Back to Black Bean


I can’t remember whether it was aged related myopia or growing awareness of how much reliance the processed food industry relies on toxic preservatives and flavour enhancers that first made me stop reading labels on packaging whilst food shopping.

Sadly the Asian food market uses MSG in pretty much everything processed. The E numbers and technical  names for preservatives need a dedicated dictionary. Tofu and even soya sauce are victims.

I have narrowed down my staples to Kikkoman Tamari Soy which is gluten free and MSG free, pure Japanese toasted sesame oil and mirin or Chinese rice wine.

With these I make dressings and sauces which to the best of my knowledge (you have to hope the labels tell the truth) are additive free.  I still have not found an additive free dark soy, kecap manis, black bean sauce,  hoisin sauce or oyster sauce or plum sauce . What it has meant is that my Singaporean/Malysian dishes have had to lose colour and a level of flavour depth. It’s a heavy but worthwhile price to pay.

Well, things started looking up today during my pilgrimage to Wing Yip to stock up my Asian larder.  Once in a blue moon when my eyes are rested (madness but I refuse to wear reading glasses), I stop and read (or squint and try to) the small print on packets, defying manufacturers attempts to make the font size suitably small to hide the myriad of poisons that they use to make food look, last and supposedly taste good to sell.

I am making Sichuan Hot & Sour soup for dinner. I needed black fungus and dried shiitake mushrooms. By chance I picked up the packet of preserved black beans next to the fungus. I was expecting to see “flavour enhancer” and/or some chemical cocktail that would force me to replace it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Nothing but soya beans and salt and of course the Koji-kin (mould) that since ancient times has been used in the fermenting processes in Japan, China and Korea.

Culinary excitement. Fermented black beans were the precursor to soy sauce. They give dishes a wonderful depth.  I stopped making dishes using them as all the big brands that bottle them as paste use additives. My squinting eyes had opened a portal. I could make the paste myself and know it was not full of undicipherable chemicals!

The lovely lady at the checkout told me her mother-in-law gently simmered them in oil and finely chopped garlic and then put it in a bottle  in the fridge.  I did just that.

I rinsed the beans well and then spread them out on kitchen paper to dry (I don’t know if it was the right thing to do but I did it). My Thermomix did the rest! Easy And mess free. I can’t wait to use it!




1 small packet fermented black beans, rinsed, drained and dried on kitchen paper.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 inch ginger root, peeled


With the blade spinning at speed 8, drop the ginger and then cloves of garlic into the TM bowl till finely chopped (3 – 4 seconds or till fine). Scrape down sides with a spatula. Add some of the oil.  Cook for 3 mins/100C/speed 2.

Add the rest of the oil and the beans to the TM bowl. Cook for 10 mins/80C/speed 3.

Cool and transfer to a glass jar.  Use as required.



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