Preservatives and additives in Chinese prepared foods
Generally, I avoid buying anything with preservatives or additives, but have just started to try Chinese cooking, and I'm having trouble finding some ingredients that are all natural. So many of the sauces and pickles have preservatives. After reading all the labels, and not being able to find any alternatives, I broke down and bought ya cai and pixian bean paste with preservatives. They have potassium sorbate, acesulfame-K, and/or calcium propionate. Even the dried bean curd sticks i bought ended up having sodium hyposulfite. I'm a little worried. Are these safe? I read about industrial grade salts being used in Chinese pickles, so then I worry what else might be in them. Am I being too paranoid? I realize that the quantities are low, they are FDA approved, and chances are I eat the same things all the time at restaurants, but I still can't help but worry. Short of making my own, what can I do? Are any brands more trustworthy?
You have a few options
- Buy American brands that make Asian sauces/pickles from a trusted source/brand.
- Find a friend going to Hong Kong (or China) and look specifically for some local brands and small businesses that do not export, but are known to make things traditionally without adding additives, and either have them bring it back or mail to you.
- FInd a reliable local Chinese restaurant (if you live in a metropolitan area that has some good traditional restaurants) that makes their own sauces (chili, fermented bean paste etc) and/or pickles in house and ask to buy some to go.
Same problems here with so many Asian ingredients -- my local Korean market has a mix of completely natural food and terrifyingly chemical-ridden stuff as well. Frustrating.
My local Whole Foods carries a good range of Asian ingredients, though not getting into too much specialty stuff, however: it's always worth it to ask if they can source Product XYZ for you if you've got one close by. You might check other local specialty/gourmet groceries near you and just pick the brain of a manager. Sometimes you have to commit to buying a whole case of Product XYZ, but some stores will place special request orders without asking you to cover the whole case -- even Kroger does the latter.