Out of all of the condiments the world has to offer, soy sauce has to be one of the oldest by far, and in fact, has a history that can be traced back around 3000 years. The process of making soy sauce entails combining soy beans that have been fermented, and which has been blended with a special brine. The first step entails mixing in Aspergillus molds into the cooked soybeans and the roasted wheat which when blended is called Koji. Many times individuals in the know will use the term Koji when they are talking about the bacterial culture. The mold within this mixture is allowed to grow for a period of three days, and then it is mixed into saltwater, and afterwards is placed in the some large vats. After the blended mixture gets placed into these vats, they mix in Lactobacillus, which is a special bacteria which effectively breaks down any of the sugars present into lactic acid.
This mixture, after time turns into the soy sauce. Typically it takes about six months of fermenting in these vats before the product is ready for the supermarket, but for the higher-end brands of soy sauce, they will let the “moromi” as it is called ferment for several years. Before bottling, they strain the soy sauce to get rid of all the chunks, then they pasteurize it, bottle it, and then put it on the shelves.
Shoyu, or Japanese Soy Sauces
If you are go into any grocery store within the United States, and find the aisle that has the international foods, more than likely you will find what is known as shoyu, or your typical Japanese-style soy sauce. When the Chinese first started making soy sauce, the recipe that they used consisted of 100% soy, although a few of today’s modern Chinese recipes have implemented wheat. As time went by, and the method of brewing soy sauce made its way into the Japanese culture, the Brewers modified the recipe to a point where they were making use of equal parts of both soybean and wheat. Overall this was a really good decision because the results were a lot sweeter and not so harsh in its flavor. The majority of soy sauce which is made by the Japanese has a tendency to be clearer in appearance, and is a bit thinner than any of the Chinese sauces.
Koikuchi (dark): the majority of the makers of Japanese soy sauces split the recipes into a couple of different varieties, both dark (koikuchi), and the lighter version which is known as (usukuchi). The most typical varieties that you will find are the darker versions, especially in the supermarkets within the United States. One such brand is the Kikkoman’s all-purpose naturally brewed soy sauce, and although it isn’t indicated on the label, it is considered to be one of the “dark” varieties of soy sauce. This is in accordance with the author of a book named Japanese Cooking: a Simple Art by the author Shizuo Tsuji.
Great choices for all-purpose use
A really good soy sauce for all-purpose use is Kikkoman‘s all-purpose which is made in one of the company’s factories that is located in Walworth, Wisconsin. They have a less sodium variety which is made in pretty much the same exact way as the regular soy sauce styles, but before they ferment it, they take out about 40% of the salt. Many of your darker Japanese soy sauces will have a deeper and richer color, but they seem a bit lighter in taste. Some of the reasons why this is such a good choice for all around use is because you can use it for anything from basting sauces to marinades, as well as for a nice stir fry or dipping sauce.
Usukuchi (light): these soy sauces are clearer in appearance, while also being thinner than some of the rich and dark varieties. Their taste may surprise you however, because they are going to present a flavor that is much saltier than the darker varieties, but will also contain a hint of sweetness due to the addition of a substance called mirin, which is a nice sweet wine made out of rice. Typically you’ll find this type of soy sauce in Japan, and more prominently in the Kansai region which is located in southern Japan. One of the main purposes of these lighter soy sauces is to give food flavor without giving it a dark color. If you prefer the flavor of the lighter soy sauce, you can use it in place of any of the dark varieties, but it would be wise not use as much since the flavor is so intense.
Tamari: this variety of soy sauce falls more in line with the more traditional Chinese varieties, and only contains a very little bit of wheat, if any at all. When this product was first produced back in the 15th century, it was developed out of a by-product from the production of miso which is basically a paste made out of fermented soybeans, and it didn’t contain any wheat all. Today, the vast majority of these contain at least trace amounts of wheat within them, but there are some major brands that offer versions that continue to be gluten-free, such as LittleSoya, San-J,Wan Ja Shan, Ohsawa, and Eden Organic. Since this variety of soy sauce is much stronger in flavor due to the higher content of soybeans, the best use for the tamari style is for dipping sauces. For individuals that are allergic to wheat, the tamari style is a really great alternative to using the shoyu soy sauces, but it’s always a good idea to thoroughly look through the ingredient list to make sure that wheat is not listed.
Other Varieties of Japanese Soy Sauce: a couple of other varieties of Japanese soy sauces include Shiro, which is basically a white soy sauce containing a majority wheat content rather than soybean, and which consists of a much lighter color and flavor. The most common use for this type of soy sauce is for dipping sashimi due to the fact that the lighter color doesn’t stain the delicate white slices of fish, nor does it overpower the flavor. The other version is a twice brewed type of soy sauce known as Saishikomi soy sauce, which has a bit of a stronger flavor than does tamari.
In order to make the twice brewed variety, the Brewers replace the saltwater brine that is in the fermentation stage with a batch of soy sauce that has already been brewed. If you wish to find either Shiro or Saishikomi styles of soy sauce, you will have to look in some specialty Japanese markets because they are not carried in your typical grocery stores.
Chinese soy sauce varieties
If you are ever trying to make a Chinese recipe, and it is calling for soy sauce, you can know without a doubt that it is talking about light soy sauce.
Light Soy Sauce: Chinese light soy sauce is always created from the first pressing of soybeans after they have been fermented, and will always be significantly more expensive than any of your dark soy sauces. These are also referred to as being “fresh” soy sauces, and you’ll often find these varieties labeled as “pure bean”, or even “thin”. The main purpose for these varieties of soy sauces is to help bring out the flavors in food when it’s cooking, and for Chinese cuisine, it is the most frequently used sauce for cooking. You can be assured that if there is a Chinese recipe that is calling for soy sauce, it’s talking about light soy sauce. You can also find what are known as double fermented light sauces, which are typically not used so much for cooking, but primarily for the purposes of dipping due to the fact that they have a more complex and mellow flavor.
Dark and Double Dark Soy Sauce Varieties: these dark varieties of Chinese soy sauce are pretty much similar to the Japanese varieties in that although they are darker in color, they’re going to be a bit lighter in taste due to a reduction in saltiness. The darker soy sauces generally are given a chance to ferment for longer periods of time as compared to some of lighter varieties, and in addition to that, the brewers will typically add molasses and sugar to the mix which gives the sauces the salty yet sweet flavor and a bit of a sticky texture. The sauces are only used for the purposes of cooking, and will typically be added when the dish is almost done cooking in order to add a bit of flavor and some darker color.
Chemical Soy Sauce
Chemical Soy Sauces: quite different than the traditional types of soy sauces, chemical soy sauces only take a couple of days to make. Rather than making use of fermenting, the process for making these varieties of soy sauce includes hydrolyzing the soy protein, and then blending it in with a variety of flavorings. It’s important to note that you’re not going to get a flavor that is anything close to what you’ll get with the traditional soy sauces from soybeans that have been fermented. This process was explained by guy named Harold McGee on the show On Food and Cooking with the words:
Today, defatted soy meal, which is a residue from the production of soybean oil, is hydrolyzed into sugars and amino acids by making use of concentrated hydrochloric acid. In order to neutralize this caustic mixture, alkaline sodium carbonate is added in, and then it is all flavored and colored with a mixture of corn syrup, caramel, water, and salt.
LittleSoya – Gluten-Free Soy Sauce
One of the great things about LittleSoya is the fact that it contains 45% less sodium than any of the other leading brands of soy sauce on the market. Due to the fact that our product has a lower sodium content, it is a wonderful product to use whenever a salt substitute is called for in a variety of different recipes. We have no doubt that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all of the different flavors that you can develop by using this product, and especially in those dishes that have grown bland over the years.
Tips for Storage
The majority of people who buy soy sauce really have no idea how to store it properly, but it needs to be noted that if it is not stored correctly, it can easily develop kind of an off flavor that seems to be a bit fishy in nature.
Two of the biggest offenders you need to look out for when storing soy sauce is both heat and light.
Since both heat and light are damaging to soy sauce, it’s important to make sure that you store it in a dark place where there isn’t a lot of heat. For example, you don’t want to be placing a bottle of soy sauce over the stove, nor do you want to be leaving it on the top of your counter. After you open a bottle of soy sauce, it’s a good idea to put it in the refrigerator, especially if you don’t plan on making use of the entire bottle within a month. This is especially true if the soy sauce is contained in a bottle made of clear glass. If you want to save money on your soy sauce, a good way to purchase it is in large metal cans. This is going to allow you to keep the large can below the cupboard in a dark area, and just use a small bottle that you can keep refilling as needed in the refrigerator.