What is soy sauce and where does it come from?
Soy sauce has a long history that dates back hundreds of years, from its origins as an ancient Chinese preserve known as jiang, to its modern day use as one of Asia’s staple cooking ingredients and marinades, used widely across much of the world.
According to the Japanese official Soy Sauce Information Center, Japanese soy sauce originated in the Kansai region from around 1580. During this time, a company known as Tamai Soy Sauce began selling soy sauce and miso paste to the people of Osaka, becoming what is thought to be the first soy sauce vendor in Japan. Eventually soy sauce began to be shipped from the Kansai region to Kanto and other areas of Japan.
By the time Japan’s Edo period began in 1603, the cities of Noda and Chosi in Chiba prefecture had also become major soy sauce producing regions, creating a product more similar in taste to the soy sauce that we buy today.
What is shoyu sauce and how is it made?
Shoyu is simply the Japanese word for soy sauce, and generally refers to the kind commonly used for cooking and as a dipping sauce. The main soy sauce ingredients include soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. The all-purpose soy sauce that is commonly found in supermarkets is a thin, brown liquid made by using a fermenting method known as honjozo in Japanese. In this process, soybeans and wheat are mixed together before mold spores known as koji are added to begin the fermentation process.
This koji mixture is then left in a tank for at least six months before it turns into a material known as moromi, which is also used in the sake brewing process in addition to soy sauce. Finally at the end of the brewing process through further fermentation and maturation, the moromi becomes soy sauce.
Japanese soy sauce brands
One of the most well-known Japanese soy sauce brands is Kikkoman, whose roots date back to the mid-17th century when the production of soy sauce began to become popular in Chiba prefecture. Originally known as the Noda Shoyu Co. Ltd, the company eventually changed its name to Kikkoman in 1964. After the Second World War, Kikkoman began to significantly increase their overseas exports and today they have three production plants in Japan and seven overseas.
Kikkoman considers its light soy sauce to be unique compared to other companies because it still uses the traditional honjozo brewing process during its production, and its sauce does not include any artificial flavors or preservatives. This results in a different taste compared to other brewing methods and companies who include additives like MSG to manipulate the final taste. The caramel reddish-brown color of Kikkoman soy sauce is also different to the much darker sauces produced by companies who use additives.
Another famous Japanese soy sauce brand is Yamasa, which was founded in 1645 by Gihei Hamaguchi in Chosi, located in Chiba prefecture. Like Kikkoman, Yamasa combines modern technology with traditional brewing methods to create a high-quality soy sauce used by many of Japan’s top professional chefs. Yamasa’s products range from their regular soy sauce for everyday cooking to specialist soy sauces to be served with sashimi and sushi, in addition to thicker teriyaki sauces.
If you’re looking for a more premium soy sauce brand, Takesan Kishibori Shoyu is a gourmet product with a rich flavor, deep color, and intense aroma. The Takesan company was established on the Mediterranean-like island of Shodoshima located in the Japanese Inland Sea, famous for its stunning nature and olive oil production in addition to soy sauce. Takesan Kishibori Shoyu is brewed using the whole soybean, wheat, and natural salt before being placed in barrels made from ancientkioke (cedar wood) for one year to ferment.
Also situated on Shodoshima island is Yamaroku Shoyu, a small traditional family-run brewery whose history is said to date back more than 150 years. Yamaroku’s products are all naturally brewed and their most popular item called Tsurubishio, is a double-brewed soy sauce that takes four years to produce before it’s ready to be sold.
Marunaka Shoyu is another artisanal soy sauce brand that still relies on traditional brewing methods to produce their soy sauce. Produced in an area of Shiga Prefecture between the Suzuka Mountains and Lake Biwa, Marunaka has used the same techniques to produce their soy sauce for more than 200 years, in a brewing process that takes almost three years from start to finish.
Different types of soy sauce
In addition to koikuchi shoyu, (regular soy sauce) which accounts for around 80% of the soy sauce produced in Japan, other types include light colored soy sauces such as usukuchi shoyu, which comes from the Kansai region and includes more salt than regular soy sauce, and shiro shoyu, which originated in Aichi prefecture and is used more for cooking in sweet-flavored dishes. Unpasteurized soy sauce known as nama shoyu in Japanese, is saltier in taste than its sweeter counterparts, rich in color and strong in flavor.
Other types of soy sauce you may have heard of include saishikomi, a double brewed soy sauce produced mainly in the southwest of Japan, from Yamaguchi down to the island of Kyushu. Saishikomi is a sweet-tasting soy sauce, popular for flavoring sashimi and tofu, and is made by blending the koji with another soy sauce instead of brine, which results in a deeper color and flavor.
Amakuchi is another type of sweet soy sauce that comes from Kyushu and is the most popular type of soy sauce in that region thanks to its deep ties to the local area. Whilst there is some debate about why this sweet soy sauce is so popular in Kyushu, it is often said that it could be related to the fact that a large amount of sugar used to be imported to Japan from the Netherlands through Nagasaki Port.
The other main type of soy sauce is called tamari. Produced mainly in the Chubu region in Central Japan,tamariis thicker than regular soy sauce, has a denser flavor, and is often served with sashimi as it is less salty. Its ingredients are different from regular soy sauce too, astamari usually does not contain wheat.
Although the majority of soy sauce sold is in liquid form, powdered soy sauce can also be used for use in soups, sauces, spice mixtures, and glazing to enhance the flavor of a dish.
Since its humble beginnings in ancient China, soy sauce has come a long way and is now available to purchase in many different varieties and products. For example, if you have special dietary requirements, you can now purchase products to include gluten-free soy sauce or Halal soy sauce. Other types of soy sauce suitable for special diets include Kikkoman’s Less Salt Soy Sauce, a low sodium soy sauce suitable for people looking to reduce the amount of salt they eat.
What kind of soy sauce is best?
Depending on the dish that you are preparing, different kinds of soy sauce bring out different flavors. The five elements that contribute to the taste of soy sauce include saltiness, sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and umami.
A Japanese sweet soy sauce such as shiro shoyu is better for use in light soups or for making tamagoyaki, a kind of Japanese omelet, whilst usukuchi shoyu is commonly used in broths for noodle soup or other simmered dishes because it is lighter in color. As mentioned previously, tamari is excellent when served with sushi and sashimi due to its lower salt content and is also used in the production of senbei rice crackers.
For fans of Japanese cuisine, you may have noticed that soy sauce is also used when creating pickled dishes, known as shoyuzuke in Japanese. General soy sauce can be used for creating soy sauce pickles and popular side dishes include Japanese pickled cucumbers or daikon radish.
There are also a number of soy sauce condiments designed to be paired with specific dishes, from a Japanese salad dressing soy sauce, to tare sauces where sugar and spices are added to soy sauce to create a marinade for skewered meats known as yakitori in Japanese. Ponzu soy sauce is also a popular citrus flavored dipping sauce that is used for grilled meats or with cold noodles. Japanese seasoning company Yamagen Jouzu have also created a ‘wasabi shoyu’, a soy sauce with wasabi flavor, ideal for serving with beef dishes.
How to store soy sauce
To ensure that your soy sauce retains its flavor, before opening, it’s best to keep it in a cool, dry storage cupboard or pantry.
Does soy sauce need to be refrigerated?
Soy sauce doesn’t need to be refrigerated and will keep at room temperature, however, once the bottle has been opened it will retain its flavor for longer if you do refrigerate it. According to Kikkoman, keeping the soy sauce at a higher temperature will increase the sauce’s contact with oxygen, turning the sauce darker in color and lessening its flavor.
Does soy sauce go bad?
Most soy sauce will come with an expiration date on the label and will keep up to two years after opening if kept in the correct storage conditions. However, an unopened bottle of soy sauce won’t really go bad and can be kept indefinitely if stored in a pantry.