucrative niche for the bakery industry, worth around Rmb20 billion annually ($2.9 billion). At the premium end of the market a box of six mooncakes can sell for $80 at The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. (For more on mooncakes and their various regional fillings see WiC383.)
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