Six grains, one healthy brew
Kwong Woh Hing is a homegrown soy sauce maker that has been making the popular Chinese condiment the traditional way for over 70 years.
Now they are becoming known for a new product: vinegar. With the release of Kwong Woh Hing’s Six Grain vinegar range, it became the first vinegar producer in Singapore.
Why vinegar? Of course, it’s commonly used in cooking and food preparation to balance out fatty textures and flavours and is popular in salad dressings. Vinegar’s high acidity means it is also used in pickling and marinades.
But Simon Woo, the director of Kwong Woh Hing, was attracted to vinegar for another reason: its healing properties. He learned about this slowly, through conversations with fellow booth holders at food fairs and roadshows.
Woo, 54, then decided to try his hand at making vinegar. It would take nearly a decade of experimentation with different ingredients and processes before he could settle on a recipe and launch Six Grain, his range of fruit-flavoured vinegars.
Through his research, he found that people from all over the world have been drinking vinegar for thousands of years. Health enthusiasts have rediscovered vinegar in recent years and are advocating it be consumed once a day as a way to build a robust immune system.
Kwong Woh Hing was founded by Woo Hoh, who came to Singapore in 1940 from Guangzhou, China. It makes soy sauce in a factory in Defu Lane, an industrial estate Northeast of Singapore, where it is fermented under the scorching sun for at least a year.
Like soy sauce, vinegar is produced through fermentation. With decades of soy sauce production behind him, Woo began brewing vinegar regularly for home consumption.
“Fermentation has been around for a long time but in recent times, it has been forgotten,” says Woo. “We used it many years ago to build up our immune system. But fermented foods take a long time to [have an effect]. It’s not like taking a painkiller for fast relief from a headache.”
The power of vinegar
But what are these health benefits?
Many of us find that the daily stresses of modern life, coupled with environmental triggers such as pollution and imbalanced diets, are taking a toll on our health. As a result, we are more susceptible to ailments such as colds and flu, and digestive problems are also becoming more common, says Woo.
Research has found that vinegar helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thereby making it good for your heart. It could even help with weight loss, as some studies have found that the consumption of vinegar after meals can lower blood sugar levels. This also makes vinegar a natural way for some diabetics to manage their illness. The acidity of vinegar also means it has antimicrobial properties, which help ward off nasty infections.
To understand why vinegar can deliver health benefits, we first need to know how it is made. Vinegar is made through the fermentation of ethanol alcohol, using ingredients such as grain alcohol, wine, beer and cider into acetic acids. Like kombucha and kefir, it requires a potent mother culture of bacteria for the conversion process to work. Acetic acids are what gives vinegar its health benefits. These acids are also abundant in healthy bacteria and probiotics, which is said to improve gut health.
On top of its health and culinary uses, the antimicrobial qualities in vinegar also make it a useful household cleaner and disinfectant. Adding a dash of white vinegar into the laundry can help make whites whiter and rid clothing of odours.
There are many types of vinegar sold in supermarkets – white vinegar and balsamic vinegar are just some examples – but the most popular among the natural health community is apple cider vinegar.
Store-bought vinegars, however, are usually not as potent or as beneficial for health as those straight from the source. This is because they have usually been heavily pasteurised for export. In exchange for longer shelf life, pasteurisation destroys many of the beneficial bacteria in vinegar.
Vinegars made at Kwong Woh Hing’s factory are fermented for six months to one year in order to produce a high level of acetic acids and probiotics. Singapore’s hot and humid weather makes it the perfect environment for fermentation.
Even so, Woo found that it takes lots of research and development to produce the right taste. Along the way, he has had to throw away hundreds of jars of vinegar, but each one has helped to improve his understanding of the product.
The Six Grain formula
Most store-bought vinegars are made from a single type of grain. But Woo, whose immediate family and relatives help out in the soya sauce business, went a step (or six) further to come up with Six Grain. Yep, you guessed it: his products are brewed from a blend of six types of grain – specifically corn, brown rice, rice, soya bean, malt and red yeast rice.
These grains are close to Woo’s heart, as they are widely used in Chinese cooking. As a result, he considers Six Grain vinegar a celebration of his heritage.
Woo produces 11 types of fruit-flavoured vinegars – from apple and banana to burdock and chrysanthemum – because he feels that drinking just one flavour is “boring”. The fruit, says Woo, enriches the base flavours of the six grains. Each flavour uses only 20 per cent fruit, as any more would unbalance the vinegar’s natural sourness and acidity.
To preserve their health properties, Woo’s vinegars are not pasteurised, which means they cannot be exported. The vinegars are also free of additives, artificial colourings, chemicals and salt.
Each flavour also comes with its own benefits. For instance, black date vinegar, his most popular product, is recommended for strong kidneys, a healthier gut with regular movements, and improved skin complexion. Woo says it promotes vitality in seniors.
Apple vinegar’s high levels of potassium help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure while increasing metabolism. For those who suffer from insomnia, Woo recommends drinking a small amount of apple vinegar one to two hours before bed.
For those who find the sourness of vinegar too much, Woo suggests diluting about a capful with a glass of water to make it more palatable and easier for the body to absorb. He advises against using vinegar in cooking, as extreme heat destroys the beneficial bacteria in the vinegar. Instead, he recommends using it for making dips and in salad dressings.
So, while vinegar may not give you immediate relief from the regular aches and pains of modern life, it could instead ensure a healthier body and more energy over the long term.