Nyonya Belacan is one of the most important ingredients, and by far the most pungent seasoning, in Malaysian and Singaporean cookery. To make it, finely crushed krill shrimp is mixed with salt, steamed and fermented; the resulting paste is then ground to a smoother consistency, sun-dried, shaped into blocks, and allowed to ferment a second time. The finished belacan is slightly moist, with a powerful aroma and potent flavour.
The fermentation phases break down the krill’s protein into abundant free amino acids, nucleotides and peptides, which are natural flavour enhancers. These enable traditional belacan to lend deeply umami (savoury) undertones to rempahs (spice pastes), curries, sambals and dishes. Just a small quantity of toasted belacan is all that is needed to elevate and heighten their taste.