AN additive that enhances the flavor of braised pork so much that people become addicted to the dish has been discovered in neighboring Jiangsu Province, setting off alarm bells in Shanghai.

The Shanghai Food and Drug Administration yesterday warned local restaurants after it was found that the additive is also available in local markets. The administration will check to see how prevalent the use of the additive is in local eateries.

The additive, dubbed "King of Meat Additive," can be found in many food markets in Nanjing, the Jiangsu capital, and is used by many restaurant chefs who know the secret of the taste and don't eat the pork dish themselves.

In the same way that some hotpot restaurants used to add poppy shells to the soup to lure back customers, this additive did the trick with the pork dish.

The Shanghai FDA said yesterday the three relevant ingredients in the composition of the additive were legal synthetic flavors that can be used in all kinds of food, except raw meat in which the use of flavors is banned.

The flavors can't be used to cover food that has gone bad, to make counterfeit products and the least amount should be used, according to food safety regulations.

The Shanghai FDA said local restaurants should avoid using or use a minimum amount of the additive while cooking pork with brown sauce and other dishes.

The additive is made of chemical synthetics that contain chlorine and it can irritate the human gastronomic and digestive systems, Mo Baoqing, a professor of Nanjing Medical University, told Guangzhou Daily.

The Nanjing Food and Drug Administration Bureau has launched an investigation, according to the Oriental Morning Post.

China has no clear provisions on such synthetic additives at present and their legality and harmful effects still need to be studied, Peng Dongsheng, secretary-general of the Jiangsu Cuisine Association, told the newspaper.

The additive is also being sold on e-commerce platform Taobao.com.

Online vendors boast the special additive is made of "natural spices" and is widely used across the country.

"It should be safe as long as you don't put too much of it into dishes," said a Shenzhen-based vendor. "We don't know what the additive is made of, but we haven't heard of anyone being poisoned or harmed by it."

Online stores said the additive can be used in almost all kinds of meat products to enhance their taste and get rid of any bad smell. A 500ml bottle costs about 70 yuan (US$11), and most buyers were restaurant owners, the vendor said.

A Taobao official told Shanghai Daily that they were aware of the news and would take action if government administrations decided on a sales ban.

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