What is Qu? The Fermentation Starter For Baijiu!

What is Qu? The Fermentation Starter For Baijiu

If you’re going to make baijiu, you’ll need a number of different things. The base ingredients are obviously essential, such as grains and water. Perhaps most importantly, however, you’ll need qu, or jaiqu. This is what is used to make baijiu taste a little sweeter, as well as aiding with the fermentation process.

Qu starts life as a range of grains, which are compiled together before adding a number of additional components. It’s essentially a starter agent for the fermentation of alcohol. There are two types of qu, known colloquially as ‘big qu’ and ‘small qu’.

As the condition of the earth is essential to creation of qu, every territory in China will produce a different type. The ambient climate and condition of the soil will have an impact. This is why every brand of baijiu has a different taste and aroma, depending on where it was made.

How is Qu Made?

This depends on what size, and style, of qu that we are referring to, As previously discussed, there are two primary forms of qu which are divided by size.

Big Qu

(aka Daqu) is usually constructed from wheat or cereal grains, though sometimes vegetables are also included. The resulting flavors are quite complex, and can lead to very high-end baijiu. Once these core ingredients are successfully combined, they are mixed with water and a paste is formed. Once ready, they will be shaped into bricks that typically weigh around 7 lbs each. These bricks are then stacked in a warm, enclosed room and left alone for up to two months. Additions are then made to the qu, either organically or by hand, and the bricks are crushed into powder. The qu is then ready for use in the constriction of baijiu.

Small Qu

(aka Xiaoqu) is constructed from cooked rice, rather than wheat or grain. This creates a more aromatic baijiu, not least because some manufacturers also add a variety or herbs of soybeans. The process of creating small qu starts out the same, with the addition of water. As opposed to bricks, however, this mixture is rolled into small balls. Naturally this is much smaller and easier to store, hence the informal name of small qu. Despite the size discrepancy, small qu will be left just as long to take form. Again, it also requires a warm and enclosed space in which to develop.

Different types of qu will make very disparate-tasting variations of baijiu. The majority of baijiu brands will use daqu for its unique taste. A lighter, more aromatic baijiu may rely on xiaoqu though, as will yellow wines. Xiaoqu can also produce the Chinese equivalent of the popular Japanese beverage sake.

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What is Added to Qu to Make Baiju?

Once the qu has been left in its optimum location, it should have cultivated any number of molds and fungi. This may not sound very appealing, but it’s actually an essential part of the process.

  • The mold that grows on qu bricks or balls are essential. They will be unique to the location that the qu is grown within, and they act as enzymes during the fermentation process. The importance of mold growth is why qu has to be left alone for a prolonged period of time.
  • Yeast will not grow in qu until the water has been added, but it’s utterly pivotal. Without yeast, the qu used to ferment baijiu will not take the appropriate hold. What’s more, yeast will feed upon the sugar found in qu and turn it onto alcohol.
  • Bacteria is also essential to qu. The bacteria that grow on qu will provide a range of flavor and health benefits. Good bacteria also breaks down the carbohydrate content found in qu, and makes for a better baijiu.

The process of allowing qu to settle cannot be rushed. It needs to work to full capacity in order to make an appealing baijiu, fit for the imperial dynasties that enjoyed the drink for so long.

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Why is Qu So Critical to Baiju?

Qu is important because the traditional ingredients of baijiu do not contain sugar. Sugar is essential to the creation of alcohol, as it reacts to yeast. Put bluntly, when mixed and left to ferment, yeast will consume sugar and turn it into alcohol.

Unlike wine, which uses grapes as a base ingredient, baijiu is constructed from rice, vegetables and other grains. Beer manufacturers apply enzymes, in a process known as malting. There is no sugar to be found in the core ingredients of baijiu – just starch. This means that an external ingredient will be required to turn that starch into sugar. Enter qu.

When it comes to creating baijiu, the process of sweetening and fermentation take place simultaneously. This is achieved by the microrganisms found in qu. These bacteria do all the work required to create sugar in a baijiu recipe – all you need to do is leave the recipe to do its work. It’s truly a miracle ingredient!

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Is Baijiu the Only Product to Utilize Qu?

No. While qu is most commonly associated with Chinese alcohols, it is a common and popular ingredient in other dishes and condiments. The most popular examples of this are soybean curds, vinegar, fish sauces and soy sauce.

If you have any intention of creating your own baijiu, you will need to ensure that you have access to qu. It’s not a nice to have – it’s a necessity. Without this ingredient, baijiu would lack many of the essential elements that make it so popular throughout China.

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