Fishy innovation – young Chinese food technologists knocking themselves out

After my recent post on innovative products based on Chinese vinegar designed by young food technologists, I am posting a similar blog about a contest for new fish-based foods. The contest has been organised by the National Engineering Research Centre of Seafood (Dalian, Liaoning). The assignment was again to create snacks, or in Chinese terms: leisure food.

First prize

Xianyousuoshu

xianyousuoshu

Fish meat wrapped in a mixture of mashed potatoes and minced shrimps and a little cheese. The name needs a some explanation. It is a pun on the Chinese expression xinyousuoshu, literally: ‘all hearts belong to someone’, meaning all people have someone they love. In the product name, xin ‘heart’ has been replaced by ‘xian’ fresh, umami, and shu ‘belonging’ to shu ‘potato’ (same sound, different character). So, the literal name translates in English like ‘umami belongs to potatoes’. If this product will ever make it to the shelves of overseas supermarkets, the producer will probably have to think of more palatable brand name.

Second prize

Millefeuille of squid

millefeuille

This is more or less literally what the name says: layers of dough with pieces of squid in-between.

Niyoubing

niyoubing

There we go again, a pun as a product name that poses a challenge for the translator. The name literally means something like: ‘you squid biscuit’. However, pronounced with different tones, you get an expressing meaning: ‘you are talking nonsense’. Great. The product is indeed a biscuit with squid flavour. According to the description it is both sweet and savoury.

Zunyushao

zunyuxiao

The name promises ‘baked trout’. According to the inventor, this product is based on an existing Japanese snack using sea bream. It also contains matsutake mushrooms and a again a little cheese to add a milky flavour.

Third prize

Fisherman’s Whorf cookies

fishwhorf

These are cookies with a fishy layer, but the description fails to mention the raw materials.

Home Bei

homebei

Home is written in Latin letters. The character bei refers to (shan)bei ‘scallops’. These are scallop flavoured potato crackers.

Yumizhixiang

fishpastefrag

The literal meaning of this name is ‘flavour of fish paste’, however zhi ‘of’ has been replaced with a homophone meaning ‘cheese’. The snacks are produced by steaming fish paste coated with cheese.

Haixian Yuanwuqu

yuanwuqu

This ‘seafood round dance’ uses rounds of squid, egg, scallops and crab meat as raw materials. According to the inventor, it this product should have a huge potential market. Who will give him an opportunity to test it out?

Fine trumpets

trumpets

In Chinese, laba ‘trumpet’ can also be used for objects with a wide mouth, hence the funny name for tartlets like these. The inspiration has come from a sweet Cantonese dim sum called ‘egg tart’, but uses whelk protein in the filling. It is positioned as a health snack by its inventor.

As with the vinegar-based products, the novel foods presented in this post give a valuable insight in the minds of young Chinese food technologists currently graduating and looking for jobs in the industry. I like these contests, so will post all of them, as they appear in the Chinese media.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.

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Soy sauce, like jiang but more liquid

The Chinese word for soy sauce is jiangyou, literally ‘jiang oil’, or oil of fermented paste. It is not chemically an oil, but it probably struck the early users as oily.

If we were to conduct a survey in any European city and ask people what they see as the most typical ingredient of Chinese food, the top substance on the list of answer will definitely be soy sauce. Soy sauce indeed originates from China. It is first mentioned in texts from the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 220 – 265). Early recipe books indicate that it was at first mainly used to season salads, cold cuts and other cold dishes Chinese typically start a dinner with. The use in various ways of cooking pops up in the 12th Century.

Typology

Current Chinese commercial texts distinguish 4 types of soy sauce:

  • Cantonese soy sauce: represented by Haitian and Zhimeiyuan; based on solid fermentation (see below).
  • Shanghai soy sauce: represented by Amoy and Laocai; mainly using liquid fermentation.
  • Foreign soy sauce: represented by Maggi, Kikkoman, Lee Kum Kee, Wadakan; foreign invested, mainly using liquid fermentation.
  • Local soy sauces: e.g. Jinshi (Beijing), Zhenji (Shijiazhuang), Tianli (Tianjin), etc.; small plants or even workshops using proprietary processes.

Most Chinese households have a regular stock of two types of soy sauce in their kitchen: light and dark. Light soy sauce is the original product, while the dark version is produced by adding additional caramel, which also makes the sauce a little thicker. Dark soy sauce is mostly used to flavour and colour meat.

Production

There are various ways to produced soy sauce. The main raw materials are always (soy) beans and cereals. The main distinction is between natural fermentation and the chemical process. The latter is obviously not a traditional process, but a cheap and quick way to cut the long chains of the proteins and starches in the raw materials. Chemical soy sauce is nowadays regarded as inferior. All major brands employ some kind of fermentation.

The earliest fermentation process used so called ‘solid fermentation’, in which a relatively thick broth was inoculated with the moulds to start the fermentation. After the fermentation, salty water was added and after a second period of fermentation the sauce was ready to be packed. The first part of this process resembles that introduced in my earlier post on jiang, fermented pastes, and explains why soy sauce is called jiang sauce in Chinese. A number of local plants still use a variety of the traditional process, often adding their own proprietary mix of ingredients to produce an original local product.

ssold

Many top brands use the ‘wet fermentation’ process in which the main ingredients: beans, cereals and salt are processed into a liquid that is then fermented. This process leads to a very fragrant sauce that preserves the nutrients of the ingredients. It also has a much higher yield than the traditional process. However, it is considerably longer and can take up to 6 months.

ssliquid

Industry structure

The current national soy sauce output is around 10 mln mt p.a. As many traditional Chinese food products, the soy sauce industry consists of a large number of very small manufacturers. China’s top producer is Haitian (Foshan, Guangdong), which is approximately good for 2% of the national output. Haitian is known for the fact that it has scaled the traditional solid fermentation process up to modern industrial proportions. This results in top quality soy sauce, but the output cannot be easily increased. Perhaps this is a good in thing in the long run. While China has not (yet) produced a Kikkoman, Chinese soy sauce has a much richer flavour than the generic Japanese product.

Top 10 soy sauce brands 2016

The following list has been compiled on the basis of the opinion of Chinese consumers. However, the most popular brand is also the top producer in volume.

Rank brand region
1 Haitian Guangdong
2 Lee Kum Kee Hong Kong
3 Chubang Guangdong
4 Jiajia Hunan
5 Amoy Shanghai
6 Master Guangdong
7 Shinho Shandong
8 Kikkoman Japan
9 Donggu Shandong
10 Totole Shanghai

Guangdong also here stands out as the top region with 3 companies; 4 if we also regard Hong Kong as de facto part of Guangdong. Shanghai and Shandong are the runners up with 2 each.

Derived products

A number of variations on soy sauce have appeared in recent years. An earlier variety is oyster sauce, which is soy sauce flavoured with ground oysters to give it a fishy flavour. Other flavours include mushroom and chilli. Some companies produce soy sauces for special applications like soy sauce for meat, soy sauce for mixing salads, or table top soy sauce for dipping cold cuts or dumplings.

oysters

Innovation

In line with the trend towards low fat, low salt, low sugar foods, a number of Chinese soy sauce manufacturers have developed low salt varieties. In the course of 2017, Cuiwei Food (Sichuan) launched a salt-free soy sauce, produced by natural fermentation. While salt reduction is a positive development, soy sauce has always been a fypical savoury seasoning product, so completely salt-free soy sauce can only succeed when marketed as a new type of ingredient, a flavouring agent rather than a savoury ingredient.

Eurasia Consult has detailed information about many top soy sauce producers

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.