Changing times for China's favorite Mid-Autumn treat

It's the staple treat of China's Mid-Autumn Festival and legend has it that it was once used in an attempt to bring down an empire. But the humble mooncake is this year at the center of battles being waged on two fronts.


Mid-Autumn falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month - September 22 this year - and has its traditions as a harvest-time celebration, to be spent with your family feasting.

Over the centuries it has grown to incorporate the Chinese legend of the moon goddess Chang'e and her quest to find immortality and also the story of how rebels supposedly hid secret messages inside mooncakes and thereby rallied the people to arms against the Mongol rulers of the 14th century.

But changing times and tastes have turned that humble mooncake into a multi-million dollar industry and there is a war being waged between those who market the original recipe - usually combining lotus seed paste and a salted duck egg yolk inside a thin crust - and those who have introduced such exotic choices as ice cream and chocolate variations.

In Hong Kong, both sides are now spending millions in advertising to try to lure hungry diners - upwards of HK$55 million (5.4 million euros) all told, a rise of 82 percent from last year, according to press reports.

And the total Chinese market is now worth around 14 billion yuan (1.5 billion euro) with around 250,000 tons of mooncakes being made around the Mid-Autumn Festival each year, says the China General Chamber of Commerce.

And while that all means plenty of choice for consumers of the delicacy, doctors have weighed in to spoil at least some of the fun by warning the public of the damage mooncakes might do to their health.

The rich ingredients in traditional cakes mean that some mooncakes can hold around one-and-a-half times an adult's recommended daily intake of sugar, while others can rack up a full day's fat consumption.

The smart thing to do when you are tempted, apparently, is to just take a slice. "Eating just a quarter of a mooncake as a snack is perfectly acceptable," former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Dietitian Association, Flavia U, told the South China Morning Post newspaper.