（By Chen Zhiying）Black in color, spicy and salty in taste and ugly in appearance, Hezhou fermented black beans don’t seem attractive to foodies. However, this seasoning is such a staple to the flavors of a lot of Chinese dishes such as steamed fish, mapo tofu, steamed pork ribs, and also for many famous dishes. Boasting aromatic, pungent and salty flavor, Hezhou fermented black beans serve as the condiment for seasoning which enable the food taste fresh and delicious, thus being commonly seen among people’s tables.
Long history behind the little black beans
In the 1970s, archaeologists found fermented black beans sealed inside a Chinese tomb from 165 BC, making the condiment the oldest known soy product in the world. There is also a story between the black beans and Wang Bo, a poet in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In 675 AD, the governor of Hongzhou (today’s Nanchang), celebrated the completion of the restoration of Pavilion of Prince Teng on the Double Ninth Festival. On that day, Wang Bo happened to pass by Hongzhou and was invited to come. During the banquet, Wang Bo wrote a preface to the pavilion, which is known as Preface to the Pavilion of Prince Teng today. The governor was very happy and held a special banquet for him. Several days after the banquet, the governor felt chilly, and kept sweating and coughing all the time, making him unable to sleep at night. So anxious that his family went around looking for doctors and medicines, but still had no solutions since the governor was allergic to ephedra which was helpful to relief his symptoms. At this time, Wang Bo happened to come to bid farewell. After hearing this, he thought that the fermented black beans bought several days ago also have the curative effect of ephedra, why don’t I use them? The governor did as Wang Bo required and found it really worked. After recovering, he took a large amount of gold to thank Wang Bo. Instead of accepting the gold, Wang Bo said: “The fermented black beans that cure you are sold by the old man living by the river. If you really want to thank me, why not expand the scale of his workshop so that it will not be lost.” Since then, fermented black beans are not only popular in Hongzhou, but also in many places in China. It is from that time people know fermented black beans not only serve as a seasoning, but also medicine.
Today, traditional Chinese medicine believes that fermented black beans are flat, sweet and slightly bitter, and have the effects of sweating, clearing heat, removing annoyance, and can cure cold headache, chest tightness, vomiting, fever and food poisoning.
Frequent caller on people’s tables
Hezhou fermented black beans are very salty ingredients made from cooked soybeans fermented in heavily salinated water, a process that softens the beans and dries them out slightly. As a result, their flavors taste like soy sauce but with an even stronger, fermented fragrance. They are the main ingredients in fermented bean sauce which combine other condiments to complement their flavors. In their original, dry forms, Hezhou fermented black beans are so strong that they are virtually inedible. Given their sharp flavor, one of the most common ways to use them is to add them to other spices, like garlic and chili pepper, and cook them into a thick paste. These pastes taste really rich and can be used as a dipping sauce for dumplings or as a seasoning for cooked food. Hezhou fermented black beans can be used in their original form or as part of one of these pastes and incorporated into so many different Chinese dishes. However, they are salty and it’s best to use them only as seasoning and not eat large quantities of them! Adding a small amount of Hezhou fermented black beans to dishes helps to increase appetite and promote absorption with their unique aromas. But too many lead to opposite results. It’s said that in the war against US aggression and aid Korea, China once produced large quantities of fermented black beans for food for volunteers. Being so delicious, it’s no wonder that they have served as a main ingredient for more than 2,000 years.
When it comes to the color, technically, Hezhou fermented black beans aren’t black beans at all. They’re actually soybeans, but the fermentation process turns them black, making them almost unrecognizable from their original forms. But you can also make them using black beans. The whole process of making Hezhou fermented black beans lasts for about one month which require a person’s carefulness and patience.
Hezhou fermented black beans are famous among all the others in other provinces in China. The jovial and friendly Hezhou people choose the best soybeans, boil, and dry them in a basket, leave them to mold, and finally make the delicious fermented black beans with beautiful color and good taste. The unique aroma and the precise and traditional process of Hezhou fermented black beans help the beans to be listed in the intangible cultural heritage, gaining a good reputation among Guangxi and even the whole country.
Once opened, Hezhou fermented black beans can be stored in airtight containers for up to six months.
Source: China-ASEAN Panorama