Of Apricots and Almonds – Trouble in China

One of the things I like to do with my spare time is visit international markets. Thankfully I live in an area where Asian markets are plentiful with a handful of Russian markets on the side.

The last time I was in Chinatown, I found a product called Love of the Office Lady. It’s essentially a cookie roll with different coatings depending on the variety. I got one that was chocolate and “apricot”. This is where the trouble begins.

A little background because this is crucial to the point I’m making: Not only do I love going to international markets, but I like buying things for people. I was going to give the cookie rolls to a friend of mine in another state, but she’s allergic to fruits in the apricot family. This concerned me, because first off, I’m not out to assassinate anyone. Secondly, I have never seen apricot pits used in baked goods. I have seen them raw at some health food stores, but not in any other form.

So I did some research, and apparently there isn’t a “native” term for almonds in China. Due to unfortunate language circumstances and the relatively recent import of almonds in the Chinese market, the words ‘almond’ and ‘apricot’ share the same name.

This article on BrandChannel states: “Four decades ago, California—the source of 80 percent of the world’s almond output—began exporting to China. With no attempt at consensus, importers used dictionaries to name the nuts, resulting in almonds being sold under at least three names, with 杏仁 (xìng rén) the most common. While 杏仁 does mean almond, the dictionary also identifies it as “apricot kernel.” ”

The article goes on to talk about the false advertising issue, but my concern is more than just that – my friend is allergic to apricots, but not almonds. Had I not checked the back of the box and saw that it said ‘apricot,’ I would not have given the cover photo a second thought, and if it did have apricot in it, she might have died from anaphylactic shock. Not a pretty thought.

Some companies have adopted the name badanmu or bandanmu depending on where you look. Even though the translation error dates back to the 70s, apparently some companies are still calling almonds ‘apricots’.

I wish I could suggest an easy fix for this, but given we’re four decades in and the mistake is still being made, I think the best thing we can do at this point is be aware of language barriers and know how they can affect our lives. If something looks off on a package of imported food, research it. Even if it’s something as simple as an ingredient being listed as ‘benzoate of soda’ instead of ‘sodium benzoate’, it’s a good idea to know what labels mean.

Don’t even get me started on European Union codes for certain food additives that are marked by an E followed by several numbers.

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