TIANSHANNET   ›   News   ›   Xinjiang News

Huang Shuhua: Blending spices more than 40 years to create thousands of "flavors"

There are no labels on transparent boxes, but Huang Shuhua can accurately pick out various spices such as pepper, star anise and radix angelicae in more than 50 kinds of spices in an instant. “I’ve become so familiar with them that I've even developed muscle memory, and what comes to my mind, my hands follow it and locate where they are.” On June 1, 2022, Huang Shuhua, the founder of the "Huang Yanyan Spice Museum" located at Xinjiang Jiuding International Food City in Urumqi, is preparing the spices for a new soup seasoning.

For most of the day, Huang Shuhua blends spices quietly at the operating desk by herself. (Shiliuyun-Xinjiang Daily/ Liu Yiming)

Huang Shuhua, who is 58 years old, is a seasoning maker. In April 2022, the seasoning making craft was added into the sixth batch of Urumqi municipal intangible cultural heritage representative project list, and Huang Shuhua is the representative trustee of this craft. For the past 42 years, she has made a career out of her hobby with her talent, self-discipline, hard work and passion, innovating while inheriting and creating flavors to decipher food codes. So far, she has produced thousands of recipes.

“My grandparents had the skill of spice blending, and my father loves this craft. When he picked up spices, I enjoyed smelling and tasting them when I was a child, and the method of spice blending was memorized in my mind.” Huang Shuhua said.

When Huang Shuhua was 7 years old, her grandfather taught her the skill of blending spices. "When other children played dolls and games, I was already standing on a taboret and started to blend spices," Huang Shuhua said. At the age of 16, she had basically mastered the skills of selecting raw materials for spices, the way of proportioning and other production skills.

"People’s living conditions are getting better, so they demand richer flavors for their food. But gradually, there are many ways to enhance the flavor of food with additives in the market." Huang Shuhua is puzzled, "Nature gifts us with so many pure herbs and healthy spices, why don't we use them to give flavor to our food?"

With the deep affection for spice culture and skills, she couldn't bear to see the traditional crafts vanish. So, at the age of 29, she took spice blending as her career.

Huang Shuhua can accurately pick out the spices she needs in more than 50 kinds of spices in an instant. (Shiliuyun-Xinjiang Daily/ Liu Yiming)

"This craft is known among very little group of people, so there are not many related books. I have been looking for books all over the country over the years. Every book I got is a treasure to me. I have read it over and over again and taken notes," Huang Shuhua said. Over these years, just the learning notes take up two thick notebooks.

In addition, it has become a part of Huang Shuhua's life to "taste and observe" spices every day, and master the characteristics of spices and make detailed records.

“I have to taste at least 50 kinds of spices every day. Some spices taste like insects, some have a bitter or stink taste and even make me nauseous. But I must taste them every day and remember the taste in my mind." Huang Shuhua said. Each spice has its unique flavor. Only by understanding their flavor can we accurately mix and match them to show the unique flavor of food.

To keep keen sense of smell and taste, Huang Shuhua has maintained an extremely disciplined diet for 29 years -- no stimulants, no alcohol or tobacco.

Many times, when blending spices, it may be just a few grams more or less, the taste will change. (Shiliuyun-Xinjiang Daily/ Liu Yiming)

In recent years, Huang Shuhua has been trying to innovate in the production process.

From the traditional grinding and mixing to first using the techniques of frying, slamming, decanting and crushing to maximize the spice’s characteristics, and then grinding and mixing, the innovation of the process makes the flavor of spices have a richer sense of layers. "In addition to herbs, I also try to extract the spices from some fruits and use it in the cuisine, hoping to have a new breakthrough." Huang Shuhua said.

“I love this career and I will do the best I can.” Huang Shuhua said, “Many times when I blend spices, it may be just a few grams more or less, the taste will change. I have spent half a year making chili oil of cold noodles. This is not a waste of time to take unnecessary pains to study an insignificant problem, this is my attitude and pursuit.”

In order to pass down the craft better, Huang Shuhua began to do livestreaming on Tik Tok to explain the spice blending skills since 2019. "I hope I can find people who would like to learn and inherit this craft, and also hope to take this opportunity to spread the spice culture and let more people eat healthy and pure herbal spices," Huang Shuhua said.

(A written permission shall be obtained for reprinting, excerpting, copying and mirroring of the contents published on this website. Unauthorized aforementioned act shall be deemed an infringement, of which the actor shall be held accountable under the law.)