BEIJING, CHINA – Sachima, one of China’s most popular snacks, is basically made from deep-fried egg noodles bound together with sugar syrup. To produce this traditional specialty, high-gluten flour with good extensibility is essential.
Sachima is an unusual product in every respect — because of its history as well as its taste and the way it is made.
The fried noodles look rather like American Rice Krispies Treats. But whereas Krispies bars consist of puffed rice and marshmallows, sachima is made from wheat flour and has a far more interesting history. As long ago as the 17th century, North Chinese troops are said to have been issued with sachima as part of their rations. According to folklore, the high-calorie food gave the soldiers of the Qing dynasty the extra bit of strength and stamina they needed to drive back the Ming dynasty around 1630 and extend the territory of the Manchu Empire to over 7 million square kilometers.
Tradition has it that sachima was then acclaimed joyfully as the “emperor food” and came to be served on all important feast days. This high esteem has continued through all subsequent generations, and the soft caramel snack is now one of most popular sweets in the Middle Kingdom.
Demanding production method
The production of sachima is extremely laborious and time consuming. There are still some artisan manufacturers who continue to practice the art of hand production in their small shops or in food courts. In front of their astonished customers, and using the simplest ingredients, they conjure up an incomparable delicacy with a fine, sweet taste and roasted notes.
The basis is a dough made from flour, eggs and baking powder, rolled out very thinly as for making “apfelstrudel.” These dough sheets are dusted with flour, stacked on top of each other and cut into short, thin strips. The pastry is cooked in a wok or deep-fryer instead of being baked in an oven. It is the boiling fat that gives the crumb its light, fluffy volume and the crust its pale-brown color and aromatic taste.
But the real key to good sachima lies in the syrup coating. At this stage in production the nature and consistency of the sugar solution plays a decisive role. The glaze must cover the surface of the noodles completely, but on no account should it soak the crumb. It takes considerable skill and care to achieve this balance and distribute the sticky, viscous mass evenly over the fried product.
Finally, the caramel noodles are filled into large, rectangular molds, pressed down with the palms of the hands and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Besides this classic Manchu version, the Cantonese variant is the most popular. In this case, the fried noodles are first coated with syrup, then rolled additionally in sesame seeds, nuts, dried fruits or coconut flakes.
Consumers who enjoy experimenting will find what they are looking for in the country’s typical snack shops. These are a veritable sachima paradise. With cheese, algae or buckwheat — many different flavors are offered, and the diversity is growing continuously. According to the market analyst Innova, 66 new sachima varieties have been launched in China since 2015.
Fully-automated production lines
Even if traditionalists swear by hand-made sachima, the huge demand from more than 1.4 billion Chinese consumers can only be met by the confectionery industry. According to the trade information service “fooddaily,” the company HSU FU CHI is the undisputed leader with a market share of 70%. At its headquarters in Dongguan, the group operates the world’s biggest sachima plant, where up to 135 tonnes of the rectangular sugar bars come off the production lines every day. Competitors of HSU FU CHI include UNCLEPOP and BESTORE.
Although the production of sachima dough does not require sophisticated ingredients, it is time-consuming. To relax the gluten network, the dough should rest at room temperature for about 10 hours.
The following is a standard recipe with the most important steps in preparation:
The process involves these steps:
- Mix all ingredients into a smooth dough.
- Rest the dough for 10 hours at 20 degrees C or 5 hours at 37 degrees C.
- Pass the dough through the dough sheeter to a thickness of 3 to 5 millimeters.
- Cut into small slices about 5 to 8 centimeters in length.
- Fry in palm oil for 1 minute at 190 degrees, then remove and leave to cool.
- Mix with invert syrup; the ratio of the fried slices to the syrup should be 1:1.
- Shape and cut into cubes, then package.
The properties of the flour are of prime importance for the machinability of the dough and the quality of sachima pastry. The dough must be elastic and extensible, and there must be no hint of stickiness or weakness.
Usually, high gluten flour (flour specification below) with an addition of vital wheat gluten is used. For grinding, the Chinese mills mostly combine imported wheat with domestic batches.
Enzyme-based production of flour
To meet the increasing demands in terms of flour quality, flour treatment is gaining more importance. The use of vital wheat gluten is an established method for raising the protein value. Moreover, the addition of ADA (azodicarbonamide) to enhance the volume, color and structure of baked foods is permitted in the Chinese milling industry.
But more mills are shifting toward more sustainable, innovative alternatives. They are concentrating on enzyme-based solutions for enhancing the properties of their flour products and ensuring a high level of standardization.
Mühlenchemie is one of the best-known suppliers of this key technology. Via its affiliate, Stern Ingredients China, which is located at Wujiang/Suzhou, it operates an applications center of its own with a rheological and baking laboratory, where any flour can be adjusted precisely to the customer’s requirements.
Since the extensibility of the dough has top priority in the production of sachima, special compounds of amylases (Alphamalt A) and hemicellulases (Alphamalt HC) are especially suitable for this application. These highly functional systems of active substances relax and stabilize the gluten network and at the same time increase the volume yield. Lipases (Alphamalt EFX) are used to enhance the texture of the crumb and ensure an even dough structure. Glucoamylases (Alphamalt GA), on the other hand, have a positive effect on flavor formation and the color of the noodles.
But besides product attributes, aspects of production technology can be improved with enzymes, too. With the aid of the enzyme Alphamalt HC 14090, it is possible to considerably reduce the approximately 10-hour resting time required for sachima doughs.
Although a precise analysis of the initial flour is needed in each particular case to choose the most suitable combination of the countless enzyme specifications and additives for an optimal sachima flour, the following list gives a brief overview of the most common faults in products and possible ways of avoiding them:
Problem: Low volume due to tough dough.
Solution: Increase the resting time and add hemicellulases like Alphamalt HC 14090.
Problem: Slow coloring during deep frying.
Solution: Add little sugar; use amylase such as Alphamalt A 9085F, Alphamalt GA 23750 or Alphamalt GA 5071.
Problem: Coarse crumb texture.
Solution: Increase the flour protein; add ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, emulsifier or lipase.
Problem: Relaxing time is too long.
Solution: Use amylase (Alphamalt A 9085F) or hemicellulases (Alphamalt HC 14090), rest the dough in higher temperature condition.
Problem: Sticky bite.
Solutions: Adjust the ratio of the sugar syrup.