The researcher reviews the finished product
Destined with Hue lotus
The day of receiving the news that a business is preparing to apply for the FDA license (for quality and safety approval when launching products in the US market) as well as a contract to export Hue lotus tea to the US (October 2022), Dr. Nguyen Van Hue (Vice Dean of the Faculty of Mechanics and Technology, the University of Agriculture and Forestry) phoned me with a nervous voice: "The lotus product that I have been researching is about to “bloom” to another part of the world."
Lotus tea is the first in a quartet of products from Hue lotus to enter the market from the results of the research, along with lotus extract, instant lotus root, and bottled lotus seed sweet-soup.
In 2015, when thinking about food technology products from Hue specialties, Dr. Nguyen Van Hue and his associates immediately mentioned lotus.
“Lotus is considered the national flower of Vietnam; moreover, the Hue lotus is famous. The effect of this flower is not only confirmed by eastern and western medicine, but the image of the lotus flower also brings out the delicate beauty of the ancient capital's culinary culture," affirmed the scientist.
Receiving a scientific research topic, then moving on to a university-level commercialization project, Dr. Nguyen Van Hue connects businesses to spend an additional 400 million VND to invest in machinery to bring products into the market. The batches’ flavor of lotus tea gradually becomes more intense, keeping the right taste of Hue lotus through the packaging process.
"Eating and sleeping" with lotus
A short story about becoming successful is a summary of 2 years with so many sweats and nights of staying up "to toss and turn". Mr. Hue said that he was supported by his wife and children, but the product from the laboratory out to the market is a challenging process. Making Hue lotus tea is a feat due to the need of sitting and folding each petal. If the product-making process is not careful, it can easily lead to a moldy lotus. The size of the laboratory is completely different from the large output when it comes to market, which leads to many risks.
Students try to conduct different stages of instant lotus root
“There was one time that I promised to import flowers from farmers with a ten million VND contract. Suddenly, the machine "became cranky". It was impossible to break a promise to local farmers, but the machine had not been repaired for 10 days after the flowers entered the warehouse. Students’ eyes dewed with tears. I didn’t cry but it was really painful for me to throw all the imported lotus flowers away as organic fertilizer for other plants. At the end of 2019 and early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused goods to remain in stock, and once again, we had to witness the manufactured products that could not reach our customers," recalled the scientist born in 1979.
Every time they failed, Dr. Hue and supporting scientists also stood up more strongly, because they knew that nowhere else could have the same lotus flower flavor as Hue.
As proof of this, he said: "In 2018, the Secretary of the Dong Thap Provincial Party Committee happened to see the product I made on VTV1 and then directly invited me to consult the lotus tea product line for his locality. After experimenting, I found that the taste can be the same, but the lotus flowers there could not create a specific scent like Hue lotus. And, only Hue lotus has each petal from the outside to the inside to shape it."
Lotus tea is the first ‘brainchild’ that Dr. Nguyen Van Hue and his associates spent a lot of time on. However, they had had at least 3 more times to pull all-nighters to create lotus products.
The researcher asserts: "Hue lotus has no discarded parts. If people have not done it or have done it not perfectly, I will study it. The market already has lotus roots soaked in vinegar, lotus root jam, lotus leaf conical hat, and lotus stems to make silk fibers. My colleagues and I came up with lotus tea (2016), then lotus balm (2018), instant lotus root, and bottled lotus seed sweet-soup (2022).
Nguyen Thi Diem Huong, M.Sc. a lecturer at the University of Agriculture and Forestry, who worked on the same research, confided that Hue lotus sweet-soup was not new, but it was a "pity" for customers when they had to travel to Hue to have a chance trying the famous Hue sweet-soup brand name. Thinking so, from the research topic, scientists and specialized students use sterilization technology to ensure the right Hue lotus sweet-soup recipe, but the product is long-lasting and retains its flavor even without using chemicals.
Meticulous with each lotus petal
When trying bottled lotus seed sweet-soup, then try instant lotus root, you could feel the full Hue flavor in each product, and would not have to worry about food safety.
Dr. Hue said, like instant lotus root, the market has fried snacks in oil. However, people are especially concerned about health effects when consuming oily products. From that concern, I researched two drying techniques, including infrared drying and cold drying technology for more than two years, from 2020 to 2022 continuously. To meet the taste of consumers, the research team mixes and combines cheese and seaweed into lotus roots for a variety of products.
If lotus tea took scientists many sleepless nights, the instant lotus root might not be much different. Dr. Hue recalls: “Once, I had to throw away ingredients and additives of nearly 60 million VND of mine. After staying awake for many nights trying to find the cause, I finally discovered it was due to the large-energy drying equipment temperature control. Now that I think back about it, then the times when I lost my appetite and sleep become memories."
Let Hue lotus go far
It is no coincidence that many studies have been stored in cabinets for a long time, with poor commercialization potential. That's a big problem, but according to researchers, scientists are good at expertise, but they can't compete for capital, lack the conditions to invest hundreds of millions in machinery to experiment products on a market scale, and lack experience, distribution and sales.
The day he heard that the partner asked for an FDA certificate and would export goods to the other side of the world, Mr. Hue was half happy and half sorry. He said: “It is a trade-off because they only order me to process the product, but the brand name and packaging are of their own. The advantage is that the traditional product of Hue has gone far in the world, the scientist has brought the product to market but lost a lot, and unfortunately, the brand name is lost. In the situation of not having enough economic potential, unable to apply for an FDA license on their own, only that is the way to take Hue lotus away. The manufacturer's brand name is lost, but the Hue lotus brand name is not lost".
Many scientists say that the joy of researchers is to create products that are in demand. As for a land's typical and traditional products, the meaning is even greater when bringing the flavor of their hometown's specialties around to introduce to everyone. Moreover, when the Hue lotus brand name resounded, the people of the ‘Capital land of Gods’ have more livelihoods and are able to convert inefficient crop areas, whereas, the landscape of Hue is beautiful and fragrant everywhere.
The story of Hue lotus seems endless in the mind of a researcher. Dr. Nguyen Van Hue revealed that, in the future, there will be more new products from the research on Hue lotus, and there may also be trade-offs that scientists must accept. But the gentle fragrance of Hue lotus could not be hidden by anyone but will spread forever, like the enchanting purity of this flower "near the mud but does not smell muddy".
Story and photos: Huu Phuc