Soy Sauce II 醬油

Supreme Flavor Enhancer
Seven Teaspoons a Day

How to use Soy Sauce

Soy Sauce

We’ve seen that Soy Sauce is widely popular in the Pacific Rim because it provides the special taste called umami to foods.

It’s so popular that people in the region are taking as much as seven teaspoons a day.  Is this a good idea? We’ll take a look at that. Let’s take a closer look at the kitchen applications:

The Main Types – Chinese: These are sometimes grouped as

  • Dark Soy Sauce
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Heavy Soy Sauce

Some experts, like William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, have said that while some varieties of Chinese Soy Sauce are excellent, these are not widely available in the West.  With so many varieties in the marketplace, how to choose?

“The best quality to buy is a Hong Kong brand called Yuet Heung Yeun.” — Eileen Yin-Fei Lo [1]

At least the famous food writer is very clear and direct on this point.

The Main Types – Japanese:

  • Regular Soy Sauce — Koikuchi Shoyu
  • Light Soy Sauce — Usukuchi Shoyu
  • Tamari Soy Sauce — Tamari Shoyu
  • Clear Soy Sauce — Shiro Shoyu
  • Rich Soy Sauce — Saishikomi Shoyu

Regular Soy Sauce makes up the overwhelming share of all Soy Sauce consumed in Japan, probably at least 85 percent of the total.

Another 11 or 12 percent of the total is Light Soy Sauce.

Tamari style Soy Sauce, while popular in the West in recent years, is a minor specialty in Japan, where it is mostly consumed in the Nagoya area.

Tamari: What is Tamari anyway, and is it healthier than other Soy Sauce?   Depends on what you are looking for.

The name Tamari means a liquid extracted by pressing or filtering.  Tamari sauce is an early version of Soy Sauce, very similar in production method to the original Chinese sauce.

Only about 2 percent of the Soy Sauce consumed in Japan is of the Tamari variety, mostly in the greater Nagoya area of Central Honshu.

Most Tamari is made without wheat, so it can be enjoyed by persons with sensitivity to wheat and gluten.  On the other hand, Tamari is high in salt, about 18 percent, so it can be enjoyed in moderation only by persons concerned about salt and sodium levels.

Tamari has become popular in Western countries in recent years as a healthy and delicious seasoning with associations to the macrobiotic food movement.  It is also somewhat thick and popular for barbecue sauces in the West. [2]

Kikkoman: What we know today as the Kikkoman company is the result of a merger by several branches of the Noda family enterprises, traditional Soy Sauce producers, in early modern Japan.

Post-war, Kikkoman emerged as the leading Soy Sauce brand in Japan and worldwide. [3]

The name Kikkoman comes from the mon or emblem of its founder,and contains the Chinese characters for “tortoise,” “shell” and “ten thousand.”

This probably alludes to a proverbial Japanese expression referring to the fabled longevity of the tortoise — ten thousand years — and is a kind of auspicious wish.

In recent years, the Kikkoman company has incorporated versions of the third chaacter (man or ‘10,000’) into their corporate logo.

For some time, Kikkoman has been successfully producing their Soy Sauce in Walworth, Wisconsin.

Nurtrition: Soy Sauce contains about 14 to 18 percent salt and 6 to 7 percent protein.  In recent yeas per capita consumption of Soy Sauce in Japan was about 7 teaspoons for the whole population.

Seven Teaspoons a Day: Since a tablespoon of Soy Sauce contains on average about 1 milligram of sodium — about the top limit for average daily intake — there are concerns among many people about the salt levels from taking Soy Sauce.

On the positive side, Soy Sauce can contain up to 10 times the antioxydants of red wine and can help prevent cardiovascular disease and manage allergies.  So it is basically a healthy food, aside from concerns about sodium.

Kikkoman and other leading manufacturers have successfully introduced Low Sodium Soy Sauce product lines which contain 30 to 50 percent  less sodium than conventional products.

Some makers have developed products with even lower levels, while  still retaining the distinctive Soy flavor and umami. To reduce sodium levels further, some consumers dilute Soy Sauce – even Low Sodium Soy — with water by 50 percent to avoid taking too much sodium.

Soy Sauce in the Kitchen: Soy sauce is probably the single indispensable ingredient for cooking in the Pacific Rim, along with Salt, which is not specifically Asian in nature.

Many of the national cuisines of the area use Soy Sauce, and even those which use Fish Sauce as their main salter also use Soy Sauce and Salt for different purposes in cooking.

Soy Sauce appears in three main ways in the cooking of the region:

  • a marinade
  • a cooking ingredient
  • a table condiment, typically a dip.

The dip is frequently changed by adding another ingredient —

  • Ponzu in Japan
  • Calamansi in the Philippines
  • Bits of chopped Ginger or Garlic or Vinegar in China
  • A mixture of Rice Wine and other seasonings in Korea.

and so on. There is one caution, however:

“One thing we never do, however, is to pour soy sauce on rice.  When Americans do that, it looks funny. It must taste funny too.” — Buwei Yang Chao [4]

Making Soy Sauce at Home: In China many people make Jiang at home. Most people wold not make their own Soy Sauce, however.

But in traditional Korean households it was still done to make Soy Sauce at home until fairly recent times.  Hi Son Shin Hepinstall gives a recipe her family used to do this, making enough sauce to last for a year. [5]  Shurtleff and Aoyagi also published a Japanese recipe that makes a smaller quantity – 3½ gallons.

Worcestershire Sauce: There is a recurring story about how sauces like Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce are actually based on Japanese Soy Sauce sent to customers in the old East India Company and later forgotten, mislaid in family baggage and found years later in England. The Japanese sauce is said to be the inspiration for the English sauce.  There’s a lot of information on both sides of this topic – it’s a subject for another story.

Uses:  Dishes like Asian Style Pot Roast are good examples of Soy Sauce in action. It’s used to enhance Fish in dishes like Sea Bass with Spicy Sauce.

For Further Information:

[1] Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, Chinese Banquet Cookbook —
Yuet Hung Yeun Soy Brand —
[2] William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, The Book of Miso —
[3] Kikkoman Company  —
[4] Buwei Yang Chao, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese  —
[5] Hepinstall, Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen —


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  1. Pingback: Sea Bass in Spicy Sauce | Pacific Rim Gourmet

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