Is Chinese food dairy-free? (an explanation)

In this article, we discuss why Chinese food is dairy-free. We relate the history of lactose products worldwide to explain why so many Asian cultures are lactose intolerant.  

Is Chinese food dairy-free?

 Chinese food is dairy-free; Asian cuisines don’t use milk or cheese in their dishes.  Chinese, Japanese and Indochinese cuisines do not or hardly use not only milk and cheese but also the meat of milk animals.

Do you want to know why?

The absence of dairy products in Far Eastern cuisine is quite merely a consequence of food intolerance to lactose. This intolerance is an innate characteristic of mammals, inscribed in one of their genes, called LCT

At the birth of most mammals (from whales to mice, including bears, primates, and also humans), the LCT gene code organizes the production of an enzyme “hydrolase,” lactase, which assimilates lactose, a lump of natural stable sugar, and poorly water-soluble in mammalian breast milk.  By transforming it into glucose and galactose, more water-soluble sugars can be transferred and then conveyed by the blood to nourish the infant’s body.

But the following lines of the LCT gene code also provide for the reduction and then the cessation of lactase production with weaning… once the small mammals can feed on something other than breast milk. 

And, at the moment the LCT gene puts lactase production on hold, lactose is less and less easily transformed and concentrates in the stomach where bacteria enjoy it since the body no longer consumes it.

But now, the bacterial flora of the stomach does not break down lactose into water-soluble sugars as lactase does, but into other substances and by producing hydrogen! This causes bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, typical symptoms of lactose food intolerance! 

You should know that in some cases, fortunately quite rare, the LCT gene code does not trigger the production of enough lactase at birth or goes into inactivity from a young age of babies, causing lactose intolerance and its disorders. 

But, you will say to me, how is it that many people and domestic animals such as cats and dogs manage to eat milk products after weaning, without turning into “hydrogen batteries”?

The MCM6 gene mutation

Resistance to lactose intolerance, a non-innate trait in weaned men and women, is believed to have appeared around 10,000 years ago in an individual from a nomadic Caucasian who raised sheep for their livelihood. 

In this individual, a mutation of a gene related to LCT, the MCM6 gene (Micro Chromosome Maintenance n ° 6), has occurred, a transformation consisting of a modification of this gene’s code that makes the stop order unreadable. Of the production of lactase sent by the LCT gene during weaning!

The happy individual was thus able to consume the milk and cheese of his goats and sheep once an adult. Then he transmitted his mutant MCM6 gene to some of his descendants who themselves transferred it abundantly to all population in Europe and the Mediterranean area, during the journeys in these different regions made by nomadic peoples from the Caucasian steppes, from this distant time until the first half of the first millennium.

And it is thus that this mutation is allowing to live by feeding on milk products resulting from the breeding of the sheep, the goats than the cattle, imposed itself to the point that 80% of the European, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern populations, Americans, and Australians are benefiting from it today! Even if this mutation allowing tolerance to milk products seems more frequent in northern Europe than in the Mediterranean area.

Dairy-free in East Africa 

Funny enough, around the same time, about 5 or 6,000 years ago, a comparable though not identical mutation occurred in an individual from another nomadic tribe of East Africa who was a herder of camels.

As in that of the Caucasus plains, the mutation concerns the MCM6 gene and has the same effect on lactase production!

But we know these are two distinct mutations because the modified DNA sequences are not the same! In Africa, this highly engaging genetic mutation has also spread, but less widely than in Europe and the Mediterranean’s basins.

Because the Africans of those ancient times lived among Africans and did not practice continental invasions like their colleagues in the steppes and their European and Middle Eastern descendants and the mutation of MCM6 born in Africa has not yet received the same worldwide success. Still, it has been confined for the moment to Tanzania and a few neighboring countries.

Dairy-free in the East

The Asian peoples of the Far East – China, the Indochinese peninsula, and Japan – have protected themselves from time immemorial against “barbarian” invasions from the west. 

And, few nomads but rather sedentary farmers who breed buffaloes used for traction, work in the fields and meat in adulthood and backyard animals and pigs, an Asian mutation similar to those that have occurred in the Caucasus and East Africa, giving supremacy associated with the faculty of eating milk products, was not imposed …

As a result, to this day, almost all “pure strain” Asians become lactose intolerant once weaning is over! Therefore, this means that we must avoid presenting a cheese platter, pancakes, brioches, and dairy desserts to Chinese and Japanese guests unless they are babies!

Other FAQs about Dairy Free which you may be interested in.

Is Stork Dairy Free? (Your Guide to Stork)

The bottom line

Oriental kitchens do not use any dairy products and seldom meat from young sheep, goats, or bovines … And that is also why you will not find an authentic recipe for lamb from milk with young bamboo shoots!.

On the other hand, we are starting to find such recipes, especially lamb, in some Western “Chinese” restaurants. But oriental cuisine, with its millennia of experience, has found substitutes for these animal milk products: especially soy milk and tofu.

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