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The inventor of oyster sauce was a man named Lee Kum Sheung. Lee owned a tea and oyster soup stall, and one day accidentally boiled his oysters for so long that a viscous brown sauce formed, and it was a huge hit with the locals. Lee then founded Lee Kum Kee in 1888. Today, Lee Kum Kee has grown into the leading sauce company in Hong Kong and are still owned by the family same family.
The original recipe has been passed down from generation to generation and is a closely guarded family secret, like the recipe for Coca-cola or the Colonel’s secret herbs and spices. Being the original oyster sauce brand, Lee Kum Kee have a commitment to excellence that they endeavour to deliver on.
To this end, Lee Kum Kee only uses the finest oysters and cook their own extract in-house. The oysters are sourced locally and pass stringent quality controls before they are used. The extract is cooked the same day the oysters are harvested to maximise freshness and flavour potency.
The extract production process is the key to the quality of the sauce. And it makes sense, that’s where that delicious oyster flavour comes from! The cooking time and temperature are closely monitored by a team of experts who have years of experience. Temperature control is incredibly important, as the oysters need to be cooked for the maximum possible time to extract as much flavour as possible, but can’t be cooked too hard or too slowly.
Because the quality of the product is so important for Lee Kum Kee, the oyster extract goes through up to 600 chemical, physical, sensory and food safety tests to make sure standards are kept at an absolute premium.
The mixing and blending process are also closely monitored. Oyster extract, sugar, cornstarch and some secret ingredients are added using electronic systems that weigh and measure each aspect of the sauce to the exact gram.
Lee Kum Kee prides itself on the quality of its oyster sauce, and the stringent controls it’s placed on its production process help to maintain its high standards. There are certain keys to identifying a quality oyster sauce from an average one. First, check the colour. It should be a rich, dark brown with a luminescent, reflective quality. Cheaper imitations will be dark and unevenly coloured. The texture should be velvety smooth and viscous, not uneven, or watery or quick to separate when heated. The taste should have depth, with umami and oyster flavours, coming through, but with delicious sweetness and salt. It shouldn’t taste fishy or sting or irritate the palette in any way. Finally, the aroma of the sauce should again be rich, almost pungent, and smell like oysters or the ocean. Again you want to avoid fishiness here, while no aroma is almost worse!