Soy sauce (also called soya sauce) is a condiment made from a fermented paste of boiled soybeans, roasted grain, brine, and Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus sojae moulds.
After fermentation, the paste is pressed, producing a liquid, which is the soy sauce, and a solid byproduct, which is often used as animal feed. Soy sauce is a traditional ingredient in East and Southeast Asian cuisines, where it is used in cooking and as a condiment. It originated in China in the 2nd century BCE and spread throughout Asia. Today, it is used in Western cuisine and prepared foods. Soy sauce has a distinct basic taste called umami (pleasant savoury taste) in Japanese, due to naturally occurring free glutamates. Umami was identified as a basic taste in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University. Most varieties of soy sauce are salty, earthy, brownish liquids intended to season food while cooking or at the table. Many kinds of soy sauce are made in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma and other countries. Variation is usually achieved as the result of different methods and duration of fermentation, different ratios of water, salt, and fermented soy, or through the addition of other ingredients.
Types of Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is widely used as a particularly important flavouring and has been integrated into the traditional cuisines of many East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures. Despite their rather similar appearance, soy sauces produced in different cultures and regions are different in taste, consistency, fragrance and saltiness. Soy sauce retains its quality longer when kept away from direct sunlight.
Chinese soy sauce is primarily made from soybeans, with relatively low amounts of other grains. Chinese soy sauce can be roughly split into two classes which can be brewed or a blended.
Soy sauce that have been brewed directly from a fermentation process using wheat, soybeans, salt, and water without additional additives.
- Light or fresh soy sauce – (生抽 shēngchōu/saang chau or 酱清 jiàngqīng/jeong tsing): is a thin (low viscosity), opaque, lighter brown soy sauce, brewed by first culturing steamed wheat and soybeans with Aspergillus, and then letting the mixture ferment in brine. It is the main soy sauce used for seasoning, since it is saltier, has less noticeable colour, and also adds a distinct flavour.
- Tóuchōu: The light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans, which can be loosely translated as first soy sauce or referred to as premium light soy sauce. Touchōu is sold at a premium because, like extra virgin olive oil, the flavour of the first pressing is considered superior. Due to its delicate flavour it is used primarily for seasoning light dishes and for dipping.
- Shuānghuáng : A light soy sauce that is double-fermented by using the light soy sauce from another batch to take the place of brine for a second brewing. This adds further complexity to the flavour of the light soy sauce. Due to its complex flavour this soy sauce is used primarily for dipping.
- Yìnyóu – A darker soy sauce brewed primarily in Taiwan by culturing only steamed soybeans with Aspergillus and mixing the cultured soybeans with coarse rock salt before undergoing prolonged dry fermentation. The flavour of this soy sauce is complex and rich and is used for dipping or in red cooking. For the former use, yinyou can be thickened with starch to produce a thick soy sauce.
Additives with sweet or umami tastes are sometimes added to a finished brewed soy sauce to modify its taste and texture.
- Dark and old soy sauce – A darker and slightly thicker soy sauce made from light soy sauce. This soy sauce is produced through prolonged aging and added caramel, and may contain added molasses to give it its distinctive appearance. This variety is mainly used during cooking, since its flavour develops during heating. It has a richer, slightly sweeter, and less salty flavour than light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is partly used to add colour and flavour to a dish after cooking, but, as stated above, is more often used during the cooking process, rather than after.
- Mushroom dark soy – In the finishing and aging process of making dark soy sauce, the broth of Volvariella volvacea mixed into the soy sauce and is then exposed to the sun to produce this type of dark soy. The added broth gives this soy sauce a richer flavour than plain dark soy sauce.
- Thick soy sauce – A dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar and occasionally flavoured with certain spices and MSG. This sauce is often used as a dipping sauce or finishing sauce and poured on food as a flavourful addition, however due to its sweetness and caramelised flavours from its production process the sauce is also used in red cooking.
- Shrimp soy sauce – Fresh soy sauce is simmered with fresh shrimp and finished with sugar, baijiu (type of distilled liquor), and spices. A specialty of Suzhou.
- Taiwan soy sauce – The history of soy sauce making in Taiwan can be traced back to southeastern China, in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. Taiwanese soy sauce is known for its black bean variant, known as black bean soy sauce (黑豆蔭油), which takes longer to produce (about 6 months). Most major soy sauce makers in Taiwan, such as Kimlan (金蘭), Wan Ja Shan (萬家香), and President-Kikkoman (統萬), produce soy sauce made from soybeans and wheat. A few other makers, such as Wuan Chuang (丸莊), O’Long (黑龍), Tatung (大同) and Ruei Chun (瑞春) make black bean soy sauce.
Buddhist monks from China introduced soy sauce into Japan in the 7th century, where it is known as shōyu. The Japanese word tamari is derived from the verb tamaru that signifies “to accumulate”, referring to the fact that tamari was traditionally a liquid byproduct produced during the fermentation of miso (type of seasoning). Japan is the leading producer of Tamari. Shōyu is traditionally divided into five main categories depending on differences in their ingredients and method of production. Most, but not all Japanese soy sauces include wheat as a primary ingredient, which tends to give them a slightly sweeter taste than their Chinese counterparts. They also tend towards an alcoholic sherry-like flavour, sometimes enhanced by the addition of small amounts of alcohol as a natural preservative. The widely varying flavours of these soy sauces are not always interchangeable, some recipes only call for one type or the other, much like a white wine cannot replace a red’s flavour or beef stock does not produce the same results as fish stock. Some soy sauces made in the Japanese way or styled after them contain about fifty percent wheat. Soy sauce has a distinct basic taste called umami (“pleasant savoury taste”) in Japanese, due to naturally occurring free glutamates.
- Koikuchi (“thick flavour”): Originating in the Kantō region, its usage eventually spread all over Japan. Over 80% of the Japanese domestic soy sauce production is of koikuchi, and can be considered the typical Japanese soy sauce. It is produced from roughly equal quantities of soybean and wheat. This variety is also called kijōyu (生醤油) or namashōyu (生しょうゆ) when it is not pasteurised.
- Usukuchi (“weak taste”): Particularly popular in the Kansai region of Ja.com.au/wp-admin/post.php?post=5ghter in colour than koikuchi. The lighter colour arises from the use of Amazake, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice, that is used in its production.
- Tamari: Produced mainly in the Chūbu region of Japan, tamari is darker in appearance and richer in flavour than koikuchi. It contains little or no wheat. Wheat-free tamari can be used by people with gluten intolerance. It is the “original” Japanese soy sauce, as its recipe is closest to the soy sauce originally introduced to Japan from China. Technically, this variety is known as miso-damari, as this is the liquid that runs off miso as it matures.
- Shiro (“white”): In contrast to tamari soy sauce, shiro soy sauce uses mostly wheat and very little soybean, lending it a light appearance and sweet taste. It is more commonly used in the Kansai region to highlight the appearances of food, for example sashimi.
- Saishikomi (“twice-brewed”) : This variety substitutes previously made koikuchi for the brine normally used in the process. Consequently, it is much darker and more strongly flavoured. This type is also known as kanro shōyu or “sweet shōyu”.
Newer varieties of Japanese soy sauce include:
- Gen’en (“reduced salt”): This version contains 50% less salt than regular shōyu for health conscious consumers.
- Usujio (“light salt”): This version contains 20% less salt than regular shōyu.
All of these varieties are sold in the marketplace in three different grades according to how they were produced:
- Honjōzō – (“genuine fermented”): Contains 100% genuine fermented product
- Kongō-jōzō – (“mixed fermented”): Contains genuine fermented shōyu mash mixed with 30–50% of chemical or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein
- Kongō – (“mixed”): Contains Honjōzō or Kongō-jōzō shōyu mixed with 30–50% of chemical or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein
All the varieties and grades may be sold according to three official levels of quality:
- Hyōjun – Standard grade, contains more than 1.2% total nitrogen
- Jo-kyu-: Upper grade, contains more than 1.35% of total nitrogen
- Tokkyu-: Special grade, contains more than 1.5% of total nitrogen
Soy sauce is also commonly known as shoyu, and less commonly shōyu, in Hawaii and Brazil. Most representations of Asian cuisine in Brazil (as the result of the diaspora Chinese and Koreans both do have valued cultural icons and there are Chinese restaurants in all major metropolises and most 400.000+ pop. cities in the Central-Southern half of the country) display as its ingredients, when it is necessary, Japanese-like soy sauce since it is widely popular and less expensive than imports. There are some differences from the shōyu in the Japanese market as for example Sakura, the market-leading Brazilian brand for soy sauce, features just a 35% less salt variety (instead of the Japanese standards 20% and 50%) and all of its soy sauce is gluten free (it does use maize instead of wheat in the fermentation process).
In Indonesia, soy sauce is known as kecap (also ketjap), which is a catch-all term for fermented sauces, and cognate to the English word “ketchup”. Three common varieties of Indonesian soy-based kecap exist:
- Kecap asin – Salty soy sauce, which is very similar to Chinese light soy sauce, but usually somewhat thicker and has a stronger flavour; it can be replaced by light Chinese soy sauce in recipes.
- Kecap manis – Sweet soy sauce, which has a thick, almost syrupy consistency and a pronounced sweet, treacle-like flavour due to generous addition of palm sugar. In cooking, it may be replaced by molasses with a little vegetable stock stirred in.
- Kecap manis sedang – Medium sweet soy sauce, which has a less thick consistency and a saltier taste than Manis.
Korean soy sauce (called Joseon ganjang in Korean) is a byproduct of the production of doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste). They are mainly used in making soups, seasoning, and dip sauce. Joseon ganjang, thin and dark brown in colour, is made entirely of soy and brine, and has a saltiness that varies according to the producer. Wide scale use of Joseon ganjang has been somewhat superseded by cheaper factory-made Japanese style soy sauce, called waeganjang.
Burmese or Myanmar
Burma is a country with a high production of soy bean. Pickled bean curds (se-tou-fu), made from soy beans and usually more spicy than those in the neighbouring countries, is one of the staples in Myanmar. Export of bean is upwards of hundred tons a year. The Burmese soy sauce production dated back to the Bagan era in the 9th and 10th century. Scripts written in praise of pe ngan byar yay (literally “bean fish sauce”) were found. Production increased to its heights during the Konbaung dynasty, circa 1700, when there was a bolstered migration of ethnic groups from the north to boost and modify the production of silk in Amarapura. Thick soy sauce is called kya nyo (from Chinese jiangyou).
A soy sauce based product popular in the Philippines is called toyo, usually found alongside other sauces such as fish sauce (patis) and Cane Vinegar (suka). The flavour of Philippine soy sauce is a combination of soybeans, wheat, salt, and caramel. It is thinner in texture and has a saltier taste than its South Asian counterparts, similar to Japanese sho-yu. It is used as a marinade, an ingredient in cooked dishes, and a table condiment. It is usually mixed and served with Calamansi (the combination is known as toyomansi’ which is comparable to Ponzu Sauce, a Japanese soy sauce with lemon), a small Asian, lime-like citrus fruit.
Singapore and Malaysian
In Mandarin Chinese spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, soy sauce in general is refer as dòuyóu. Malays from Malaysia, using the Malay dialect similar to Indonesian, use the word kicap for soy sauce. Kicap is traditionally of two types: kicap lemak (“fat/rich soy sauce”) and kicap cair. Kicap lemak is similar to Indonesian kecap manis but with very much less sugar while kicap cair is the Malaysian equivalent of kecap asin.
The history of soy sauce making in Taiwan can be traced back to southeastern China, in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. Taiwanese soy sauce is known for its black bean variant, known as black bean soy sauce (黑豆蔭油), which takes longer to make (about 6 months). Most major soy sauce makers in Taiwan make soy sauce made from soybeans and wheat. Some make black bean soy sauce.
In Vietnam, Chinese-style soy sauce is called xì dầu (derived from the Cantonese name 豉油) or nước tương. The term “soy sauce” could also imply other condiments and soy bean paste with thick consistency known as tương. Both are used mostly as a seasoning or dipping sauce for a number of dishes. Vietnamese cuisine itself favours fish sauce in cooking but nước tương has a clear presence in vegetarian cooking.