Soy Sauce and Industrial Food Production in Singapore

Hallam Stevens

2Nanyang Technological University 

This paper traces the postwar history of soy sauce in Singapore through the history of two soy sauce manufacturers. Both established prior to the Japanese occupation of Singapore, Lighthouse Soy Sauce (manufactured by the Yeo Hiap Seng Company (YHS)) and the Kwong Woh Hing (KWH, 广和兴) soy sauce factory offer contrasting examples of the development of this industry. While YHS expanded rapidly and industrialized after World War II, the Woo family has continued to manufacture soy sauce using the traditional fermentation methods (vats exposed to sunlight). This paper uses the trajectory of Singapore’s soy sauce to examine how these commercial histories can be read as history of the changing priorities around food, industrial production, and tradition in Singapore. Drawing on both documentary and oral history sources related to the development of soy sauce production in Singapore, the paper argues that the history of Singapore soy sauce – and of these particular soy sauce factories – illustrates the shifting priorities of the state from industrial production to a “knowledge economy.” In the recent pivot towards “intangible heritage” in Singapore, food and taste have played an important role and this importance has contributed to the continued sustainability of “traditional” businesses such as KWH.


Biography:

Hallam Stevens is an Associate Professor of History at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore). He is the author of Life out of sequence: a data-driven history of bioinformatics (Chicago, 2013), Biotechnology & Society: An introduction (Chicago 2016), and the co-editor of Postgenomics: Perspectives on life after the genome (Duke, 2015).

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