Why are milk and cheese not commonly found in Chinese cuisine?
Milk and cheese are not commonly found in Chinese cuisine, unlike in Western cuisine, where they are staple ingredients. The reason for this lies in the history and culture of China.
Thousands of years ago, nomadic communities practiced subsistence farming and domesticated milk-producing animals. These communities traveled with their animals, and protecting and feeding them was crucial for their survival. In contrast, China has a long history of agriculture, with rice and wheat as primary crops. The domestication of dairy animals was not a widespread practice in China, as the geography and climate were not conducive to dairy farming.
In recent times, China has adopted dairy farming, but it remains a small industry. The lack of a tradition of dairy farming has also led to a lack of demand for milk and cheese in Chinese cuisine. Instead, soy products such as tofu, soy milk, and fermented soybean products like tofu skin and tempeh are more commonly used as substitutes for milk and cheese in Chinese cooking.
In conclusion, the absence of milk and cheese in Chinese cuisine is a result of the country’s history, culture, and geographical conditions, which did not promote the widespread domestication of milk-producing animals. Soy products have been used as substitutes and have become an integral part of Chinese cuisine.
In 1937, the Monsanto Company developed a synthetic version of bovine somatotropin (BST) that was found to increase milk production. The FDA approved the use of rBST in the US dairy industry in 1994. However, the European Union scientific commission reported that the use of rBST caused health problems for cows, which led to Health Canada prohibiting its sale in 1999 due to animal welfare concerns.
Unlike countries with vast grasslands, China has limited land for farming, resulting in a preference for pork over beef. Additionally, duck and pork can be raised in smaller areas. The absence of a dairy industry throughout Chinese history and cultural factors are the reasons for the limited use of dairy in Asian cooking, with many Asians becoming lactose intolerant after childhood due to a lack of milk consumption.
In contrast, Mongolian cuisine uses dairy extensively, with yak milk being a staple food due to the prevalence of herding in the region. Seafood is a prominent ingredient in Chinese cuisine due to the country’s significant seafood industry. Cheese-making is a long-standing tradition in France and Italy, which explains the prevalence of cheese in their cuisine.
While milk is not commonly used in Chinese cuisine, there is a rare dish called deep-fried milk found in a few authentic Chinese restaurants. Chinese cuisine is dominated by seafood and vegetables, reflecting the country’s history in the farming and fishing business.
Dairy has historically not been a prominent ingredient in traditional Chinese cuisine. However, in recent years, there has been a growing trend of incorporating dairy into modern Chinese cooking.
One reason for this shift is the increasing globalization of food culture. As Chinese chefs and home cooks are exposed to Western culinary traditions, they have become more interested in incorporating dairy products like milk, cheese, and butter into their dishes. This has led to a fusion of Chinese and Western flavors, resulting in unique and innovative dishes.
Another reason for the increasing use of dairy in Chinese cooking is the rise of dairy consumption in China. As the country has become wealthier and more developed, its citizens have developed a taste for dairy products. This has led to an increase in demand for cheese, milk, and other dairy products, which has in turn led to greater availability of these ingredients in Chinese markets.
One popular dish that showcases the use of dairy in modern Chinese cuisine is the cheese-filled xiao long bao. Traditionally, xiao long bao is a steamed dumpling filled with pork and soup. However, some modern chefs have experimented with filling the dumplings with cheese, resulting in a rich and savory flavor. Other dishes that incorporate dairy include macaroni and cheese with Chinese spices, cheesy baked rice with Chinese sausage, and milk tea with cheese foam.
Chefs in China are also experimenting with using dairy in desserts. For example, some restaurants serve a cheese tart topped with goji berries, a traditional Chinese ingredient. Another popular dessert is the milk tea soft serve ice cream, which features a creamy milk tea-flavored base topped with a sprinkle of black tea leaves.
The incorporation of dairy into modern Chinese cooking is not without its challenges. One issue is that many Chinese people are lactose intolerant, meaning they have difficulty digesting dairy products. To address this, some chefs are using lactose-free dairy or non-dairy substitutes like tofu and coconut milk in their recipes.
Another challenge is the cost of dairy products, which can be expensive in China. However, as demand for dairy products continues to grow, it is expected that prices will become more affordable.
Despite these challenges, the use of dairy in modern Chinese cooking is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. Chefs and home cooks continue to experiment with new ways of incorporating dairy into traditional Chinese dishes, resulting in a fusion of flavors that is uniquely Chinese. Whether it’s a cheesy xiao long bao or a milk tea soft serve, the use of dairy in Chinese cuisine is an exciting and delicious development.