File photo of mooncakes. (Photo: Sipa)
Mooncakes, the seasonal treat shared by families and friends during the Mid-Autumn Festival, have become a focus of competition among pastry makers with the traditional holiday for family reunions less than a month away.
Longtime mooncake makers and newcomers are coming up with new tricks with new ingredients and fancy designs to lure customers. The holiday, on Oct 1 this time around, is special this year, many think, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many mooncake advertisements that started to appear in August in supermarkets, convenience stores and online social media have highlighted new flavors, special ingredients and exquisite packaging.
Traditional fillings such as lotus seed paste with egg yolk for popular Cantonese-style mooncakes and other common fillings like sweet bean paste, jujube paste and the "five kernels" (a mix of walnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds and sunflower seeds) are not the only game in town.
This year, Xinya Cantonese Restaurant, which is popular in Shanghai for its seasonal pastries, is promoting mooncakes with mustard tuna fish floss filling and green Sichuan pepper basa fish paste.
Plant-based meat substitutes, made by extracting protein from plants such as soybeans and other beans, are also being used by mooncake makers. Kam Wah Gift, a bakery company, has joined in a partnership with plant-based "meat" producer Starfield to design two mooncakes－rose black truffle and matsutake mushroom with artificial meat.
Pagoda, a retail fruit chain with 4,000 outlets in China, has also joined the race with its first mooncake products featuring healthy ingredients. The company claims its mooncakes have zero artificial fragrances and dyes, and use antioxidant starch to replace preservatives.
Taste Back, a snack food startup in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, has been promoting a large mooncake inspired by the traditional big, thin pancake popular in Fujian province. Ding Mao, the company's chief operating officer, said the idea is to build on the local thin pancake.
Designs are another major field of competition as mooncakes are traditionally used as gifts. Xinghualou, a traditional Shanghai pastry maker, joined with the Palace Museum to launch mooncakes with limited-edition cases featuring an image of a long scroll painting of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Haagen-Dazs, which entered the market with its ice-cream mooncake 22 years ago, worked with Spanish museum Casa Batllo to use modernist designs from mosaics by architect Antoni Gaudi on the boxes for its mooncake sets.
"Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, people didn't have a proper Spring Festival this year, and we want to convey the ideas of love and connection through our mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival," said James Chiu, vice-president and managing director of General Mills China. General Mills is parent company of Haagen-Dazs.