What is really in a prawn cracker?

They're a staple on the table at your local Chinese restaurant, but have you ever wondered what prawn crackers are made from and if they actually contain any prawn?

In the new series of Food Unwrapped, Jimmy Doherty heads to Thailand to find out what goes into these shrimply delicious pre-dinner nibbles.

Originating in Indonesia, Jimmy discovers the key ingredient in the crispy snack is cassava. Cassava is a knobbly root vegetable, which grows in abundance in tropical areas such as Thailand.

According to the UN, the vegetable is the third most important source of calories in the tropics and developing countries, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people.

Cassava grows quickly and easily, even during times of drought or in poor soils and is very easily recultivated: After harvesting, one plant can be turned into three new shrubs.

Although cassava-based products are widely-consumed, the root vegetable is highly toxic when eaten raw and first needs to be treated to create tapioca starch, its more commonly-known form.

Because the starch is so good at absorbing moisture, it's the perfect addition to prawn crackers, helping give them that inimitable crunch. Tapioca starch is produced by peeling, chopping and blending cassava. The blended liquid is then filtered and left to settle for three hours, allowing the toxic cyanide to evaporate from the starch and making it safe to eat.

Next, to create prawn cracker paste, the starch is mixed with sugar, salt and - hoorah! - prawns, before being sliced thinly and dried. The dried product is then fried in sunflower oil and - once it hits the oil - immediately expands to become the prawn cracker we know and love.

And while it may surprise you, Food Unwrapped reveals the crackers contain between 21 to 38 per cent prawn meat: Bad news for those with shellfish allergies, but all the more for the rest of us.

Food Unwrapped continues weeknights at 7pm on Lifestyle Food.


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