Shanxi's vinegar industry innovates with parks, ice creams, beverages

(Xinhua/China Daily)

Updated: 2023-08-10


An experienced vinegar maker talks about the product at a plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. [Photo provided to]

TAIYUAN — In North China's Shanxi province, the versatility of vinegar extends far beyond expectations, encompassing a wide array of offerings, including vinegar-flavored beverages, ice creams and even vinegar-themed parks, showcasing the boundless potential of the vinegar industry in the region.

After disembarking from a bus, Zhang Tianhe set foot on a captivating journey of discovery within Donghu Vinegar Park in Taiyuan, Shanxi.

Led by a tour guide, the teenager from Beijing explored various production workshops, witnessing steaming sorghum plants, an alcohol fermentation process and other vinegar-making techniques.

"I never imagined that the Shanxi laochencu, or mature vinegar, underwent such intricate processes. The wisdom of our ancestors is truly admirable," he said.

Shanxi has a history of over 3,000 years in making vinegar. Unlike Western cider vinegar, the renowned Shanxi mature vinegar stands out for its unique brewing process, crafted using a blend of sorghum, peas and barley.

Data indicate that Shanxi accounts for over 20 percent of the nation's vinegar production.

Showcasing tradition

Established by Shanxi Mature Vinegar Group Co Ltd in 2000, Donghu Vinegar Park aims to showcase traditional production techniques with mature vinegar's historical and cultural significance in Shanxi.

In the first half, the vinegar park received over 100,000 visitors.

"By combining vinegar with culture, the products gain substantial value-added benefits, resulting in the promotion of both vinegar culture and the brand," said Lian Jia, head of the tourism department at Donghu Vinegar Park.

In Shanxi, many major vinegar manufacturers have established museums or parks, or set up workshops in popular tourist destinations, allowing visitors to learn about its mature vinegar culture and brewing skills, which have been listed as a national intangible cultural heritage.

In Qingxu county, the birthplace of Shanxi mature vinegar, the traditional condiment is integrated into dance, songs, films and other forms of entertainment. The local vinegar industry has created job opportunities for nearly 100,000 people.

Culinary delight

The extensive exploration of vinegar culture has given rise to a wave of trendy products. While wandering through various vinegar parks, virtually every visitor can be seen holding a stick of vinegar-flavored ice cream.

During traditional holidays like Mid-Autumn Festival and Dragon Boat Festival, the demand for vinegar mooncakes and rice dumplings soars, making them irresistible festive treats.

"On one hand, the acidity of mature vinegar balances the sweetness of some traditional dishes and, more importantly, people are tasting a culture," Lian said.

At Shanxi's key laboratory of vinegar fermentation science and engineering, researchers can be seen analyzing vinegar brewing techniques, key scientific technologies for intelligent fermentation, and its nutritional health and standard systems.

"We are uncovering the nutritional value of mature vinegar, from basic liver protection to antioxidants, transforming vinegar from a simple seasoning into a healthful and nourishing product," said Zheng Yu, director of the laboratory.

Shining abroad

In recent years, Shanxi's mature vinegar has gradually made its way abroad, taking Chinese vinegar culture to foreign shores.

"With the rising popularity of malatang (hot spicy soup), grilled fish and hotpot in the Republic of Korea, the acceptance of Chinese mature vinegar among the younger generation is increasing," said Quan Haitian, who has been engaged in Sino-ROK trade for over a decade.

Quan can sell over 10,000 boxes of Shanxi mature vinegar a year.

Currently, mature vinegar is exported to over 30 countries and regions, including the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.

"Despite different dietary habits, people overseas are amazed and impressed by the brewing process of mature vinegar, making it a window for them to understand and appreciate Chinese culture," said Liu Bin, vice-general manager of Shanxi Mature Vinegar Group Co Ltd.