China’s demand for dairy drives up prices worldwide

cream cheese tea
Photo: Theerawan Bangpran (iStock)

There was a time, like 25 years ago, when it was next to impossible to get dairy products in China. Now entire neighborhoods in Shanghai smell like butter. Since China is still not especially known for its booming dairy industry, it’s been importing milk from overseas, driving up prices worldwide. All this is summarized in an excellent Wall Street Journal headline: “Sweet Cheeses! The Milk Road to China Is Driving Dairy Prices Higher.”

The story describes how Chinese people have developed a taste for nai gai cha, or tea topped with cream cheese, and have been incorporating cheese into other traditional foods, such as glutinous rice balls, fried rice, and spring rolls. The rising demand hasn’t affected U.S. dairy producers yet, but analysts believe that it will, despite trade tensions between the U.S. and China, because of shortages in Europe and Australia.

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What about the East Asian propensity toward lactose intolerance (70%-100% in some communities)? A little suffering is worth it, young Chinese people told the WSJ, especially if it comes from eating ice cream in hot weather.

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Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.