A popular Taiwanese drink, Chun Cui He milk tea, has been taken off the shelves for now as it was found to contain a food additive not permitted in Singapore, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said.
L-theanine is currently not on the list of permitted food additives under the Food Regulations of Singapore. It is found in green tea leaves and is said to have calming properties.
While assuring consumers that there is no food safety risk associated with the milk tea, the AVA said the "safety of L-theanine for use as a food additive has not been evaluated" by a United Nations committee on food additives.
"Under our regulatory framework, traders have the responsibility to ensure that they only import/ manufacture food products containing permitted food additives."
About 261,800 bottles of the product were imported, it added.
Germany also bans L-theanine in drinks though it is deemed safe by other countries such as the United States and Japan.
Produced by Taiwanese food company Bifido, Chun Cui He, which comes in several flavours, is commonly sold in Taiwanese convenience stores and is a hit with tourists. Last night, news reports said 7-Eleven was also removing the milk tea from its stores in Hong Kong.
The Straits Times first learnt that all 7-Eleven stores in Singapore had been told to stop selling Chun Cui He milk tea on Monday.
When contacted, a 7-Eleven spokesman said the chain has recalled all remaining stock from its stores and also stopped further batches from being imported.
Customers who have unconsumed bottles of the milk tea can return them to any 7-Eleven store for a full refund, the spokesman added.
The other flavour sold in Singapore, latte, will continue to be sold. The drinks cost $2.80 each.
When the brand's two flavours, milk tea and latte, made their debut in Singapore last month, they caused a frenzy. The drinks became so difficult to snag that netizens took to social media to post updates of specific 7-Eleven outlets that had stock. This led 7-Eleven to set a limit of four bottles per customer.
Singapore fans say the Chun Cui He drinks are creamier and smoother than similar offerings by other brands.
The 7-Eleven spokesman said the brand's supplier, Abana, is in the process of registering L-theanine as an approved ingredient with AVA. Attempts to contact Abana were unsuccessful.
Bifido, which is based in Taichung, told The Straits Times that it was notified of the AVA recall only yesterday but is working with Abana to get L-theanine approved.
"We will be more than happy to provide any information that the AVA requires to get the product permitted," said the company.
Professor William Chen, director of Nanyang Technological University's Food Science and Technology programme, said there are no reported negative health effects linked to consumption of L-theanine, an amino acid found naturally in tea plants and fungi.
In fact, "it contributes to the taste and flavour for green tea infusion, and thus its content in tea leaves highly impacts the tea quality and price", he added.
The recall has left many fans thirsty for information, with some wondering why the drink is being pulled from the shelves only now.
Others like events promoter Stacy Li, 27, wanted to know when the milk tea would be available again.
"It was already so hard to get it before, now we have to wait even longer to buy," she said.