Fans of wok cuisine will know this very special wok aroma. This special flavour is also called Wok Hei and is produced by a special cooking method that is particularly widespread in Asian country kitchens. We show you exactly what it is and how you can achieve this flavour at home.
What does Wok Hei mean?
Wok Hei is a term from Asian cuisine that refers to the taste and aroma produced when food is fried in a wok. It is produced by the high heat and direct contact of the food with the wok and possibly flames and is often described as spicy and smoky. An intense Wok Hei aroma can be produced, especially with foods that contain a lot of protein. Wok Hei is an important component of Asian cuisine and has its roots in Chinese cooking. It is considered an indicator of good wok technique. The aroma is a combination of several cooking processes that occur at high temperatures. On the one hand, the sugar contained in the food is caramelised, a special smoky aroma is produced by heating the wok oil and the so-called Maillard reaction is promoted. This interaction leads to the special Wok Hei aroma.
The Maillard reaction
The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs when food is heated, especially during frying and roasting. During this process, amino acids and sugars contained in the food react. The newly formed compounds are responsible for the characteristic taste and smell of roasted foods and are also reflected in a brownish discolouration. The Maillard reaction is an important process in cooking and contributes to the development of the flavours and aromas that make food richer and more varied.
How to achieve Wok Hei1. High temperatures
To achieve Wok Hei, you need high temperatures above 200°C. The heat ensures that the liquid in the ingredients evaporates quickly. Usually, a cooker in a private household is less suitable for this, as they cannot reach the high temperatures. If the heat is too low, the water escaping from the ingredients lowers the temperature of the wok. To prevent the temperature in the wok from dropping too much, it would need a heat source with very high temperatures, through which the water evaporates quickly. This is the only way to create the Wok Hei aroma. Instead, a wok burner is suitable for this. A wok burner is a cooking surface that is specially designed for the rounded pan and can be used to cook at very high temperatures to achieve the Wok Hei aroma - is suitable for this.
Tip: As an alternative to a wok burner, you can use your barbecue. There are extra holders for this, so that your wok stands stably on the barbecue.
2. The right wok oil
To achieve the Wok Hei aroma, the food should come into direct contact with the wok. Therefore, the right amount of oil is very important.
- Too much oil will tend to deep-fry the ingredients and prevent the Wok Hei aroma from being created.
- If you use too little oil, it may decompose too quickly.
When choosing wok oil, be sure to consider the smoke point. It is important to use an oil with a high smoke point to create flavour without burning the oil. Peanut oil, for example, is suitable here. We have summarised which oils are the best for cooking in a wok.
Tip: Wok Hei is best achieved with a seasoned wok. Burning in a wok creates a so-called "patina", a natural non-stick coating made of oil, which is produced by repeated heating and oiling.
3. The cooking method
Only put the oil into the wok when it is already heated up. Then add your ingredients quickly before the oil decompose. Make sure you put the ingredients with a longer cooking time first. Another tip to achieve the Wok Hei flavour: Move the ingredients quickly and frequently. The constant movement in the wok prevents your ingredients from burning and intensifies the flavour. It is best not to put too many ingredients in the wok at once, as this will affect the temperature in the wok, and it may cool down too much.
Wok Hei? Practice, practice, practice!
Don't be disappointed if you don't get this very special wok aroma as perfectly as you might expect. Achieving the Wok Hei flavour takes practice, experience and time to improve technique.
Caution: In general, we recommend that you cautiously approach this type of preparation, as working with such high temperatures can be dangerous. When cooking in a wok with this high heat, the oil in the wok often ignites. This enhances the smoky aroma but can also be dangerous if the fire is handled incorrectly. Do not panic and always have a fire extinguisher next to your stove as a precaution.