China

Australian team start studying grain in world’s biggest selling spirit

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Australian team start studying grain in world’s biggest selling spirit
Research is underway to help Australian farmers better understand a key ingredient in baijiu, China’s national drink and the world’s top-selling spirit.

A team from various Australian research institutions is now working to identify the quality and varieties of sorghum that are best suited to the China baijiu market.

An essential ingredient in the drink’s fermenting process, baijiu is primarily distilled from fermented sorghum. 

Australian sorghum exports to China peaked in 2015 at over A$500m (US$384m) after baijiu manufacturers ramped up imports from down under. At the time, farmers also snapped up sorghum in animal feed as a substitute for corn during a period of high corn prices.

Moreover, sorghum exports benefited from tariff reductions under the recent China-Australia free-trade agreement.

Taking place in eight locations over five provinces, the Australian research has set out to capture manufacturer and consumer preferences in different regions of China.

The team will also focus on gaining a better understanding of sorghum grain in baijiu production, and the quality of grain best suited to Chinese consumer tastes.

Quality baijiu is a premium product, with the most expensive bottles valued at hundreds of thousands of yuan​,” said Christina Goodman, Austrade’s trade commissioner in Chengdu.

While Australia’s clean, green reputation and ability to supply counter-seasonal products are well known, it’s challenging to differentiate Australian products and maintain market share in bulk commodity markets. The Australian research will help narrow down the specific attributes of sorghum that could contribute to high-quality baijiu​,”

Made in China for more than 5,000 years, baijiu is the most widely drunk liquor in the world. It makes up one-third of the world’s total liquor output in a market that is worth an estimated US$23bn annually.

The researchers are also working to better understand the opportunities for using Australian sorghum in animal nutrition.

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