There’s only one way to make the highest quality soy sauce: follow time-honoured traditions that have endured centuries.
Take Stock looks at what is thought to be one of the world’s oldest condiments – and a cornerstone of many Asian cuisines – but now is increasingly regarded by western chefs as a flavour-enhancing ingredient for all types of foods.
Where did it all begin?
People of prehistoric Asia preserved meat and fish for winter by packing them in salt. The liquid that leeched from the preserved meat was subsequently used as a base for savoury broths and seasoning’s.
In the 6th Century AD, Buddhism flourished in both Japan and China, with many Buddhists practising vegetarianism. This created the need for a meatless seasoning, one such substitute being a salty paste of fermented grains including soybeans – the forerunner of modern day soy sauce.
Then, while studying in China in the 1600s, a Japanese Zen priest came across this new seasoning. Upon returning to Japan, he began making his own version, introducing it to others. It took on and over the years, the Japanese modified both ingredients and brewing techniques, one change being the addition of wheat in equal proportions to soy. This resulted in a soy sauce with a more balanced taste that enhanced food flavours without overpowering them.
And since those times it’s been a story of continued development; Kikkoman introduced its soy sauce in the 70s to the USA and since then it has been used by chefs around the world.
How’s it made?
Traditional soy sauce is brewed in three stages.
Stage 1: Koji-making – carefully selected soy beans and wheat are blended; a seed mould is introduced and the mixture is allowed to mature for three days in large perforated vats, through which air is circulated.
Stage 2: Brine fermentation – the Koji is put into fermentation tanks and salt water added to make a mash called moromi. That moromi is then allowed to ferment for several months, during which time it is transformed into a semi-liquid, reddish brown “mature mash”. It is this fermentation process that is critical to the creation of the fragrance and flavour only traditionally-produced soy sauces have.
Stage 3: Refining – the raw soy sauce is pressed through layers of filtration cloth, the resulting liquid is then refined, pasteurised and packaged.
And soy sauce produced by non-traditional, means?
Soy beans are boiled in hydrochloric acid for 15-20 hours to remove most of the amino acid. Then the mixture is cooled to stop the hydrolytic reaction, before the liquid is neutralised, pressed through a filter, mixed with active carbon and purified through filtration.
Caramel colour, corn syrup, salt and other additives are then used to give flavour and colour, before the mixture is refined and packaged.
So what are the differences?
Non-brewed sauces often have a cloudy, dark colour, with a harsh overpowering flavour and distinctly chemical aroma that can easily mask and overwhelm other flavours.
Traditionally-brewed soy sauce is translucent, with a reddish brown colour and a beautifully balanced flavour and aroma. It enhances and balances other flavours, be that in the Asian dishes so often associated with soy sauce, or in soups, casseroles, burgers, brownies or salads. It’s like a fine wine!
There really is no comparison, so only use a brand that you can trust.
Where can you use Soy Sauce?
Perfect for all dishes, for soups and stews, stir-fries and salads, it even works on pizza!
Soy sauce has been used as a dip for centuries, both for taste and, as for example with sushi and sashimi, to mask the odour of raw fish.
Use it when you want to offer a contrasting flavour or to lift an element of a dish. Corn on the cob dipped in soy works great!
Use soy sauce as a marinade on different kinds of fish and meat, as when frying or grilling, soy sauce produces an appealing aroma and stimulates the appetite. It also adds rich colour.
Add as a finishing touch when frying, for both flavour and colour.
On ice cream
Try sprinkling a few drops of soy sauce on vanilla ice cream – it draws out the flavour and gives it a delicious caramel-like aroma.
Soy sauce is brilliant on boiled and fried rice and in stir-fries. But don’t stop there. Combine butter at room temperature with a sprinkle of soy sauce and then use the mix to sauté your vegetables. There really is no limit, so use your imagination!