In a previous entry for Strainer, we explored the use of green tea as an additive in various processed goods; from skin creams to air fresheners to slimming pills to ice cream.
We explored how seldom it is the flavour of the green tea that qualifies it as capable of “adding value”, which, by the way, usually means added shareholder wealth, not added customer pleasure.
We explored how green tea carries connotations of “healthfulness” to most people in most countries, as well as ambitious health claims for anyone who cares to seek them out.
We discussed the greenness of the stuff, noting how customers connote nature, trustworthiness and mildness in almost anything thus tinged.
Finally, we noted how green tea has been used as a trope for Asian-ness. That’s dessicated Zen-wisdom to a western customer, respect for local industry to a Chinese customer.
In many ways, it’s the win-win scenario so beloved of diplomats. The green tea of green tea extract doesn’t need to be matcha-grade; it doesn’t need to be the spring-picked, tips-only, high-altitude ambrosia I wrote about in this column last month. It need only be green-ish and come from camellia sinensis. High profit margins. Becalmed customers.
This additive role for green tea is a relatively new one. And in many ways it has assumed this role by supplanting a former favourite leaf; mint.
Mint, for all its penetrating vim and pep, lacks the functional connotations of green tea. Mint is a mere flavour. But if mint has been prominent for long enough to fall out of favour, might green tea also suffer a similar fate eventually?
The reason I ask this is because I have noticed a new theme on the supermarket shelves; bamboo salt. This rewards a little research because the story is a good one.
Salt is sourced from evaporated sea water, then stuffed into pipes of hollow bamboo. A blob of local clay forms a bung on each end. At least an equal weight of timber is felled, burned to roast the bamboo. The kiln reaches 1,000-1,500°C, leaving no visible trace of the plant. The solid bung discs are discarded, the grey, ashen salt heated again to a temperature that turns it into lava.
The clear cooled salt resembles something from Breaking Bad. Only if this is repeated several times (nine is auspicious) does it take on the purple hue of the most prized versions.
That’s probably not the version that goes into the toothpaste in Carrefour and Auchan. But this is already a fabulagenic, energy-intensive, unlikely process that’s hard to forget.
It trumps green tea in terms of novelty and sheer Asian-ness. As an icon on a cardboard box, it seems green and natural and caring enough. And the health claims, from headache alleviation to enlightened immortality, more than match the ambitions of the green function powder. It also helps, for now, that this is a product associated with Hallyu and South Korean Cool.
How can green tea possibly compete? As an industrial additive, the game may soon be up.
But as a beverage, it beats purple brine every time.