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What is Soy Sauce?

Soy sauce is one of the oldest condiments in the world. It is believed to have originated more than 2,500 years ago in China. Known in Chinese as “jiang you”, the soy sauce manufacturing process slowly spread throughout Asia and was quickly adopted by various culinary traditions, including Japanese.

While the original Chinese version was made with soybeans only, when the sauce spread to Japan, the recipe was modified to use an even ratio of soybeans to wheat, producing a sauce with a sweeter flavor profile.

Kikkoman soy sauce bottle - what is soy sauce? Japanese cuisine ingredient

Types of sauce.

There are two types of soy sauce that I would encourage you to have in your pantry. The koikuchi shoyu and the usukuchi shoyu. I will tell you more:

Dark soy sauce (koikuchi shoyu)

It is the most commonly used soy sauce in Japanese cuisine. When you think of soy sauce, chances are, this is the one you have in mind. It can be easily found in supermarkets. In the West, Kikkoman and Yamaza are the largest distributors of soy sauce.

This soy sauce can be used to make marinades, sauces, liquids for stews and stir-fries. Unless otherwise specified, if a recipe calls for soy sauce, this is the soy sauce you should use.

When buying soy sauce, make sure it is naturally fermented (often referred to as “naturally brewed”). If you are looking for an even higher quality product, I recommend searching for “marudaizu shoyu”. This is a soy sauce that has been made from whole soybeans instead of mashed soybeans.

When we cook soy sauce, the more subtle and volatile qualities are lost with heat. Save the highest quality soy sauces for those recipes that do not require cooking.

Clear soy sauce (usukuchi shoyu)

It is saltier, lighter and more fluid than dark soy sauce. It is used especially in soups and stews or in any other dish where a lighter color is desired. If you do not have light soy sauce, you can substitute it with dark soy sauce at a 1:1 ratio.

Two bottles of soy sauce - what is soy sauce? ingredients of japanese cuisine

Tamari soy sauce (tamari shoyu)

Although we consider it a soy sauce, it is actually a by-product of miso processing. There are varieties of tamari that are made without wheat, so it is often considered a good option for celiac and gluten intolerant people. Just make sure it says “gluten-free” on the label.

White soy sauce (shiro shoyu)

It is made with the highest proportion of wheat. It is usually used as a dipping sauce for sashimi based on white fish to avoid staining it. It is also used in dishes such as suimono, or soups and meals where you want to maintain the light color of the dish.

Double cooked soy sauce (saishikomi shoyu)

This soy sauce is thicker, tastier and richer in umami. It is mainly used as a condiment. To produce it, equal proportions of soybeans and wheat are used, but twice the amount is required. This is because, when preparing it, instead of mixing soybeans and wheat with water and salt, as is done with dark soy sauce, when preparing this soy sauce, these two ingredients (water and salt) are replaced by dark soy sauce. Hence, this sauce is known as doubly cooked.

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