Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Yuan’s Soy Sauce (Fu Kee Food Co.)

Crave - - PEOPLE -

Not many peo­ple know about Yuan’s Soy Sauce, al­though, granted, they don’t make a song and dance about it. A 125ml bot­tle of its Royal Soy Sauce, made from beans that are ma­tured for up to four years, sells at nearly $200 at re­tail­ers such as Yata and City’su­per.

The world’s most ex­pen­sive soy sauce is pro­duced by three full­time staff at a fac­tory deep in Yuen Long, on grounds span­ning 120,000 sq ft. Founded by the late biochemist Tsang Heh-kwan, from Guangzhou, the com­pany is now run by one of her long-time as­sis­tants, Yip Tin, who helped to build the fac­tory and then joined Tsang’s team in the late 1970s.

Af­ter com­plet­ing a de­gree in bio­chem­istry at Xiamen University, Tsang moved to Hong Kong in the 1950s to work for Amoy as a re­searcher in its lab­o­ra­tory. She was cu­ri­ous about in­no­vat­ing food prod­ucts, work­ing on ubiq­ui­tous prod­ucts such as Luk Bo or­ange drink and spring roll wrap­pers. Her pas­sion, how­ever, was for tra­di­tional, Fu­jian-style, preser­va­tive-free soy sauce. In 1974, she quit Amoy to go solo.

“She was very pas­sion­ate about creat­ing prod­ucts that had no preser­va­tives. But she was not a busi­ness­woman. Much of her re­search and many of her dis­cov­er­ies were stolen from her. But she wanted to guard this recipe. It’s not dif­fi­cult here be­cause it’s just the three of us. Only I know the recipe,” Yip says. “She be­lieves in peo­ple.”

Si­fus from Fu­jian, Xiamen and Quanzhou, main­land China, knew the tra­di­tional way of mak­ing soy sauce, too, Yip says, but they were all sen­tenced to hard labour on farms dur­ing the Mao era. “And, sadly, they don’t ex­ist any­more,” he says.

At Yuan’s, Yip and his part­ner, Andy Ye­ung – who joined the com­pany more than two decades ago and helps with the busi­ness and ex­ports – still make Fu­jian-style soy sauce to Mrs Tsang’s for­mula, which is thicker and darker than the Can­tonese va­ri­eties that dom­i­nate the mar­ket.

“Can­tonese soy sauce uses liq­uid-based fer­men­ta­tion and the Fu­jian one uses solid-based fer­men­ta­tion – we use less water, just enough, and noth­ing more,” Yip ex­plains. “Can­tonese soy sauce uses a more sim­ple method to make the process more ef­fi­cient. They also pre­fer a lighter, sweeter umami taste, whereas in Fu­jian we pre­fer a strong bean taste.”

More im­por­tantly, the Fu­jian-style sauce takes much longer to make. Or­ganic Cana­dian yel­low soy­beans are blanched in a 3.5-tonne pot for four to six hours, then fer­mented on trays with wheat flour. Most batches fer­ment for 18 to 24 months, while beans for Royal Soy Sauce fer­ment for up to four years.

“The ra­tio is roughly 90 per cent beans with 10 per cent flour, whereas Can­tonese [sauces] use at least 40 to 50 per cent flour. This is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of Chi­nese tra­di­tional soy sauces from the Tang dy­nasty in Fu­jian,” Yip says.

“There are only three of us here, so we can keep Mrs Tsang’s se­crets safe. And I will al­ways re­mem­ber what she said: ‘If you won’t feed it to your fam­ily, then you wouldn’t sell it to any­one else.’”

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