October 24, 2007

La Choy Chinese Cookery

The oldest and most well-known brand of Oriental food products in the United States is La Choy. La Choy Food Products got it's start from two men in Michigan who had the innovative idea of selling canned bean sprouts. The eventual growth and success of the company "sprouted" from this single product.

Since the company's inception in 1922 it has gone through many changes, both in ownership and in the number and variety of products offered to consumers. The La Choy brand is currently part of the ConAgra family.

Throughout the years millions of copies of their recipe booklet, The Art and Secrets of Chinese Cookery, have been published. Offhand, I know there were editions published in 1937, 1943, 1949, 1954, 1958, and 1962.

It's easy to see the progress and changes made by the company when one examines the various editions.

The two editions from 1954 (30 pages) and 1962 (30 pages) were published while under the ownership of Beatrice Foods. The booklets are quite similar, sharing many of the same recipes and basic content format, although the covers are different. Most of the recipes that are similar were updated and sometimes the names of the recipes were slightly changed. New recipes were added. The 1962 vesion contains dessert recipes which were absent from the version published in 1954.

Both booklets have some of the prepared recipes shown in color photos and as always, the food photography improved with the passage of time. The dishes shown in the 1962 version are a little nicer in appearance than those shown in the 1954 version.

Both booklets have small black and white illustrations of the La Choy products with a product description on the bottom portions of the pages. These descriptions also sometimes vary a bit.

The rear page of both booklets show black and white photos of the La Choy Archbold, Ohio plant. The results of the expansion of the Archbold facilities, which began in 1955 and reached completion 1958, can be seen by comparing the two photos. The 1962 photo shows how the floor area of the plant was expanded to encompass seven and one-half acres. (Did you know that you can click on the image to reveal the full-size image?)

One product that both booklets, and many of the recipes, have in common is the La Choy Brown Gravy Sauce. It was used in many of the dishes, and was basically what differentiated the Chop Suey recipes from the Chow Mein recipes in these booklets.

In the past, I have received several emails and phone calls from people looking for a source from which this Brown Gravy Sauce could be purchased. The bad news is that this product is no long being manufactured. Accord to a La Choy CSR, this product was discontinued sometime around 1997.

Naturally, people seek a way to improvise so they can continue to use some of their old recipes which call for this product as an ingredient. Perhaps these old recipe booklets can provide some clues:

In the 1962 edition, the following is found under the Serving Ideas for the Brown Gravy Sauce:

"La Choy Brown Gravy Sauce is rich in Soy Sauce and monosodium glutamate. It adds a wholesome, meaty color in addition to enhancing the flavor and nutrition of a basic gravy recipe. Chop Suey, roast pork, roast beef, baked beans, brown bread, spiced cookies, gingerbread, etc. all have a more appetizing appearance when prepared with Brown Gravy Sauce. The ancient Chinese used to call it "thick" Soy Sauce and along with Soy Sauce, it was one of their two basic
More clues to the ingredients of the Brown Gravy Sauce can be found under the product description:

"La Choy Brown Gravy Sauce is a thick, full-bodied, bead molasses type product that serves many purposes in the kitchen. It consists mainly of parts of corn, sugar cane, soya beans, wheat and monosodium glutamate. It is essential for coloring and sweetening Chop Suey or Chow Mein and many other Chinese dishes."

Bead molasses is similar, but not the same as, a light molasses. It might be possible to find Bead Molasses in an Asian grocery or a supermarket that sells ethnic foods, or perhaps in a health food store. One brand, Dynasty, used to be available on Amazon, but doesn't appear to be at the time of this writing. I did notice other Dynasty brand Asian products at the local Super Wal-Mart.

The La Choy CSR suggested to me the following as a substitution for the Brown Gravy Sauce, although she stressed several times that this was not a La Choy kitchen "tested" recipe. At least they have tried somewhat to accomodate their consumers who are missing this product.


For a 5 ounce bottle, combine 1/2 cup corn syrup (light or dark) and 1/2 teaspoon La Choy Soy Sauce.

Corn syrup? Should I be surprised? This suggestion did come from a processed food manufacturer after all.

I'm not against corn syrup in general, but I don't see why they think it has to be an ingredient in practically every single processed food.

Do you like those commercial Asian salad dressings that are so popular now? Can you say Corn Syrup? Yes, folks, we are pouring corn syrup on our salad greens and loving every bite of it.

At least Molasses sounds like it's healthy and good for us.


At 4:39 AM CDT, Blogger T.W. Barritt said...

It is quite interesting to see what has been considered "global cuisine" over the past decades. La Choy talked about "Chinese Cookery" but was distinctly American. Times have changed!

At 8:01 AM CDT, Blogger Kathy said...

"Times have changed" - Thank Goodness!

At 4:24 PM CDT, Blogger Jean Soller said...

Lost my brochure with Chop Suey receipe in a change of residence in 1976 - now am able to make this delicious Chop Suey. Any other recipes I have tried - did not cut it. Would love to have another copy of LaChoy recipe brochure. Is that possible? Thank you for sharing. Jean

At 7:11 AM CDT, Blogger Kathy said...

Jean - You can look here to see a La Choy Chop Suey recipe (from 1954) and use the brown gravy substitution as suggested in this blog entry. To the left of the page on the link above is another link where you can find a lot of La Choy recipe booklets and brochures for sale. There, you may be able to locate the exact booklet that you had in 1976.

Thanks for stopping by.

At 2:48 AM CDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



At 1:46 PM CDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 5:53 PM CDT, Blogger hsandlin10 said...

Today I was looking for "thick soy sauce" as my bourbon chicken recipe calls for it and didnt see anything like that at the grocery store. I googled what it was and i found what ingridents were in it and compared to a jar of "brown gravy sauce" that was on the shelf and not even sure if it would work bought it anyway. Come home and google what that is exactly and find this artical so I guess I hit the jack pot! What I found is made by dynasty and its brown gravy sauce.. Thanks for the info! OH and I found it at my local wiseway market...


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