A Chinese Jellyfish Delicacy and Its Poisonous Fake Substitute

May 11, 2016 Updated: May 11, 2016

In East Asia, shredded jellyfish is a common appetizer, usually served cold and dry. It can come with sauce or as part of various sushi recipes, and is well-liked for its tough texture and chewiness.

But in China, notorious for its unsafe or outright counterfeit food, some rings have figured out how to artificially manufacture the meal—albeit not one that anyone should be eating.

On April 22, police in eastern China’s city of Huzhou seized hundreds of pounds of synthetic jellyfish meat from a small workshop, the local Hangzhou Daily reported May 7.

Fake (L) and real jellyfish. (via Yangtze Evening News)

The shop made the fake jellyfish using alginic acid, dry calcium chloride, and aluminum sulfate. The result costs 30 to 40 yuan (about 4 or 5 dollars) per half kilogram, and has been sold at the shop’s frozen goods store for over a year, bringing in over 70,000 yuan (about $11,000) for the owner.

Fake jellyfish can be produced and prepared much faster than farming the animals. The substitute “food” is tougher than real jellyfish and is of slightly different hue, though this is difficult to discern for the unsuspecting customer. The synthetic jellyfish interferes with digestion and the aluminum sulfate causes deterioration of the nervous system and can cause Alzheimer’s disease.

The Huzhou shop owner, Mr. Yuan, had been taught by a man in the neighboring province of Jiangsu, who was arrested April 29. The teacher, Mr, Jia, said that he had made ten tons of fake jellyfish over a 3-year-period, earning over 100,000 yuan.

Mr. Yuan’s fake jellyfish workshop in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province. (via Huzhou Police)