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Chinese Restaurants, Using Opium as a Spice, Under Governmental Investigation

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    BEIJING - Thirty-five restaurants across China, including a popular Beijing hot pot chain, have been found illegally using opium poppies as seasoning, one of the more unusual practices bedeviling the country's food regulators.

    Five restaurants are being prosecuted while 30 others, ranging from Shanghai dumpling joints to noodle shops in southwestern Chongqing, are under investigation, said the China Food and Drug Administration.

    Cases of cooks sprinkling ground poppy powder, which contains low amounts of opiates like morphine and codeine, in soup and seafood are not new in China, though it is unclear whether they can effectively hook a customer or deliver a noticeable buzz.

    Shaanxi provincial police busted a noodle seller in 2014 after being tipped off by a failed drug test. Seven restaurants were closed in Ningxia province in 2012 for using the additive and Guizhou province shut down 215 restaurants in 2004.

    Hu Ling, the general manager of Hu Da, a popular chain with several adjacent locations on the raucous Beijing nightlife strip known as "Ghost Street," confirmed Friday the company was under investigation, saying it may have unknowingly sourced seasoning containing opiates. She declined further comment.

    Poppy powder, made from capsules and shells that contain higher opiate content than the seeds commonly seen on bagels, can be easily purchased in markets in western China for about $60 a kilogram, according to a 2014 report by the official Xinhua news agency. The additives were commonly mixed with chili oil and powders, making detection difficult without laboratory equipment.

    Despite pledges from the government to improve enforcement, Chinese consumers perennially face high-profile food scares, ranging from tainted baby milk to fake meat and fruits to seafood pumped with gelatin.

    The country's food safety problems spilled beyond its borders in 2014 when a Shanghai-based supplier to companies including KFC, Starbucks and MacDonald's was found selling unsanitary and expired chicken meat.

    AP/Jan. 22, 2016
    Photo: CTV News
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. perro-salchicha614
    This just seems ridiculous. First of all, the amount of pod material that would be required to get someone hooked would be impossible to conceal, flavor-wise, since opiates taste awful. Second, even if people did get hooked and start to go into withdrawal, they'd have no idea it was because of the food they were eating. This is just about the most nonsensical thing I've ever heard of...
  2. Alfa
    Most countries have banned poppy and poppy seeds, while the plant grows pretty much anywhere and seeds are used on bagels and bread. This shows how idiotic it is to ban nature. It's like banning rain.
    The inevitable consequence of banning nature is situations like this where innocent people become victim of prosecution. Or rather where everyone is guilty of breaking the law. Especially those working in gardening and the food industry.
  3. Beenthere2Hippie
    As you said, perro, it's ridiculous to legislate the use of seeds and flavorings that derive from spices, much like legislating "rain," as Alfa mentioned, is a ludicrous idea. But the fight to control naturally occuring substances--like poppies, weed and many other ethnobotanicals "with a kick"--continues to leave many countries in the world morally contemplating how to deal with such realities, and as such they remain at a loss.

    It's a no-brainer to people here on DF that just stepping back and allowing nature to be what it is is best for the world and all in it, but I'm afraid much of the rest of the of the world is still rather split and mixed up on the subject.
  4. perro-salchicha614
    What I meant was that it would be ridiculous for restaurants to try to get people hooked in their food by adding opiates to it, but I agree with you completely on your point, BT2H.

    Actually, Alfa, an exception is made for poppy seeds in the Controlled Substances Act. The seeds are the one part of the plant that's unequivocally legal to possess in the US, regardless of what else might be on them. ;) Same thing in Canada. The pods are a legal grey area, people are only very rarely prosecuted for possessing them, and it's generally assumed that people are buying them for ornamental purposes. I believe there are several countries in Europe (as well as Australia) where it's legal to grow small amounts of poppies as long as no attempt is being made to harvest opium from them.
  5. Alfa
    Poppy seeds have different status around the world. These contain controlled substances which means that processing or preparation of poppy seeds is often considered illegal. Which is basically what a cook does with poppy seeds. Especially when ground and cooked.
  6. perro-salchicha614
    I'm not saying that there aren't any countries where poppy seeds are banned, since they are in places with particularly harsh attitudes toward substance use, such as Singapore and some Middle Eastern countries, but they certainly aren't banned in most countries. Even where poppy cultivation is technically illegal, the laws are rarely enforced when people grow small amounts. The legal status of poppies is extremely nebulous in many places.

    I defy anyone to come up with one instance of someone being prosecuted for making poppy seed tea in a country where it's legal to possess them.
  7. Alfa
  8. Beenthere2Hippie
    [​IMG] For your sticktoativeness, and for always having your facts straight, Alfa. ;)
  9. Alfa
    From the CBC in 2008:
    But although it happens, its extremely rare to happen. Which is why the Chinese situation is so weird.
  10. perro-salchicha614
    A. The first one involves a guy who was simply complaining about the lack of availability of poppy seeds in a store. This is not what I was referring to. This guy was not prosecuted. No legal action was taken against him. It's just as likely that they discontinued stocking the seeds due to a seasonal lack of availability or because they were unprofitable.

    B. I was asking for examples of individual citizens prosecuted under ordinary law, not martial law. The second example refers to a large bust conducted by the US military in Afghanistan, and it involves other drugs as well. One of the people cited in the article even admits that poppy seeds are only "potential narcotics."

    And I wasn't referring to pod material, only seeds. There have obviously been instances of people being prosecuted for selling/possessing pods, but it is extremely rare.
  11. Alfa
    You are spot on. The above cases are not an example of prosecution for poppy seeds.
    Practically this doesn't happen even though the preparation of poppy seeds can technically be considered illegal.* Just not in practice.

    * What I mean with technically illegal is that the united nations convention on psychotropic substances of 1971 defined that preparations of controlled substances are illegal. An example of this is how the legal plant Mimosa hostillis becomes illegal once you make a preparation of it by extracting the controlled substance DMT. This is what got the Santo daime case in initial trouble for making ayahuasca which is a tea containing mimosa hostilis.
    By the same reasoning Canada consider psilocybe mushrooms containers of the controlled substance psilocybin.

    On a related not: I'm not sure what ever came of this.
  12. perro-salchicha614
    I don't know, I'd be kind of curious to know what happened with that. To ban poppy seeds in the US would require a revision of the CSA, since they're specifically excepted in it, and I don't see this happening any time soon. What they can do is make it harder for vendors who import poppy seeds to get them through customs, and this does happen periodically.
  13. Potter
    Perro I would be willing to bet you can cover the taste with enough spices, or even place it in a dish with flavors where it would not be out of place. Asian cuisines have a lot of stuff that is pretty outside western taste pallets, ever try Bitter Melon or Sichiuan Peppers*? I got poppy seed tea basically passable with enough brown sugar, ginger, and lime. Damn, this almost makes me want to get a bunch of pods and a wok.

    * These are a spice from the citrus family that have a very distinct mouth-feel not unlike a 9v battery being pressed to your tongue. they were only decriminalized in the US in the past decade, having previously been banned due to being a source of Citrus Canker. They are now sterilized with irradiation. When you eat enough of them they numb your face in a way that is kind of like good coke, in a sense. They are also very intense and I had a hard time finishing two dishes with them recently. A very cool spice that is well worth going out of your way to experiment with, if only for the sensory experience. I always offer some to guests eating at my house for the first time. Some less sweet kumquats and a flower called "buzzbuttons" will also produce the same sensation.
  14. perro-salchicha614
    That's a good point. That never even occurred to me, because I don't eat spicy food. I've never really messed around with seed or pod tea to improve the flavor, surprisingly. Just the other day, someone was jokingly telling me that I should concoct opium tea cocktail recipes and post them on here. Kind of a funny thought...
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