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Why Generation Z craves glycine made in China

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An amino acid called glycine has caught TikTok's attention — but not because of its potential health benefits.
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  • Generation Z is fascinated by an amino acid called glycine.
  • That's because a glycine company in China has gone viral on TikTok due to its unique ads.
  • The amino acid industry, including glycine, is predicted to grow significantly by 2028.

You may have never thought of or heard of the food additive glycine, but it's all Generation Z can talk about on TikTok.

That's because a glycine maker in China called Donghua Jinlong Chemical has been popping up in people's “For You” feeds thanks to its energetic videos promoting the commonplace compound – a tiny molecule found in foods like plain tofu and people can't look away.

Glycine is an amino acid produced by the human body and occurs naturally in some foods. Synthetic versions can also be added to foods and supplements. Research published by the National Library of Medicine shows some evidence that glycine may have various health benefits, such as treating gastrointestinal problems and preventing liver damage.

This often-overlooked additive first caught people's attention after a TikTok page apparently affiliated with Donghua Jinlong promoted the product and the company's “well-established brand.”

“Release food-grade glycine from Donghua Jinlong in 2024,” a speaker proudly proclaims in the March video, as photos of a factory flash across the area: “Suitable as a flavor enhancer, sweetener and dietary supplement. Also used in pickles, sweet sauces, soy sauce, vinegar and juices to enhance flavor.”

The video touched Generation Z and glycine has become an absurd joke among this generation. The TikTok page's most popular video has over half a million views, and users go to great lengths to profess their love for food-grade industrial glycine – by posting fake infomercials, creating parodies that mimic the company's own TikTok videos, and EDM -Produce tracks dedicated to Glycine.

There is even a separate term for fans of the product: Glycine Girlies.

“The kids are craving the glycine,” said one comment in response to the techno-glycine song.

And at least one US company has gotten involved in the meme.

In response to the ad for Donghua Jinlong's food-grade glycine, the official Smarties confectionery site voiced its support: “No, if I were to use glycine, I would get it from this,” she wrote in a comment.

According to tech journalist Louise Matsakis, who first reported on the meme, the company appears confused by the attention. When a user asked that Donghua Jinlong start selling hoodies, the company page simply responded with “???”

A February report from the company Research and Markets predicted that the amino acid industry will grow from $26.6 billion in 2023 to $39.4 billion in 2028.

Amino acids “are experiencing a resurgence, driven primarily by their increasing use in functional foods, dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals amid increased demand for wellness products,” the research firm said in a press release.

It is unclear whether the Glycine Girlies will contribute to the growth of this industry. But unless there's a TikTok ban, get ready for Hot Glycine Girl summer.

Donghua Jinlong Chemical did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.