Wheat sauce is one of the many Chinese fermented sauces, which evolve over time. Its production dates back to many centuries ago. It is at the time of the Han dynasty (206 b.C. to 220 A.D.) that the ideogram 酱 (jiang) changed its meaning: since then it is no longer used to mean sauces in general, but only those containing (fermented) soy among their ingredients.
The sauce undergoes a double fermentation process. Its preparation is rather long and complex: it takes 180 days to make it.
In summer, the locally grown wheat is selected, washed and dried in the sun. It is then steamed and left to cool. In the meantime, the pepper leaves and stems which will be placed on the bottom of a container are gathered.
The container is filled with wheat grains, covered with pepper leaves and stems, and left to ferment.
Once the right fermentation is achieved, the grains are extracted from the container and left to dry in the sun. They are then ground and turned into a flour. The flour is mixed with water, scented with fresh Zanthoxylum leaves (also called Sichuan pepper, although it does not belong to the Piperaceae family) and purple perilla. A bit of salt is added and then the sauce is placed again into a container.
This is left in the sun during the Days of the Dog (summer solstice) and exposed to the air at night for about a month and a half, until it begins to develop the typical fragrance of wheat sauce.
In the local tradition of northern Sichuan, a bit of ginger powder, spices, ground pepper and soy are added for another 10 days of fermentation. Finally, the sauce is placed in a cool and airy place and it will keep for one year.
Wheat sauce is eaten especially with pork meat.
It is a traditional condiment in northern Sichuan and has thousands of years of history. Its recipe has been handed down through generations. It is very well known in this area and almost all the elderly are still able to produce it according to tradition.
With the fast urban development of the last twenty or thirty years – caused by the movement of people and their new life styles – industrial food products are replacing traditional, craft products. Due to its complex production, the high amount of time needed and the lack of promotion, this sauce risks to be forgotten.