Bai jiu (白酒) are distilled spirits made and used throughout rural China for everyday use and special occasions. Distillation of bai jiu is regulated lightly or not at all and nearly every town or village has a distiller. Little is known about the composition of these Chinese spirits, a gap this study seeks to fill given the health risks associated with their high ethanol and high acetaldehyde concentrations.
Researchers purchased 61 samples of Chinese white spirits from small-factory scale producers in central China, and an independent laboratory conducted analyses. Alcohol strength was determined by hydrometer. Gas chromatography was used to determine the concentration of volatile organic compounds: ethanol, methanol, acetaldehyde, ethyl acetate, and higher alcohols. Atomic absorption spectroscopy was used to determine the concentration of lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Guidelines developed by the Alcohol Measures for Public Health Research Alliance (AMPHORA) of the European Commission were used to assess risk.
Results showed that alcohol strength ranged from 35.7 to 61.4 percent, and 58 of the 61 samples exceeded 40 percent. Although the concentration of methanol, ethyl acetate, lead, arsenic, and cadmium were below AMPHORA limits, 40 of the 61 samples had acetaldehyde levels above these limits. The high ethanol concentrations, coupled with a high percentage of samples with elevated acetaldehyde levels, have cumulative long-term health risks, particularly for the substantial proportion of people in China with a genetic trait for impaired acetaldehyde metabolism.
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