Whole Of The Mooncake

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Wednesday, October 4 2017 marks the start of the holiday, which celebrates that big, beautiful full moon, which we should hopefully see through the clouds. This is one of the four major holidays in China, where families get together to celebrate under the moon, hope for a good harvest, and yes, eat mooncakes! And if you see the lines forming in the bakeries around Shanghai this September, you know that the mooncake business is booming; to such an extent that multinationals like Starbucks and Häagen-Dazs are piling into the market! Indeed, many businesses including department stores, hotels and restaurants have a very large (and sometimes very expensive) display of ornate gift packs with a huge variety of fillings, from the traditional to the downright crazy (McDonald’s mooncake anyone?) So, what’s up with the mooncakes?

Mooncakes traditionally consist of a round pastry, filled with a sweet, dense filling. The decorations on top of the cakes often represent Chinese characters for longevity or harmony.  In Chinese culture, the roundness of the cake symbolizes completeness and togetherness.

Transformers ice cream mooncake on sale in Shanghai. Definitely not traditional.

Unfortunately, mooncakes are not very healthy, especially the crust, which is typically made with lard. Calorie count varies hugely per cake, from 200 to 1000 calories, with most closer to the 500 mark. Vegan mooncakes are now available to meet growing demand; check out Jen Dow Vegetarian on Yuyuan Lu, Fortunate Coffee on Songhu Lu and TRIBE on Fumin Lu for some vegan options.

Here are some of the more popular, traditional types of mooncake:

  • Lotus seed paste (lían róng): Considered by some to be the original and most luxurious filling.  Salted egg yolk is often inserted into this and other pastes.
  • Sweet bean paste (dòu shā): A number of bean pastes are commonly used. Red bean paste, made from azuki beans, is the most common but mung bean and black bean are also used.
  • Jujube paste (zǎo ní): A sweet paste made from the ripe fruits of the jujube (date) plant. The paste is dark red and can have a slightly smokey / sour taste.
  • Five kernel (wu rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltose syrup. Recipes differ from region to region, with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds being popular options.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! May the round moon bring you a happy family and a successful future. – Jessica W. 😉

Moon Cakes For All

This year the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) falls on September 27th and for most expats this holiday will roll right into the National Day Holiday on October 1st.  While October 1st is an important date as it commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic, it shouldn’t over shadow the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Cake day as many laowai know it.

It is no surprise that expats have a love-hate relationship with moon cakes. They either see the box of moon cakes on their desk and immediately think of to whom they can re-gift the traditional treasures or they really do like the cakes and bring them home to share with the family. It is very similar to how many in the US view Christmas Fruitcake.

But that aside, moon cakes are the traditional treat and must have of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival being celebrated this week. And it is wonderful to have so many choices of cakes from the traditional lotus seed ( 蓮蓉, lían róng) , red bean (豆沙, dòu shā) and 5 Kernal (五仁, wǔ rén) flavors to the decidedly un-Chinese options of chocolate ice cream and vanilla cake. For those of us for whom this holiday is a new tradition, the choices are truly something to celebrate.

Like many traditional holiday foods, these moon cakes can spell diet trouble.  Maybe that is why we are only supposed to eat them once a year? One look at the recipe , which requires lard in the filling and the crust, and you can already tell that this is one calorie loaded treat. To be fair there are recipes that have replaced the lard with oil but that is not “traditional”.

Finding out how many calories and fat are in a moon cake is no easy task. Depending on the filling the numbers for a 3 inch ( measured across the top) moon cake can range from 200 calories to 1000 calories, with most closer to 500 calories.

However in this case we really shouldn’t blame the baker for creating this potential diet disaster. Historically moon cakes were never meant to be eaten alone by one person. The basis of the festival is a family gathering, much like a harvest festival in other cultures. The round shape of the cake symbolizes not just the moon but the togetherness of the family, a never ending bond. Moon cakes are meant to be shared with family and friends; eating wedges of cake and sipping tea or wine while gazing at the full moon.

If this is your first Mid-Autumn Festival I encourage you to try the traditional moon cake, after all you are here in China, and be sure to share the evening with family and friends.

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun

 

 

 

 

 

Moon Cake Madness !

Last week I received an email advertising cupcakes made to look like moon cakes. All I could think of , besides “wow ! what a great idea”, is times have changed.

In the last several years the moon cake business has gone from the traditional lard laden  pastry with the decidedly Chinese fillings like lotus paste and egg to ice cream versions and specialty cakes from Starbucks ( I assume these would have a distinct coffee flavor).  The  elaborate packaging has become almost as important as  the cakes themselves.

But that aside, moon cakes are the traditional treat  and must have of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival being celebrated this week. And it is wonderful to have so many choices of cakes from the traditional  lotus seed (蓮蓉, lían róng), red bean (豆沙, dòu shā) and 5 – Kernel (五仁, wǔ rén) flavors to the decidedly un-Chinese options of chocolate ice cream and vanilla cake. For those of us for whom this holiday is a new tradition, the choices are truly something to celebrate.

Like many traditional holiday foods, these moon cakes can spell diet trouble.  Maybe that is why we are only supposed to eat them once a year? One look at the recipe, which requires lard in the filling and the crust, and you can already tell that this is one calorie and saturated fat loaded treat.   To be fair there are recipes that have replaced the lard with oil but that is not the “tradition”.

Finding out how many calories and fat are in a moon cake is not an easy task. Depending on the filling the numbers for a 3 inch ( across the top) moon cake can range from 200 calories to 1000 calories, with most closer to 500 calories.

However in this case we really shouldn’t blame the baker for creating this potential diet disaster. Historically moon cakes were never meant to be eaten alone by one person.  The basis of the festival is a family gathering, much like a harvest festival in other cultures. The round shape of the cake symbolizes not just the moon but the togetherness of the family, a never ending bond. Moon cakes are meant to be shared with family and friends; eating wedges of cake and sipping tea or wine while gazing at the full moon.

If this is your first Mid-Autumn Festival I encourage to try the traditional moon cake, after all you are in China,  and be sure to share it with family and friends.

 

Eat Well, Live Well , Have Fun!

 

Eat Well Shanghai holds office hours by appointment twice a month at:

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St.Laurent Building, #201,7B

3215 Hong Mei Lu ph. 6406 3642

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Over the Moon[cakes]

Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), starting on 30th September, has been celebrated in China for over 1,000 years. The festival, symbolised by family reunion and the giving and recieving of mooncakes, is to celebrate the moon goddess and her quest for immortality. There is also a myth about rebels hiding secret messages inside mooncakes to uprise against their Mongol rulers.

Mooncakes are typically made of pastry wrapped around a paste. The filling and style are often influenced by the region where they are produced. These pastes include: lotus seed, sweet bean paste, five types of nuts and seeds and salted egg yolk. The paste and design of mooncakes is developing to represent modern tastes, as such an important consumer market  has developed; some of these varieties represent the influence of western culture on China.  Popular flavours include green tea, chocolate and ice cream.

It is reported however that the sales of mooncakes are declining year-on-year due to the divide between preserving cultural traditions and embracing health messages. Articles in South China Morning post report that many mooncakes are wasted; surprising given that they can be considerably expensive, some costing as much as 700RMB for 10 mooncakes.

Health warnings now seem to surround this time of year with health professionals warning that mooncakes are calorie-laden foods.

So is it time the ‘mooncake’ tradition waned?

Unfortunately,  the pastry is often made with lard and sugar syrup and the filling can have high levels of salt, sugar and fat. High levels of the type of fat present in lard can increase your risk of heart disease and salt can increase your blood pressure.  Not to mention that sugar and fat are known to increase your waistline.

So called ‘healthier’ options of mooncakes are now being produced. These are often filled with yoghurt, jelly or fat free ice cream and use vegetable fats for the pastry. Sometimes the sugar present in traditional mooncakes has been swapped for a calorie free sweetener and others have been fortified with iron or calcium to improve their nutritional content.

Sometimes ‘the gimmick’ of a reduced calorie/healthier option can be misleading and can lead people to eating a larger quantity, negating the health benefits! I think the best advice is to remember that healthy eating is about moderation. This tradition only occurs once a year, so it would be terrible to miss out.

Just remember, mooncakes do not replace meals; they are just a ‘treat’ to celebrate a much needed holiday with the family.  Traditionally they were enjoyed as a small slice with a cup of Chinese tea. Find a flavour you like and remember portion size: one small slice shouldn’t do you any harm!

Sophie Thomas, Dietitian