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.

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Sour is the new sweet in China – young Chinese food scientists play with vinegar

Vinegar, i.e. the Chinese cereals-based vinegar, has been an important ingredient in Chinese cuisine for ages. However, it was not regarded as something for direct consumption by most Chinese, who preferred their snacks and soft drinks sweet, sweeter, sweetest. Until recently, that is. The past 2 – 3 years have seen a surge in so called ‘vinegar beverages’ (cuyinliao). These are mildly acid drinks made of naturally acidified fruit juice (apple vinegar is the top product in this category) or drinks produced by mixing vinegar with other ingredients. These products are advertised as healthier choices than the traditional sugary drinks.

This product group has grown so rapidly, that China’s top vinegar producer, Hengshun, has organised a competition for students of food science in various Chinese universities to design new types of drinks, but also foods, based on vinegar. The various products the next generation of Chinese food scientists came up with is so interesting, that I will list the top products in this post.

First prize

Apple Vinegar drink

appvinegar

As introduced above, this is not a new type of drink, but the jury still awarded it the first prize due its innovative production process. Apples are first baked to the pectin of the apples in small active molecules and increase flavour through the maillard reaction. The juice is then fermented twice.

Second prizes

Cuxian-xian (literally: Vinegar Fibre – Fibre)

cuxianxian

Arrowroot starch is fermented with Acetobacter xylinus to obtain a high fibre refreshing drink.

Hua Young fruit fibre and probiotics effervescent tablets

huayoung

These are ascribed a medicinal function: increasing appetite and relieving bowel and stomach trouble.

Water melon double vinegar

watermeltwo

This drink consists of two varieties made from the flesh and skin of water melon, hence the two colours.

Third prizes

Vinegar strawberries

vinstrawberries

These are preserved strawberries made with Hengshun vinegar and honey.

Cranberry flavoured healthy plum vinegar

cranplum

Green plums (qingmei) are fermented and flavoured with cranberries, resulting in a refreshing sweet and sour beverage.

Konjac vinegar jelly

vinjelly

Fruit jelly has been a favourite snack all over Asia for the past few years, and this product adds an innovative new member to the already extended family of fruit jellies.

Vinegar love

vinlove

Fruit juice is mixed with white vinegar and flavoured with flower petals, resulting in romantic colours.

Hengshun crispy bones

vinbones

Crispy bones are soaked in Hengshun vinegar giving the bones a sweet and sour taste. It is chewy and rich in calcium.

Most innovative prizes

Filled thousand layer vinegar

vinlayers

Crackers are filled with a combination of jam and Hengshun vinegar. It is positioned as a healthy snack.

Lactobacillus in vinegar

vinlacto

Lactobacillus is added to traditional vinegar. The strain is acid and heat resistant. It enhances the antioxidant activity of the vinegar.

Best packaging prize

Vinegar lotus eggs

vinlotus

Soft sweet lotus pod is flavour with a mixture of sardines and Hengshun vinegar and a touch of chili sauce, producing sweet & sour crispy fish balls.

Best marketing prize

Xiaoxixi (laugh hi hi) vinegar milk

vinmilk

Formulated milk drinks are already popular in China. Milk is mixed with pineapple vinegar, creating a kind of yoghurt with a unique flavour.

Not all of these products will make it to the shelves of Chinese supermarkets, but this list provides a rare glimpse into the perception of young Chinese food scientists.

Interested? Eurasia Consult can help you get in contact with the scientists.

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.

Grapes of wealth – Boxi Vineyard in Pengshui

The life of a farmer is not usually regarded in terms of wealth creation. Even though farmers can be regarded as mankind’s first entrepreneurs, tilling the soil and tending to plants seven days a week until fruits or vegetables can be harvested is hard work that rarely leads to high profits. However, trading traditional crops for plants with a higher added value can mean a lot for a poor farmer or backward farming region. This applies even more to many of China’s national minorities.

Most ethnic minorities in China inhabit the less fertile regions, like deserts, or mountains whose slopes are not easy to tend. Farmers in those regions have been living on the verge of poverty for generations. The governments of various levels have been generous in providing all kind of subsidies or aid to alleviate the worst problems, but these measures are often more like a medicine to battle the symptoms, rather than a cure for the disease.

Fortunately, a number of minority farmers with an entrepreneurial spirit have taken the initiative to learn about more interesting crops and techniques to grow them on their own land. One such farmer-entrepreneur is Mr. Wang Minggang. In modern Chinese parlance, Mr Wang is a ‘rural migrant worker returned to the countryside (fanxiang chuangye nongmingong)’. He went to the big city at an early age to find his fortune. However, he found something much more valuable: techniques to make a fortune for himself and his fellow villagers. He learned about grape growing and developed the idea to grow grapes in his home region, Pengshui county of Chongqing, a minority region inhabited by Miao and Tujia people. Although Pengshui’s soil is fertile, it is a mountainous region that until recently was a few days travelling away from the nearest city. The government has greatly improved Pengshui’s accessibility by building an impressive web of roads, but that did not provide the minority farmers with a higher income.

boxigrapes

Wang Minggang started growing grapes and strawberries in his home region, the Ayi River Region of Pengshui. However, his own plot was insufficient to yield a substantial crop. He then proposed to all his neighbours to lease their land, thus increasing his vineyard considerably. In that way, his fellow villagers had a steady income and he could reach a profitable volume.

Another great idea was to start growing ecologically from the beginning. Biological fruits can be sold for a higher price, now that the urban Chinese are starting to recognise biological produce. Wang had some problems with adapting the things he had learned in northern China to the climate of his home region, but now the grapes are hanging proudly on the vines, when the harvest time is nearing. I personally visited Boxi Vineyard on September 27. The grapes were already gone, but the sight of the vines was impressive.

boxime

Many villagers rebuilt their homes, adding guest rooms that can be rented to city people who like to experience rural life for a few days. Those that choose the Ayi River Area at the time the grapes are ripe can pick a certain quantity of grapes themselves and take them home. While having fun, those urbanites can get an idea how the fruits that only knew from the way they were sold in supermarkets are actually grown by the farmers. Even though the project is still relatively young, its effect on the villagers’ lives is evident.

An interesting side effect of this enterprise is that it has introduced crops to the Pengshui region that have never been grown there before. It has contributed to the biodiversity of the region. This story so interesting, that I will post of more these stories on this blog.

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.

Tea, not only for drinking

If you ask people outside China what they believe to be the most typical of traditional Chinese food and drink, one of the top replies will be tea.

Tea remains to be popular in China as well, even among the young, who have discarded so many other traditional things Chinese as old fashioned.

Tea has been a flavour inspiration for a number of recent food launches. Tea combines flavour with nutrition. Tea is said to help lose weight and the flavones (tea polyphenol) in tea are strong anti-oxidants, which help rid the body of free radicals. Finally, tea’s tannic acid creates a specific ‘dry’ mouthfeel.

I would like to introduce a few tea flavoured foods in this post.

Tea flavoured biscuits

tfbiscuit1

These biscuits are marketed by Tianfu, one of China’s earliest nationwide tea chains. The add promises ‘a mouthful of milk flavour without a fatty taste’. As posted earlier, Chinese appreciated milk’s nutrition, but many still have problem with its creamy taste.

Ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, egg, matcha powder (1%), sodium bicarbonate.

Tea flavoured mooncakes

siweiwangteamc

Produced by Siweiwang for the Mid Autumn Festival that was yesterday. This product shows that green tea also adds colour to a food.

Ingredients outside: white beans, glutinous rice powder, sugar, syrup, vegetable oil, matcha powder, sodium dehydroxy-acetate.

Filling: lotus seeds, white beans, sugar, vegetable oil, purified water, natto, maltose, matcha powder, sodium dehydroxy-acetate.

Tea flavoured saqima

tfsachima

This is another Tianfu product. For an introduction on saqima, see my earlier post.

Ingredients: egg, shortening, maltose syrup, flour, walnut, cranberry, sugar, brown sugar, vegetable oil, cream, starch, black tea, salt.

Tea flavoured mushrooms

tfmushroom1

These shiitake mushrooms are produced in Zhangzhou (Fujian) and flavoured with white tea.

Ingredients: shiitake, vegetable oil, salt, Sichuan pepper salt, white tea.

All-tea banquet

Lianghe county of Yunnan province has created an all-tea banquet, including many dishes made from Huilong tea, a local tea from Lianghe. Here is a look of what the menu of such a banquet may look like:

  • Local chicken raised in the Huilong tea garden infused with Huilong tea.
  • Locally caught percocypris pingi, a kind of carp found in East Asia, garnished with pickled Chinese cabbage and Huilong tea.
  • Quail eggs boiled with Huilong tea and other seasonings.
  • Minced pork meatball with Huilong tea powder.
  • Huilong tea and local eggs wrapped in pea flour and deep fried.
  • Peeled black soya bean tofu stewed with minced meat, black fungus and a stock of Huilong tea.

Visitors can take a bus from Lianghe county town to the tea garden to watch the tea processing and taste the all-tea meal.

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.

China’s many capitals – regional food chauvinism in China

The leading port of export of canned food from China is Zhangzhou – China’s Canned Food Capital (Chinese news source, 19/7/2016)

I have yet to find out when the first city in China started calling itself ‘the capital of . . .’, where … is a slot for a certain product (group), one of which that city is a national production centre. However, it now has become so important for the local economy, that it has almost become an official designation, bestowed by an industrial association.

Icons are an important aspect of the construction of social identity in Chinese culture. Chinese like to identify a famous person who they would like to become. More than a few Chinese start-up cyber-entrepreneurs are dreaming of becoming China’s Steve Jobs. Some even go as far as to try to emulate their hero’s behaviour, clothing, and speech.

In an analogous fashion, Chinese cities that are leading in a certain industry have started picking a similar foreign city, calling themselves ‘China’s …’ A city with a major car maker may call itself ‘China’s Detroit’. Unfortunately, there are several cities in China that are the home of a major automobile manufacturer, resulting in almost as many ‘Detroits of China’. So far, this has not led to conflicts between the various local governments. Detroit doesn’t care either. The city has lost most of its car-related industry and virtually turned into a ghost town.

Several posts of this blog are introducing the growing importance Chinese local governments attach to their local culinary specialties. A representative post is that about Jinhua ham. Jinhua ham is so typical for that region, that Jinhua has applied for DOC status for this product, meaning that only ham producers of Jinhua are allowed to market their ham as ‘Jinhua Ham’.

A city with a DOC-status food is likely to have a relatively large number of manufacturers of that product, and/or the top producer in that business. Instead of finding its icon elsewhere, such cities endeavour to become an icon themselves, by calling themselves ‘China’s Capital of <their typical product>’. Unlike in the case of China’s multiple Detroits, this has been a cause for chauvinist strive. As societal harmony is a top priority in China, the government has started to regulate such designation through the various sector associations. The most famous issue was giving Huhhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia the status of ‘China’s Dairy Capital’. It was initiated by Mengniu, a well-known company for the regular readers of this blog. Mengniu want Huhhot to be the first city to apply for that status, lest another city would be the first to do so. Huhhot itself was not too keen at first, but gave in at the end. Once the Dairy Association of China had recognised Huhhot as China’s Dairy Capital, no other city in China was allowed to refer to itself in that way. I am not sure if there actually is a penalty for violating this rule, but so far no other city has tried. To mark its status of China’s dairy capital, a large monument was put up in Huhhot.

MilkCapMonument

In the remaining part of this post, I will list a few of the major Chinese food capitals. This list is by no means exhaustive and I will keep adding cities, whenever I encounter them in my scanning of the Chinese information streams. Some of these have a more or less official status, i.e. they are bestowed by the relevant sector association. However, most still seem to be self-assigned. This is probably why there are several capitals for some products.

This list may turn out quite useful. If you want to know quickly were a certain food is produced in China, this list can guide you directly to a/the major region. You will have to look further (e.g. using this blog’s search engine), but this is a good start.

  • China’s ‘Canned Food Capital’: Zhangzhou (Fujian).
  • China’s ‘Dairy Capital’: Huhhot (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Chili Capital’: Guizhou
  • China’s ‘Capital of High Quality Maize’: Siping (Jilin).
  • China’s ‘Green Tea Capital’: Emei (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Seaweed Capital’: Rongcheng (Shandong), Fuzhou (Fujian).
  • China’s ‘Coffee Capital’: Pu’er (Yunnan).
  • China’s ‘Beverage Capital’: Sanshui (Guangdong).
  • China’s ‘Goat Milk Capital’: Fuping (Shaanxi).
  • China’s ‘Apple Capital’: Qixia (close to Yantai, Shandong).
  • China’s ‘Kiwi Capital’: Pujiang (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Flour Capital’: Damin (Hebei).
  • China’s ‘Noodle Capital’: Yiyang (Hunan).
  • China’s ‘Beef & Mutton Capital’: Chifeng (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Potato Capital’: Ulanqab (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Lemon Capital’: Ziyang, Anqiu (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Leisure Food Capital’: Longhai (Fujian).

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.

Food and tourism in China

In an earlier post, I already introduced the Chinese eating habits on their long train rides. Food plays an even more important role in the lives of holiday makers than it is for people in their everyday lives. The most exciting things to do in foreign places is seeing unfamiliar landscapes or buildings, meeting people with different habits than yours, and enjoy the novel flavours and textures of the local food.

In recent times, gastro-economic tourism has become one of the most interesting and fastest-growing types of holidays. Moreover, it also enjoys increasing interest of researchers. Tasting local food is often considered as both cultural activity and entertainment, a necessary part of tourism experience. In addition, tasting local foods has become an important way to enjoy the local culture.

However, local foods can also be an impediment to tourist experience. Some local foods can only be accepted by mass tourists when adapted to tourists’ taste. Two natural tendencies are diametrically opposed to each other in the acceptance of novel food: fear for the new and longing for something new. The former people long to try new or unfamiliar food. Local food at a destination can bring tourists physical, cultural, social and prestige experience. Local food consumption can be seen as a supporting experience and even as a peak experience for tourists.

On the contrary, people who are afraid of unfamiliar food tend to look out for international chains or eateries offering international cuisine.

This poses challenges to popular holiday designations as regards the presentation of the local food as an attraction at the risk of potential impediment. To make local food an important attraction requires in-depth understanding of food psychology and tourists’ food preferences. It is especially important to please the palate of even the most conservative tourist.

Gastronomic tourism

The apex of experience new foods during your holiday is the gastronomic holiday, trips specially undertaken to experience the flavours of all foods and beverages a destination has to offer. Gastronomic or culinary tourism can be defined as an activity in which people participate in “other” food culture, including the preparation of food. Also, and perhaps especially, for those tourists, regions need to standardise their traditional foods, so that hotels, restaurants, travel agents and other organisations involved can introduce them properly in their promotion campaigns, ensuring that participating tourists get what they pay for. In other words, if a region decides to make its local cuisine a major tourist attraction, it needs to study that local tradition, inventorise and standardise it. To give a Chinese example: if you want to advertise dandan noodles as a representative Sichuan snack, then you cannot just serve the tourists any bowl of dandan noodles as served by a random vendor on a Chengdu street. It has to be that dandan noodles as shown in the brochures and websites, lest the finicky tourists will complain that they are not being served ‘the real thing’.

dandanmian

The reverse process

The other side of this development will be a change in that very local tradition. Once the local tourism planners have crafted standard description of the most typical local dishes, and hotels and restaurants catering to tourists from other regions have adopted those recipes, the local consumers are bound to be affected by this. Now if you feel like a proud Sichuan person, you do not just make dandan noodles at home like your mother taught you. No, you put in an effort to make the real thing, the genuine dandan noodles. The same applies to gongbao chicken, yuxiang pork, and other Sichuan dishes. Those dishes are also served by restaurants elsewhere in China and Chinese restaurants all over the world, using more or less standard recipes.

The industry follows suit

The developments described above create a market for producers of seasonings and condiments. I have reported about this in previous posts. The modern Chinese consumer is not willing anymore to spend hours in the kitchen preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner. One way to save time is using ready to use sauces bought in your local supermarket. The R&D Departments of seasoning makers can concoct a dry or wet mix of ingredients to prepare an instant dandan sauce in your own kitchen, when you wish to reproduce that great dish that you had during your holiday in Sichuan. You only have to cook the noodles and perhaps add a little of whatever you like in your noodles (for me that would be minced pork), and you can enjoy a bowl of ‘genuine’ dandan noodles in no time with no hassle of finding and mixing all those spices. Here is a randomly chosen example of such sauce.

dandansauce

Interestingly, the producer also tells potential buyers that this sauce can be used to spice up other dishes as well, like dumplings.

dandansuses

 

Food tourism as poverty relief

This post describes the relationship between tourism and food industry in about any region of the world, but China, with it rich culinary diversity is the best region to serve as an example. The rapid development of domestic tourism is also facilitating this development. Some of what used to be the poorer agricultural counties of Beijing, like Changping or Miyun, have developed agricultural day or weekend trips for the more affluent city dwellers, as a new source of income. Food is a major ingredient of such a ‘day at the farmer’ experience. Those tourists as well come with expectations as strong as those of foreign tourists. They want to experience the humble food of the countryside, but not necessarily like the farmers’ daily grub. So as a result, ‘Farmers’ Food of Miyun’ has to be designed, just like the dandan noodle for tourists.

AgriHoliday

It’s OK. The farmers in Miyun may like this new traditional foods so much, that they start eating them too, thus making it real farmers’ food. It is social constructionism at its best, and simultaneously a pleasure for the taste buds.

Food scare as driver for self-farming

I have already introduced the interest of Chinese urban dwellers in growing their own food on roof tops and balconies as a result of the food safety incidents of the past few years. Another development triggered by the food scare is the rise of self-farming. More and more urban residents rent a patch of land of suburban farm to grow their own fruits and vegetables. However, this is a not a completely economic endeavour. Taking the whole family out to your own mini-farm is also fun, and in the long run less expensive that taking the kids to an amusement park. Spending a day in the countryside, where the air is cleaner is also a bonus for the body. This has been discovered by the expat community as well, witness this picture of an outing organised by a foreign school in Beijing.

CSA

Not all such farms have been successful in transforming into tourist farms, but there are cases of these farms being turned into thriving ventures. One such is Yifendi Farm, a cooperative run by Nanyuan Village in the Fengtai district of Beijing, set up in 2009. The farm covers more than 90,000 square meters, divided into 500 allotments of 66 square meters for renting. In 2011 it established another area of more than 100,000 square meters that was given the name Little Town Farm, divided into 400 allotments of 36 square meters each. Apart from a restaurant, the farm has also built dozens of wooden houses for people to stay over, and game centers where children can play with farm animals, including peacocks, chickens and horses.

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.

Eggs – Chinese like them salty

Eggs are one of the oldest ingredients of food in China, witness the 2800-year old eggs on exhibition in Nanjing.

ancientegg

Chinese cuisine includes many dishes with eggs as the main ingredient; fried tomatoes with eggs probably being the simplest as well as the best known. Don’t forget to add a little sugar en chopped garlic, just before turning of the heat.

Eggs can also be used as a minor ingredient to add bulk and texture to a variety of dishes, sometimes as a replacement for meat.

Fresh eggs have special meaning to the Chinese. Eggs are auspicious food, a symbol of fertility, of longevity, of new life. The birth of a child is celebrated with the delivery of hard-boiled eggs to friends and relatives, often dyed a brilliant red in honour of the occasion. Eggs are also a part of the bride’s dowry, sent by her family on the wedding day to her husband’s home as a sign of her potential fertility. They reciprocate with a gift of live chickens.

Birthdays are also marked with noodles and eggs all over China, and even as an ethnic Chinese growing up abroad, I remember my grandmother making a bowl of vermicelli for me with a large egg on top, dyed bright red, of course.

However, eggs are a perishable product, which is why many rural families still keep chickens so they have a steady supply. Chinese have developed a few ways to preserve their shelf life. I am introducing three of these in this post

Pidan – 1000-year eggs

Pidan

First, let’s set straight the myth hidden in that Western term. They have not lain forgotten for 1000 years, despite the name. Instead, pidan, as they are known in Chinese, are carefully cured for several weeks to several months so that the albumen solidifies into a dark, transparent, gel-like semisolid while the yolk hardens slightly on the outside but remains molten in the centre. There are strict culinary standards on what makes a pidan a gourmet experience.

Pidan are always eaten with condiments. They may be served with sweet slices of pink pickled ginger, doused in sesame oil and vinegar, or smothered in minced garlic or chopped cilantro leaves.

The most common raw ingredient for pidan is duck eggs, valued for the size of the yolks and the generosity of the egg white. However, chicken or quail eggs are also used, but more for novelty rather than need. A good century egg often has a snowflake pattern on the outside of the white, an indication of a well-cured egg. Its fearsome colour is the result of a chemical reaction with the curing mix usually wood ash, salt and rice husks mixed with clay or lime.

Xiandan – salty eggs

Xiandan

Another popular staple is the salted egg, a pure white delight that is as visually attractive as its cousin is not.

Eggs from either chicken or duck are carefully wiped clean with Chinese liquor and placed in bottles of saturated brine. After a month to several weeks, the whites would have thoroughly absorbed the salt, and the yolks hardened into little golden globes.

Salted eggs are most often boiled and then split and eaten straight from the shell. They are also used for cooking. The salted egg yolks are vital ingredients in many seasonal foods, including the rice dumplings eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival and the sweet moon cakes during Mid-Autumn festival.

Chayedan – tea eggs

Chayedan

Tea eggs are usually prepared at home. Brew a pot of tea. You can use any Chinese tea, but a dark tea like Pu’er will taste stronger than green tea. Place the tea and tea leaves in a pot, add a piece of star anise, a stick of cinnamon and either some cloves or cardamom. Add soy sauce and enough water for the liquid to come halfway up the pot.

Wash about 10 eggs and place them in the pot to boil. After 15 minutes, remove the eggs and gently tap them to crack the shells. Turn off the heat and return them to the infusion. You want a marbled effect. The flavours and colours improve if you also break the membranes so the tea infusion can penetrate. Then wait, to allow the eggs to soak in the tea sauce for a few hours, preferably overnight. You’ll be rewarded for your patience with the most flavourful hard-cooked eggs you have ever eaten.

You can reuse the tea sauce to cook more eggs when the first batch is finished, but remember to either add more tea or soy sauce to adjust the seasoning.

Free range eggs redefined

Innovation in food is one of the core themes of this blog. A Chinese organic farmer in Taiyuan (Shanxi) has redefined the concept of ‘natural’ eggs, better known in the Western world as ‘free range eggs’. His term is ‘original eggs (tujidan)’, which he defines as ‘eggs resulting from natural insemination of the hen by a cock’. This is even more humane that simply allowing chickens to walk around freely.

Tujidan

The yolk of the resulting eggs is brighter yellow than those of mass-produced eggs and are said to be lower in cholesterol. Strictly speaking, this is not really innovation, but simply going back to basics. Still, it is a development worth pointing out.

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.