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Sour Story - Shanxi Mature Vinegar
    2009-03-05 18:00:47     CRIENGLISH.com

Cuisine is an important part of every culture, and seasonings play a key role in making delicious food. Vinegar is one of the most common flavorings in the world. There are four kinds of famous vinegar in China, among which mature vinegar or Lao Chen Cu in Chinese is considered the best.

Mature Vinegar Urns [Photo: nphoto.net]

Seasoning is key to creating tasty food, and vinegar is often used to add an extra kick to a dish. In North China's Shanxi province, vinegar is so important to the local people that Shanxi residents have been nicknamed "laoxier," which means people addicted to vinegar. Lao Chen Cu, the vinegar produced here, is considered the best in China.

There are great differences in taste among different kinds of vinegar. Liu Junwei is a Beijing resident, and has tasted vinegar from many different places, but he says the Shanxi mature vinegar is special.

"Shanxi vinegar tastes sour but sweet, and has a thick, mellow sauce like taste. I really like it, especially because vinegar is good for one's health."

Records show that people in Shanxi started making vinegar some 4,000 years ago.

Yang Juan, an analyst from Donghu Vinegar Company, a main mature vinegar producer in Shanxi, says sorghum is the main ingredient in Lao Chen Cu.

"The traditional production method for mature vinegar is hand brewing. We use various grains like sorghum, peas, barley, bran and chaff. Since sorghum has a high nutrition value, the vinegar is nutritious, too."

There are five main steps to brewing vinegar: steaming, fermentation, fumigation, filtration and aging. Unlike many types of vinegar that have no color, mature vinegar has a reddish-brown color as a result of the fumigation process. It takes a minimum of 42 days to finish brewing the vinegar using the traditional method. However, the product at this stage is not the well-known Lao Chen Cu. It must age for one to eight years to get the best taste and purity, which is why it is called mature vinegar. Yang Juan explains the process.

"We put the vinegar in big, uncovered urns in glass houses so the water can evaporate in the sun. During winter, ice is fished out to keep the vinegar pure. The nutritional elements in it naturally mix together. And the vinegar can be stored at room temperature for decades."

After aging for several years, the vinegar has a high medicinal value, Yang Juan says.

"People nowadays eat a lot of meat, which is acidic. Although vinegar tastes sour, it is actually alkaline, so consuming vinegar can help the body achieve a balance. Mature vinegar has 18 amino acids, including those humans can't produce themselves. It helps prevent many diseases such as high blood pressure, rheumatism and skin diseases."

As people become more mindful of their health, new vinegar products, including beverages, are appearing in stores.

Due to limited publicity, Shanxi mature vinegar was mainly consumed by Shanxi residents and was only known domestically. In recent years, the enterprises have refocused their marketing strategies to sell the vinegar to many other countries, and the mature vinegar is gaining more and more recognition in and outside of China.



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