A significant number of soy sauce brands in Hong Kong were found to contain a type of carcinogenic substance believed to be extremely dangerous if consumed in large quantities, a consumer group revealed.
In the latest report of the Hong Kong Consumer Council, 11 of the 40 soy sauce samples it reviewed contained the chemical compound “4-methylimidazole”, a substance identified as a possible human carcinogen by the World Health Organisation, reported the South China Morning Post.
Popular in many Southeast Asian countries, soy sauces and seasonings have become part of the daily meals of many families in the region.
The 11 brands found to contain the carcinogenic substance are as follows:
Kwong Cheong Thye (Light Soya Sauce Best)
Yummy House (Premium Soy Sauce)
Konig (Excellent Soy Sauce)
Tung Chun (King’s Dark Soy Sauce)
Tai Hua (Dark Soy Sauce)
Pearl River Bridge (Golden Label Superior Dark Soy Sauce)
Yu Pin King (Premium Dark Soy Sauce)
Pearl River Bridge (Seasoned Soy Sauce For Seafood)
Tung Chun (Seafood Soy Sauce)
Imperial Banquet (Sweet Soy Sauce)
Yummy House (Premium Soy Sauce – Chili)
“Hongkongers consume soy sauce almost every day,” said Gilly Wong Fung-han, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council. While experts believe that the risk of it causing cancer in humans is still low, Wong has urged the Center for Food Safety to investigate the matter and initiate the regulation of the amount of 4-methylimidazole allowed in food, using other countries’ standards for reference.
Companies in Hong Kong are reportedly not following any guidelines for the safety and quality of soy sauces and seasonings.
The council, as an example, stated that California has a law that requires businesses to put warnings on product packaging against consuming more than 29 micrograms of 4-methylimidazole per day.
The sample from Yu Pin King was found to have roughly 2 milliliters of the substance, while Tung Chun’s King’s Dark Soy Sauce had 7 milliliters.
According to Wong, companies include the carcinogens in the soy sauce to improve its look. Adding caramel coloring, which contain 4-methylimidazole, to soy sauces in the browning process helps in increasing the intensity of the products’ color.
In other earlier studies, researchers have found “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in animals” due to the consumption of 4-methylimidazole.
In humans, however, results may be different, according to Wong Ka-hing, associate director at Polytechnic University’s Food Safety and Technology Research Centre. He said that a person may only develop cancer from the carcinogenic substance if the person consumed at least three liters of soy sauce per day,
“The reason that Hong Kong does not have such regulations is probably because the risks are extremely low,”Wong said.
But while the carcinogen may not really pose an immediate risk, the overall quality of the sampled soy sauce should definitely be of concern.
An assessment by Taiwan Soy Sauce Standard found that only one in four tested samples in the city reached its highest Grade A level. More dishearteningly, 10 samples even failed to meet the lowest requirements, four of them reportedly came from local brand Amoy.
According to the Food and Safety Centre, it is now studying the soy sauce samples from the survey.