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

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.

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.