Soy sauce

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Kikkoman Japanese soy sauce.

Soy sauce (also called soya sauce [1] is a cooking ingredient and condiment produced by fermenting soy beans along with wheat, water and salt. In dark soy sauces the soy is steamed first and the wheat usually roasted. In commercially produced dark soy sauces the soy to wheat ratio is normally 80:20 [2]. In more traditional recipes, the ratio is more close to 50:50 [3]. Tamari is a premium Japanese soy sauce made only from soy beans or with only a very low amount of grain [4].

Soy sauce is a traditional ingredient in East and South-east Asian cuisines, where it is used in cooking and as a condiment. It originated in China 2,500 years ago and spread throughout Asia [3]. In more recent times, it is has also been used in Western cuisine and prepared foods. It is also used to flavor some Chinese spirits [5].


Soy Sauce Manufacture

Traditional soy sauces are made by mixing soy beans and grain with cultures such as Aspergillus oryzae and other related microorganisms and yeasts (the resulting mixture is called "koji" in Japan; the term being used both for the mixture of soybeans, wheat, and mold; as well as for only the mold). In older times, the mixture was then fermented naturally in giant urns and under the sun, which was believed to contribute additional flavors.

Today, soy beans are soaked then steamed, while the wheat, which gives sweetness to the final product is roasted at high temperatures then crushed. The soy and crushed wheat is then mixed with salt and water. Aspergillus, a type of fungus, is added and over three days this propagates a type of mold (Chinese 曲霉 : Mandarin: qū méi; Cantonese: kuk1 mui4; Japanese 麴, koji). The mixture is then mixed with salt and water and left to ferment for several months [6].

After fermentation, the mash of soy, wheat salt and water is drained and the remaining solids pressed to extract all liquid soy sauce. (The used mash is used for animal feed.) The raw soy sauce is left for a few days to clarify. Oil rises to the top and is removed while sediment sinks to the bottom. The clarified sauce is then pasteurised, a process which also prevents further fermentation and produces a more consistent and stable product. It also adds flavor, color and aroma [6].

Some brands of soy sauce are made from acid-hydrolyzed soy protein instead of being brewed with a traditional culture. This process may take only three days. Although they have a different flavor, aroma, and texture when compared to brewed soy sauces, they have a longer shelf-life [3].

Types of Soy Sauce

Soy sauce has been integrated into the traditional cuisines of many East Asian and South-east Asian cultures. Soy sauce is widely used as a particularly important flavoring in Japanese, Thai, Korean, and Chinese cuisine. Despite their rather similar appearance, soy sauces produced in different cultures and regions are different in taste, consistency, fragrance and saltiness.

Chinese soy sauce

Chinese soy sauce (Simp: 酱油; Trad: 醬油; Mandarin: jiàng yóu; Cantonese: zoeng3 jau4), is primarily made from soybeans, with relatively low amounts of grains. There are two main varieties:

Chinese light soy sauce (生抽).
  • Light or fresh soy sauce (生抽 ; Mandarin: shēng chōu; Cantonese: saang1 cau1 or Simp: 酱清 ; Trad: 醬清; Mandarin: jiàng qīng; Cantonese: zoeng3 cing1) is a thin (low viscosity), opaque, lighter brown soy sauce. It is the main soy sauce used for seasoning, since it is saltier, has less noticeable color, and also adds a distinct flavour. The light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans is called (simp: 头抽; trad Chinese: 頭抽; Mandarin: tóu chōu; Cantonese: tau4 cau1), which can be loosely translated as first soy sauce or referred to as premium light soy sauce. Tóu chōu is sold at a premium because, like extra virgin olive oil, the flavor of the first pressing is considered superior. An additional classification of light soy sauce 双璜 / 雙璜; Mandarin: shuāng huáng; Cantonese: soeng1 wong4, is double-fermented to add further complexity to the flavour. These last two more delicate types are used primarily for dipping. Light soy sauce is sometimes labelled as "Superior Soy Sauce" in Chinese food stores in the west [7].
  • Dark and old soy sauce (老抽 , lǎo chōu / lou5 cau1), a darker and slightly thicker soy sauce, is aged longer, contains caramel, and may contain added molasses to give it its distinctive appearance. This variety is mainly used during cooking, since its flavour develops during heating. It has a richer, slightly sweeter, and less salty flavor than light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is partly used to add color and flavor to a dish. Chinese dark soy sauce is sometimes labelled as "Soy Superior Sauce" in Chinese food stores in the west [7].
Chinese white soy sauce (白酱油).
  • Mushroom dark soy (草菇老抽 , cǎo gū lǎo chōu / cou2 gu1 lou5 cau1): Straw mushrooms are added to dark soy sauce to produce this richer sauce.
  • Thick soy sauce (Simp: 醬油膏; Trad: 酱油膏; jiàng yóu gāo / zoeng3 jau4 gou1), is a dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar and occasionally flavored with certain spices and MSG. This sauce is often used as a dipping sauce or finishing sauce Due to its sweetness and caramelized flavours from its production process the sauce is also used in red cooking.
  • White soy sauce (Simp: 白酱油; Trad 白醬油; Mandarin: bái jiàng yóu; Cantonese: baak6 zoeng3 jau4) is a variety of sauce made from 80% wheat and 20% soy. The wheat is steamed and the soy roasted (the opposite of normal production). Despite its name, the resulting sauce is a light yellow to golden color. It is used where the color of regular soy sauce would be undesirable and is also used as a dipping sauce. It can also be used in combination with white wine, olive oil, vinegar and herbs to produce dressings and marinades [8] [9]
  • Shrimp soy sauce (Simp: 虾子酱油 ; Trad: 蝦子醬油; Mandarin: xiā zi jiàng yóu; Cantonese: haa1 zi2 zoeng3 jau4): Fresh soy sauce is simmered with fresh shrimp and finished with sugar, baijiu, and spices. A specialty of Suzhou.

Various seasoned soy sauces are also available including "Seasoned Soy Sauce for Seafood", "Chili Soy Sauce", "Tea Soy Sauce" etc. Low salt soy sauce is also produced [10].

Japanese soy sauce

In the 7th century, Buddhist monks from China introduced soy sauce into Japan, where it is known as shōyu (醤油) [11]. The Japanese word tamari is derived from the verb tamaru (溜る) meaning "to accumulate", referring to the fact that tamari was traditionally a liquid byproduct produced during the fermentation of miso. Japan is the leading producer of tamari.

Shōyu (醤油 or しょうゆ) is traditionally divided into five main categories depending on differences in their ingredients and method of production. Most, but not all Japanese soy sauces include wheat as a primary ingredient, which tends to give them a slightly sweeter taste than their Chinese counterparts. They also tend towards an alcoholic sherry-like flavor, sometimes enhanced by the addition of small amounts of alcohol as a natural preservative.

Soy sauce varieties

  • Koikuchi (濃口?, "dark color"): Originating in the Kantō region, its usage eventually spread all over Japan. Over 80% of the Japanese domestic soy sauce production is of koikuchi, and it can be considered the typical Japanese soy sauce. It is produced from roughly equal quantities of soy bean and wheat. This variety is also called kijōyu (生醤油) or namashōyu (生しょうゆ) when it is not pasteurized.
Chinese dark soy sauce.
  • Usukuchi (淡口?, "light color"): Particularly popular in the Kansai region of Japan, it is both saltier and lighter in color than koikuchi. The lighter color arises from the use of amazake, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice, that is used in its production.
  • Tamari (たまり?): Produced mainly in the Chūbu region of Japan, tamari is darker in appearance and richer in flavour than koikuchi. It contains little or no wheat; wheat-free tamari can be used by people with gluten intolerance. It is the "original" Japanese soy sauce, as its recipe is closest to the soy sauce originally introduced to Japan from China. Technically, this variety is known as miso-damari (味噌溜り), as this is the liquid that runs off miso as it matures.
  • Shiro (白?, "white"): In contrast to tamari soy sauce, shiro soy sauce uses mostly wheat and very little soybean, lending it a light appearance and sweet taste. It is more commonly used in the Kansai region to highlight the appearances of food, for example sashimi.

Saishikomi (再仕込?, "twice-brewed") : This variety substitutes previously-made koikuchi for the brine normally used in the process. Consequently, it is much darker and more strongly flavored. This type is also known as kanro shōyu (甘露醤油) or "sweet shōyu".

Newer varieties of Japanese soy sauce include:

  • Gen'en (減塩?, "reduced salt"): This version contains 50% less salt than regular shōyu for health conscious consumers.
  • Usujio (薄塩?, "light salt"): This version contains 20% less salt than regular shōyu.

All of these varieties are sold in the marketplace in three different grades according to how they were produced:

  • Honjōzō (本醸造?, "genuine fermented"): Contains 100% genuine fermented product
  • Kongō-jōzō (混合醸造?, "mixed fermented"): Contains genuine fermented shōyu mash mixed with 30–50% of chemical or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein
  • Kongō (混合?, "mixed"): Contains Honjōzō or Kongō-jōzō shōyu mixed with 30–50% of chemical or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein

All the varieties and grades may be sold according to three official levels of quality:[20]

  • Hyōjun (標準?): Standard grade, contains more than 1.2% total nitrogen
  • Jōkyū (上級 ?): Upper grade, contains more than 1.35% of total nitrogen
  • Tokkyū (特級?): Special grade, contains more than 1.5% of total nitrogen

Soy sauce is also commonly known as shōyu in Hawaii.

Indonesian soy sauce

Kecap manis Indonesian thick and sweet soy sauce is nearly as thick as molasses.

In Indonesia, soy sauce is known as kecap (also ketjap or kecap), which is a catch-all term for fermented sauces. Three common varieties of Indonesian soy-based kecap exist:

  • Kecap asin: Salty soy sauce, which is very similar to Chinese light soy sauce, but usually somewhat thicker and has a stronger flavor; it can be replaced by light Chinese soy sauce in recipes.
  • Kecap manis: Sweet soy sauce, which has a thick, almost syrupy consistency and a pronounced sweet, treacle-like flavor due to generous addition of palm sugar. In cooking, it may be replaced by molasses with a little vegetable stock stirred in.
  • Kecap manis sedang: Medium sweet soy sauce, which has a less thick consistency and a more saline taste than Manis.

Malaysian soy sauce

Malays from Malaysia, using the Malay dialect similar to Indonesian, use the word kicap for soy sauce. Kicap is traditionally of two types: kicap lemak (lit "fat/rich soy sauce") and kicap cair. Kicap lemak is similar to Indonesian kecap manis but with very much less sugar while kicap cair is the Malaysian equivalent of kecap asin.

Singapore and Malaysian soy sauce

In Mandarin Chinese spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, soy sauce in general is dòuyóu (豆油), a Mandarin transliteration of the Hokkien term for the sauce; dark soy sauce is called jiàngyóu (醬油) and light soy sauce is jiàngqīng (醬清).

Korean soy sauce

Korean soy sauce, (Joseon ganjang, 조선간장, in Korean) is a byproduct of the production of doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste). It is mainly used in making soups, seasoning, and dipping sauce. Joseon ganjang, thin and dark brown in color, is made entirely of soy and brine, and has a saltiness that varies according to the producer. Wide scale use of Joseon ganjang has been somewhat superseded by cheaper factory-made Japanese style soy sauce, called waeganjang (왜간장/和: 간장). According to the 2001 national food consumption survey in Korea, traditional fermented ganjang comprised only 1.4% of soy sauce purchases [12]

Vietnamese soy sauce

Vietnamese soy sauce is called xì dầu, nước tương, or sometimes simply tương. It is used mostly as a seasoning or dipping sauce. Vietnamese cuisine itself favors fish sauce in cooking but nước tương has a clear presence in vegetarian cooking.

Philippine soy sauce

A type of soy sauce based product which is a popular condiment in the Philippines is toyo, usually found alongside other sauces such as fish sauce (patis) and sugar cane vinegar (suka). The flavor of Philippine soy sauce milder compared to its other Asian counterparts. It is thinner in texture and has a saltier taste compared to its Southeast Asian counterparts, being more similar to the Japanese shōyu. It is used as a staple condiment to flavor many cooked dishes and as a marinade during cooking. It is also a table condiment, and is usually mixed and served with calamansi, a small Asian citrus fruit.


Most varieties of soy sauce contain wheat, to which some people have a medical intolerance. However, some naturally brewed soy sauces made with wheat may be tolerated by people with a specific intolerance to gluten because gluten is not detectable in the finished product [13]. Japanese tamari soy sauce is traditionally wheat-free, and some tamari available commercially today is wheat- and gluten-free. Kikkoman now make a gluten free soy sauce using rice flour instead of wheat [14].


  1. , Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Version 4.0 (Windows & Mac) (Oxford University Press, 2009, page)
  2. "What is White Soy Sauce?". Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Soy Sauce". Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  4. "The History of Tamari and Soy Sauce". Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  5. "老郎酒" (in Chinese). Retrieved November 6, 2011. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Making Soy Sauce". Kikkoman Soy Sauce Museum. Kikkoman Corporation. Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ken Hom. "Great Food - Free Recipe - Penang Rice Noodles". Retrieved September 9, 2011. 
  8. "What is White Soy Sauce?". Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  9. "White Soy Sauce". Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  10. "Soy Sauce". Lee Kum Kee. Retrieved September 9, 2011. 
  11. William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi (2007). "History of Soy Sauce, Shoyu, and Tamari - Page 3". A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s. Lafayette, California: Soyinfo Center. Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  12. Soon Teck Jung. "The Past and Present of Traditional Fermented Foods in Korea". Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  13. "Gluten free soy sauce". Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  14. "Gluten-Free Soy Sauce (New)". Kikkoman USA. Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
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