Shanghai's history of the spiced beans
Updated: 2015-01-30
By Wang Ying (Shanghai Star)

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Popular: The shop selling spiced beans attracts big crowds of locals and tourists. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

It is the snack that became a symbol of the city. Wang Ying looks at the history of the spiced beans from Town God's Temple.

There is a well-known saying in Shanghai, "a man who does not eat spiced beans at Town God's Temple has not truly been to Shanghai".

The saying gives some clue as to how significant the beans are to many people.

Founded in the 1930s by local businessman Guo Yingzhou, spiced beans or cream spiced beans were first sold from a snack store called Xinglong Guoji Spiced Beans in Town God's Temple.

The store attracted customers from across the city, and gradually, the beans became a famous local snack.

Five scented beans

Spiced beans are called wuxiangdou (五香豆)in Chinese, which literally means five scented beans. According to a local legend, Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) ate the beans when he visited the region to the south of the Yangtze River. Qianlong remarked that the delicious beans had five scents, which is one theory as to how the dish got its name.

But according to a more accurate history, it's the shopkeeper Guo that invented these beans. Guo was very interested in the local snack huixiangdou, a dish made of small green soy beans toasted with cinnamon, fennel and other spices. The snack was very popular in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s.

Guo bought some spiced beans, and after much experimentation, he eventually made a new dish featuring the beans which had a firmer texture. Guo called it wuxiangdou.

Guo chose the broad beans that have white skin, white eye and white pulp. Guo roasted them with five ingredients: fennel, citrus, cinnamon, sugar and essence. The broad beans tasted soft and hard as well as salty and sweet. In fact, Guo was among the first who applied flavoring essence into food. Since the beans smell a little like cream and five special aromatic spices were used, the food got the name, creamed spiced beans.

Because the spiced beans were made of saccharin, flavoring butter essence and salt, they are also known as Chenghuangmiao crystal sugar cream spiced beans.

The unique flavor of the beans won them lots of fans. Guo was careful to maintain the high quality of his snack, and would carefully select the beans and ensure they were cooked well. Local celebrities would ask their servants to go all the way to Town God’s Temple for the spiced beans.

Expansion

The store expanded into a specialized workshop in 1941, and upgraded its cookers from metal pots to copper pots, which enhanced the beans in both quality and appearance. Sales of the beans surged.

Guo started to deliver the beans to parks, theaters, stations, wharves and trains, which made the spiced beans even more famous.

Guo's store was restructured in a nationalization campaign after 1949. The expanded business raised the brand's daily output to 3,000 kilograms, but the high production still struggled to meet the demand. So the store set a quota of 1 kilogram per person at peak times.

Long lines outside the store became a familiar sight, and during the 1960s and 1970s, the beans became a souvenir that foreigners and celebrities would buy when they visited the city.

Production of the spiced beans grew three fold to 15,000 kilograms after it merged with a seeds production company in the 1980s.

Using high quality beans from Yuyao of Zhejiang province, the spiced beans are cooked in stainless steam pots with liquid spice. Only flawless white-shelled beans were used.

In 1997, the mascot of Shanghai International Tourism Festival, called "Doudou", derived its image from the spiced beans.

In 2009, the spiced beans were named as intangible cultural heritage of Shanghai.

"The lowered output of quality beans in Zhejiang province forced our company to look for beans in Haimen of Jiangsu province, but the recipe was kept the same throughout the years," according to Xie Li, marketing manager from the Town God's Temple Food Co, the owner of the spiced bean company.

The company invested nearly 10 million yuan in building a factory in 2005. After the expansion, sales revenues of the spiced beans company reached 20 million yuan in 2014, with a profit of 4.64 million yuan.

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Snack attack: The company has expanded its product line and its beans can now be purchased online. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

New products

Apart from its best-seller of spiced beans, more than a dozen new products including green beans, black beans, and funky flavored beans have been added to the product line since 2000, and enjoy great popularity.

Town God's Temple branded beans are available not only across Shanghai, but are also available to Tmall and yihaodian.com.

If you go

Add: 104 Yuyuan Garden Road 豫园老路104号

Open: 8:30 am-9:00 pm

Tel: 021-2302-9630
 

Copyright © 2014 Shanghai Municipal Education Commission. All rights reserved.