Friday, May 31, 2013

Maleic Acid In Your Bubble Milk Tea

It has finally happened. The Tapioca balls, yes, those cute little chewy black balls in those sweet Taiwanese franchised tea house, has received bad rapport again. Again? Yes, this is not the first time that issue pertaining to food safety of these drinks has surfaced and the only reason why these are mushrooming and surviving in the country is due to one simple reason - denial by the consumer.
What Are The Scandals?
As early as 2009, it was reported in a Vietnam paper that the balls served in the "Bubble milk tea" contained "plastic polymers". The truth, as they say, can't be more strange.
Chewy? Heh http://www.saigon-gpdaily.com.vn/Health/2009/8/73253/
It was then about two years later, the news finally start hitting the masses. The plastic compound was later identified as DEHP.
DEHP -diethylhexyl phthalate http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2011/6/17/nation/20110617211015&sec=nation
It rocked the Taiwan food industry and you know it become a problem when a country like China, that can manufacture almost ANYTHING (including FAKE MEAT) start banning importation of those food to their country. 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5g-Y-qQW4qShi4KS9D7ol3QQyFjYQ?docId=CNG.4110b3e99956903bdf5fbd9d268ff9c0.1e1
More news came out about these, and even the land of "Plastic surgery", South Korea, begin to shun the products.
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/ban-on-taiwan-food-drink-after-scare/story-e6frf7jx-1226067594074
Bridge Under Water
When the issue of plastics in food subsided, it did not take more than a year when suddenly more Taiwan Bubbletea stores opened in Klang Valley. Most, if not all claimed that their "Pearl and Tapioca Balls are REAL FOOD and Natural".
http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2012/3/19/central/10803399
To be honest, I myself had at one point of time, subscribed to this idea of  "Natural food". Well, that was until I chance upon a cup of leftover when walking my dogs and started to observe the content (that was Natural Tapioca Balls) and realised it looked the same for days, and then weeks. I then found another one about two weeks later and it looked fresh, perhaps a day or two old. I then did the unthinkable - took it home, placed it where the sun, rain and elements will so call accelerate the composting and record it from time to time.
Day 1, March 5. 
After about 2 weeks, I noticed there were no ants, no flies, no smell. One may argue that not having any ants simply meant there is no ants around the home. I agree. But no flies? I have two dogs and I clean the home twice a day of the feces...some flies got to land there and lay eggs, no?
Two weeks later. The balls looked intact, short of those that was soaked at the bottom due to rain. But you can see the shape is still there
Yeap, NO. No flies, no ants, no smell. That was worrying. These balls were made to last. One may argue that the acidity in the tummy may digest them, after all, these are well, "natural". However, I am yet to see any homemade tapioca ball, such as the Tong Yuen, actually lasting longer than...errmm...two days and not having/being slimy.
Winter Solstice 2012. Deliver to me by my Mum 
So, did the drink finally lasted the whole 4 weeks of scrutiny? It very well did. And if something that claimed to be "natural"  can last that long, either we are missing a Superfood inventory or the food is just fake. When I publicised this, i received many negative comments. Some came up with scientific explanation why my testing/experiment is wrong. Many say i should had spit and let the saliva "eat the pearls to simulate digestion". Sometimes, the comments given goes to show just how much you actually paid attention in school...or reinforced that "common sense ain't too common after all".
Day 35. Woohoo!
The Scandal Is Back
I was having a conversation with my mum just two days ago. That was when she told me that she has been eating these tapioca balls on weekly basis as a way to spend time with my dad. Sweet of them. The secrecy was because they know I would not approve of it. And it came up as the news was on the newspaper - the Chinese paper that she read, that is. And just yesterday (May 29), my ex-colleague shared this with me.
Oh my...
Good news and bad news. The Good news is that there is no more plasticisers (DEHP) in the food. However, to counter that, the ingenious food tech came up with something else, introducing Maleic Acid into the food to help with the texture (bitey eh?).
Maleic acid, not to be confused with Malic Acid, is a chemical that is used extensively for some industrial process. Fancy eating the same stuff that make up your vehicle plastic parts and paint? Or how about being able to synthesise benzene with this chemical compound?
If you are interested, search for the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of Maleic Acid and learn about it. Myself being involved with consulting and project development over the past 6 years has taught me to look at MSDS of any substance and identify it's risk. Needless to say, Maleic acid is considered and classified as toxic. Maleic acid is classified under NFPA as "3" for Health, which meant a short exposure will cause temporary and moderate residue injury.
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2013/5/29/nation/20130529175155&sec=nation
It was interesting to see how a few of these stores has even gotten lab reports to claim that their pearls are free from Maleic acid. I say that's very good. However, I also found an article online, by the same lab that did the test, notifying that there are many unknown inside the Tapioca balls. 
Having said all that, and reading through all the paper reports, I would say there are two approach to this. You can continue to buy and eat them, after all, it is your own body, OR, you can avoid and not take it anymore. Either way, the choice is yours.

19 comments:

  1. Oh well. I like Chatime but only bought it once every 6 months or so? Thank goodness I don't reply on bubble tea lol

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    1. Phew! My last was about a year back. Then no more.

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  2. Thanks for sharing, I myself do not fall into this Bubble Tea craze; never trusted it, never will.

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    1. Bubble tea has been a xcraze for years. You might recall seeing it in Pasar Malam before. I know I've seen it back almost 15 years ago. Back then, it wasn't regulated and i believe I've ingested plastics back then!

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  3. Thanks for the write-up. I guess insects are way smarter than humans when it comes to being "natural" or not. There are way too much junk in our food nowadays.

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    1. Do this experiment (I am yet to try it as I have no margerine at home).

      Leave some butter and margerine on a plate where there are ants seen (at home).

      Be surpised that ants will go for the butter, not the margerine ;-)

      Insects are smart as well to know "real food" from synthesised one.

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  4. yes theres alot of unbelievable unsafe ingredients in our food nowdays, look for food that halal-certified, more safer (because its hard to get the halal-certified logo, the company must go through the process of checking the ingredients, food premise/manufacturing factory or lab, even the slaughter house, they will check everything, if its not clean, its not safe there for its not halal) *not saying its 100% safe, anything could happen right? but at least its been gone through the process of checking everything, before the product can be distributed to the consumers. like they said "You are what you eat"

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    1. Indeed. And Halal too goes over being porcine free as it also involve food safety. Sad to say, many Halal eateries I've seen has the food preparation done next to the drain.

      Don't get me started with how most chinese stalls prepare their food.

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  5. That's for taking the trouble with the food "experiment"! Don't know what the fuss was about with milk tea. Glad to say never tried those kind of drinks that are marketed as healthy. My simple test for healthy food? They usually don't come out from a bottle or packaging of any sort.

    Btw, we make our own bread at home. At end of day 2, kept at room temperature, they will start to harden by end of day 2, mold on day 4 or 5. Compare that to store bought bread. A lot of breads from bakery contains softener, improver, shortening etc


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    1. James - we make our bread at home too and yes, your finding is consistent with ours. By Day 2, the balance not finished will go into the fridge and served as toast the next day ;-)

      Bread bought outside has those items you mentioned plus more. :) Heard of L-Cystine?

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    2. Never heard of L-Cyctine. Care to shed some light?

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    3. it is dough improver to make the food soft. It is obtained from human hair or feathers. Enough said. :)

      http://www.food-info.net/uk/e/e920.htm

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  6. Thanks for the news! Will share it! TQ!

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  7. thanks for the awareness stupe :)

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    1. Pleasure all mine. As we speak, 15 more products banned.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Thank you so much for posting this. I'm very fond of drinking milk tea mostly because of that chewy bubbles... I first heard about maleic acid on Korina Sanchez's radio program. Your post totally opened my mind and made me more inclined and inspired to be more cautious. I'd like to share your post so that everyone else can make an informed decision before buying anything that's marketed as "healthy" and "natural"

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    1. I am happy that the posting has helped you to understand the scandal and also the dilemma with food in modern time.

      Do share them please and help to link back to my blog entry :)

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