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Soy sauce is a staple in almost any Asian household. Ask any Filipino if they’ve ever had toyo with a dish. Immediately, they’d be able to recall the salty taste that gives many Filipino favorites its delicious, umami flavor. Stemming from Chinese origins, soy sauce has become a liquid condiment used worldwide, most prominently in several Asian cuisines.
Even with its popularity in kitchens across the world, you might still have some questions about soy sauce. These questions might be about what it’s made of, or its health benefits, or whether or not it’s vegan or keto friendly. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the beloved condiment!
Soy sauce originated in China over 2,000 years ago …
Dating all the way back to the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Salt was such a rare commodity back in those times, so people had to find ways to conserve it. They did this by mixing it with other fermented ingredients to make a paste or sauce for longer use.
Typically, Chinese soy sauces (or jiàng yóu) can be classified under two main categories: brewed or blended. The latter has more of an umami taste.
It is traditionally made with soybeans, grains, salt, and koji mold
Depending on the quality of the soy sauce you’re after, the mixture (called moromi) can be left to ferment for months, even years if you want the sauce to have a silkier, richer taste. Once you’re satisfied, the soy sauce is strained and ready to be sold at groceries and specialty supermarkets around the world.
You might want to try your hand at making your own soy sauce at home. We have an easy to follow recipe that can show you how to do just that! One of the most important aspects of making soy sauce is choosing the best quality of soybeans; the best place to high quality soybeans is at fresh food markets or specialty stores.
The key to making it is patience; fermentation takes lots of time. The sauce in this recipe took me about 6 months as I waited for the soybeans to dissolve in the salt water. But the end product –– a delicious sauce –– is always worth it.
Most of the soy sauce brands we’re familiar with are actually Japanese
Does the name Kikkoman ring any bells? If it’s not on the shelves of your family pantry, it’s in several grocery store aisles around the world. Kikkoman is a Japanese food brand. They are also the largest company in the world that produces shoyu, or the Japanese version.
But how does Japanese soy sauce differ from the original? For one, when the traditional method of making it reached Japan, the Japanese people tweaked the recipe ever so slightly, now adding equal proportions of the soybeans and grains used. This made their version taste less strong on the tongue, and isn’t as thick either. Japanese soy sauce always strikes just the right balance of sweet and salty.
There are five (main) kinds of Japanese soy sauce.
These would be, in order of how common their production is in Japan: koikuchi (>80%), usukuchi (~14%), tamari (~1.5%), saishikomi (~0.8%), and shiro (~0.7%).
Koikuchi shoyu is what we also know as “dark” soy sauce. This is the most commonly found in markets and in households. Kikkoman’s best selling version of the condiment falls under this category. Koikuchi has a deep color and flavor-packed punch –– perfect for dipping and marinades.
The second most common type is usukuchi. This is practically the same mixture but with the addition of mirin –– a sweet rice wine. Usukuchi is both saltier and lighter in color than koikuchi. People advise against using too much up in one recipe, because the flavors can already be quite assertive and intense.
Tamari is what people refer to as the “original” soy sauce. This is the most similar in color and taste to the ones made in China. For people who have a gluten or wheat allergy or diet, tamari would be your best option.
Saishikomi and shiro are not as popular, but they also have their own distinct flavors. You can use these different kinds of shoyu for a variety of dishes; most of the time, these cannot be interchanged.
Which types of shoyu have you tried? Which one did you enjoy most?
Koreans have their own kind of soy sauce, too!
Korean soy sauce (or ganjang) can also be split into two main categories. These are: hansik ganjang (Korean style) and gaeryang ganjang (modernized). The latter is what you commonly use in dishes today, and is the most similar to koikuchi.
Jeju Island, mostly, also produces a sauce called eo-ganjang. Eo-ganjang uses fermented fish (jeotgal) in lieu of the main soybean ingredient.
The Filipino word for soy sauce (toyo) actually has Chinese origins
It comes from the word tau-yu, which is Philippine Hokkien in nature. Philippine Hokkien is a specific dialect used by the Chinese population that lived in our country. But our versions are more similar in taste and color to that of the Japanese koikuchi as well. Some popular brands of Philippine toyo are Mother’s Best and Coconut Brand, among others.
Beloved by many, toyo is one of our favorite sawsawans. We often pair it with calamansi or vinegar to counter its salty taste. It’s also important in dishes like adobo and stir fry, and even for adding flavor to vegetables like bok choy and broccoli.
Soy sauce is vegan … or at least, it can be
With all the ingredients of soy sauce laid out, it seems almost obvious that it is a vegan condiment. As mentioned earlier, the tamari variant even works for those with a gluten free diet.
But it really depends on where you get your soy sauce from. Some companies still test on and derive some of the lactic acid bacteria used in their brewing from animals. Since it is quite difficult in itself to contact the manufacturing companies, it’d be better to actively search for vegan counterparts, of which there are many, at local specialty stores or vegan markets.
It has a lot of different health benefits
The Chinese have been using soy sauce for centuries. Like any food, the liquid condiment can give you nutrients that can help sustain your good health.
Dark soy sauce is rich in antioxidants, which can be helpful for your heart, and also helps reduce indigestion and allergies. Some components of soy sauce, too, seem to aid in boosting our immune system. Not only do we get a delicious dip to enjoy with our food; we also keep our body healthy and strong.
It can also be bad for your health … in extreme amounts.
Just like in anything, too much soy sauce can be a bad thing. The condiment’s salty taste also means that it can be high in sodium. This can cause a multitude of heart issues and cholesterol spikes.
The presence of MSG, a flavor enhancer, in some soy sauce brands also contributes to the umami flavor we all know and love. But it can also cause headaches and cholesterol issues. While studies have yet to fully prove what MSG does to the body, there is that certain bloated feeling that comes with consuming it too much in one sitting.
Soy sauce is easy to preserve and store.
And since you shouldn’t have too much soy sauce at a time, that means you shouldn’t go through one bottle right away! Luckily, soy sauce is an easy condiment to store. Once unopened, you can keep it in your pantry if you plan on using it in the following months. You can also choose to keep it in the fridge in order to preserve its flavor.
Like any other condiment, soy sauce has a “best by” date on its label. This label shows you how much time you have to consume your soy sauce while it’s at its best quality.
Typically, soy sauce doesn’t really rot or go bad. It just loses its quality and taste the more you don’t use it. If you smell something off when you use your soy sauce, it’s probably time to buy a new bottle. But unless that happens, feel free to use it as often as you’d like for meals for you and your family to enjoy.
Soy sauce has a rich history and a versatile repertoire of yummy eats, and can be one of your kitchen’s best friends. From adobo to tokwa’t baboy humba to teriyaki bistek to a pineapple and soy sauce pork pot roast, there are so many ways to utilize toyo and create dishes that become a hit at the family table.
Let me know how you like using your soy sauce best!