Lonely Planet Writer

Probe into use of opium poppies in Chinese restaurants

There’s superfoods, there’s umami, and then there’s having opium seasoning on your food. Thirty-five restaurants in China are being investigated after it emerged that they were using opium poppies to season many of their dishes.

Chinese food
Chinese food Image by Didiriks / CC BY 2.0

The China Food and Drug administration has revealed that five restaurants are being prosecuted for serving poppy seeds, whilst 30 are still under investigation.

Poppy powder, which contains a low level of opiates, has been banned as a food additive in China. In spite of this, poppy seeds have been found to be used illegally in Chinese restaurants many times before.

In 2004, 215 establishments were shut down for serving poppy seeds in the Guizhou province. The company worst affected by the recent scandal is popular Beijing-based Huda Restaurant chain. The company has admitted that it is under investigation but General manager Hu Ling said that they company may have inadvertently bought produce containing small traces of opiates.

Street vendors in Hong Kong
Street vendors in Hong Kong

China is no stranger to food contamination incidents. In 2014 McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks were sold bad meat, and in 2008, there was a famous case where milk contaminated by melamine killed six children and poisoned 300,000 people.