China has a known problem with "counterfeit" cooking oil made illegally by gangs. Not just inferior cooking oil relabelled as well-regarded brands, but made from waste oil and rotting animal parts.

This is generally known as "gutter oil" (Chinese pinyin dìgōu yóu, simplified characters 地沟油, traditional characters 地溝油).

Gutter oil can contain bleaches and chemicals to alter its colour and pH level to more closely resemble cooking oil. These include known carcinogens.

People caught running such rackets have recently received very harsh prison sentences but a reliable method for detecting gutter oil had not been found last I checked.

I'm quite a foodie when I travel but I'm still on a low budget so I eat where the local people eat. Cheap restaurants, stalls, and especially street food.

There's always some risk when you choose to eat street food. But generally you expect just low hygiene standards. I certainly did not expect to be eating food adulterated with cancer-causing ingredients by organized gangs!

So is gutter oil also known to be a problem elsewhere in Asia, or elsewhere in the world? Or is it a strictly Chinese invention?

Do travellers have to worry about adulterated food when overseas now? This is beyond the usual expectations of food poisoning!

Just to be clear, because it seems some people have misread, this question is asking about this issue in other countries. Not about other issues in this country. I added the China tag because that's where problem is known to exist, for comparison.

Just to be clear, this is just about "gutter oil", which is a dangerous fake product tourists can consume without knowing it. It's not about other fake goods or even about re-labelled fake cooking oil. Please read the Wikipedia article on gutter oil if you are like Andrew Ferrier and think this is "irrelevant to travellers"!

  • 5
    I have heard about the problem existing in China AND I have never heard about it existing elsewhere BUT you can be absolutely and completely certain that it will be a practice and a problem elsewhere - BECAUSE human nature is such that if something can be done profitably then it will be done, regardless of the human impact, damage, risk to life and property and more. Dec 28, 2013 at 13:04
  • 1
    I don't think that chain of reasoning necessarily follows. The relative costs, population, demand, kinds of gangs/scams already in China seem to make China more likely than say Japan. But hey, that's why I'm looking for facts and not just opinions. Dec 28, 2013 at 13:13
  • 3
    @AndrewFerrier: Maybe it's only relevant to people who eat food when they travel and you're not such a person? I'm pretty sure I never eat gutter oil when I'm at home in Australia. When I travel I keep costs low, love to try the food, and especially the street food. I was already travelling in China when I heard about gutter oil and it made me lose my apetite for street food. Dec 29, 2013 at 1:24
  • 2
    My first thought was 'how is gutter oil travel related'? from the title. Reading the question though, it certainly struck a worried chord - I wonder if this occurs elsewhere? I love streetfood, and it's very interesting to know if this is a 'cultural' issue localised to China, or if it's prevalent elsewhere. Voted to keep open.
    – Mark Mayo
    Dec 29, 2013 at 10:54
  • 4
    @Sparrowcide The reason is (and I must disagree with McMahon): Many types of scams do not work in specific cultures. One reason is the product can be purchased cheaply and reliably and its part of the total price is neglible. Another reason is that cultures are different what they see as unacceptable behavior. Most european hucksters are specialized to sell bad quality as good quality, but selling harmful stuff really brings you in trouble. Jun 22, 2017 at 23:51

2 Answers 2


Yes, this is a problem rampant in South/South East Asia. A quick google search shows that not only cooking oil, but shoes, motor vehicle oil and butter are commonly counterfeited.

Not only through the web but I know first hand from buddies in Pakistan, Sri Lanka India and Bangladesh that they are tired of the spurious oil/butter/foods and even sugar coated dates. There are many who carry organic ghee (clarified butter) from the US to India because though it is an Indian product, no one in India makes affordable organic ghee. Most people would carry dates from the Arab countries while traveling to Asia.

I think this is a common problem across the Asian countries in that region. Sadly even the holograms of original manufacturers are copied and stuck to containers carrying the counterfeit product. So the end user can never know during purchase if what they are buying is really what they wanted to buy.

  • The Times of India link is quite strange because it has a heading of "Illegal cooking oil factory" but contains no story and of all the links there, not one is on this topic! \-: The stories about motor oil are not really relevant because you don't eat it. It's not clear if they're just relabelling cheap cooking oil as name-brand cooking or talking about true gutter oil made from "waste oil and rotting animal parts". Sadly the video is blocked by the great firewall of China so I can't see it )-: Dec 29, 2013 at 1:28
  • 1
    I somehow remember reading something in the Times of India link. Anyway another quick google showed these two links of illegal factories in Taiwan and India: chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-11/13/content_17103286.htm and articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-28/bhubaneswar/… Though am not sure if they are particularly manufacturing gutter oil. Dec 29, 2013 at 18:18

Yes, gutter oil is also a problem in Taiwan.

There's an article in Today's New York Times (September 19, 2014), Taiwan’s ‘Gutter Oil’ Scandal

Since Sept. 4, the Taiwanese authorities have been struggling to control a food scare caused by 645 tons of adulterated cooking oil produced by the Chang Guann Company and distributed to more than 1,200 restaurants, schools and food processors.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .