The century-old business of sesame oil extraction in Beidou Township (北斗), Changhua County, has steadily declined, but is now being revived by the town’s Yang family, who are determined to carry on producing the aromatic oil in the traditional way.
Yang Chih-ching (楊志清) operates one of the town’s family stores for sesame oil extraction, after returning from running a garment manufacturing company in Cambodia.
He did this at the request of his late father, Yang Liang-hsiung (楊良雄), a life-long edible oil extraction operator who before his death five years ago told Yang Chih-ching: “You must carry on the family business.”
Heeding the dying request of his father, Yang Chih-ching threw himself into the undertaking by forming a core three-person work team with his cousin Yang Yung-chuan (楊詠全) and uncle Chen Chun-yuan (陳俊元).
He then went over the family’s account books, which listed all the customers throughout the country with whom his father had dealt before. One by one, Yang Chih-ching contacted them and persuaded them to do business with the Yangs again.
Beidou, in the early part of the nation’s modern history, was among the most prosperous commercial hubs in Taiwan and many family businesses with oil press and extraction machines were founded throughout the town.
However, the family edible oil extraction businesses closed shop one by one in recent years, because after the elder store managers and operators retired, the younger generation was not willing to undertake such a physically demanding trade. The family operations also found it difficult to compete with mass production by the large food manufacturers.
Now, the familiar smell of sesame oil is back in the town as some century-old shops are being revived by a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Yang Chih-ching is one such individual, as the fourth-generation family owner of the Cingji Edible Oil Processor in Beidou.
These days, Yang spends most of his working days in the oil processing rooms, operating the oil extracting press in a 40oC environment all day. In the hot and dusty setting, he is drenched with sweat and near total physical exhaustion by the end of the day, yet he remains passionate about his work.
“Since my childhood, I stood at my father’s side to help him make sesame oil, so I have a passion for sesame oil that is never going away,” Yang Chih-ching said.
“The oil-extraction machinery we have at home are all more than a century-old antiques. When I heard they may be sold off or abandoned, my heart was filled with dismay. Then my father gave me his dying request and I realized that I could not escape this responsibility,” he added.
“Our family brand of sesame oil has the aromatic flavor and taste that customers cannot find in the oil produced by the large commercial oil processors. Now I understand my father’s resolute insistence and his intention in asking me to return home [to run the family business],” he said.