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What is Gutter Oil and Where Does it Come from?

“How can you eat this, if you eat this it will kill you,” spoke a man in China’s gutter oil industry. He is probably correct. Gutter oil is still a problem in China, here are some videos explaining what it is an how it is produced.

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“How can you eat this, if you eat this it will kill you,” spoke a man in China’s gutter oil industry to Radio Free Asia about his product. And he is probably correct.

Yes, gutter oil ( 地沟油 Dìgōu yóu) pretty much really comes from gutters — well, sewer drains, grease traps, slaughterhouse waste depots, disposed of meat, animal fat/ skins/ innards, and restaurant oil dumps. Once collected, this slop is then filtered, mixed together, cooked up, and then sold to unscrupulous restaurants around China. Gutter oil is cheaper than new, clean oil, reputedly costing around $1,000 to $1,500 per ton, and this is the main incentive for restaurants to buy it.

Apparently, gutter oil looks no different than standard cooking oil after processing, which is an incredible testament to Chinese ingenuity in and of itself, as I can not imagine any way to make a stew of sewer slop, dead animal parts, and the sludge of grease traps pass for anything resembling clean and clear, golden cooking oil. This fact is almost as amazing as the ingredients of gutter oil are revolting.

Producing and selling gutter oil is illegal in China, and over the past few years the authorities have been sweeping the country shutting down gutter oil processing plants as though they were meth labs and busting up their distribution networks as though they were narcotic rings.

Derek Mead from Vice:

The process makes me think of cooking crystal meth: assemble a cornucopia of heinous materials and whip them into an equally foul, but profitable, product. In this case, the recycled oil is whipped together from rotting animal parts and scraps chucked into the streets by butchers and meat processors. The whole mess is boiled and rendered in shoddy vats and sold to China’s least-discerning kitchens.

But the gutter industry continues on. As the raw materials for making it are basically free, the profit margins for producers are huge.

It is estimated that one tenth of Chinese cooking oil was fetched from the gutters.

Radio Free Asia report:

More videos about gutter oil:


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Filed under: China, Food

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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