Japanese Soy Sauce
An indispensable, all-purpose seasoning for Washoku, soy sauce comes in several colors and flavors.
Making Soy Sauce
While Japanese soy sauce comes in various colors, flavors, and age statements, all are made from a few main ingredients: soy beans, wheat, salt, and water.
The general way most soy sauce is made includes steaming the soy beans, toasting the wheat, then blending those two ingredients together with koji spores. Salt and water are added, and then this mixture rests for at least six months, but some brewers fermented their soy sauce for years.
Through this fermentation process, the koji and natural yeasts break down the soy beans, yielding an umami-rich fermented food that’s equally delicious and nutritious. When ready, the brewer presses and filters the mixture and soy sauce emerges.
Five Types of Japanese Soy Sauce
The soy sauces that have long been produced in various parts of Japan have individual characters that result from regional preferences, the history of brewing, and other influences.
– Strong Flavor
Koikuchi Shoyu, meaning strong flavor soy sauce, is the most common type of soy sauce accounting for around 80% of domestic production volume. Other than saltiness, it has deep umami (savory flavor), rounded sweetness, refreshing acidity, and bitterness that brings the tastes together. It is widely used as an all-purpose ingredient to season myriad dishes, or as a condiment that accents finished dishes, like sushi.
– Light Flavor
This light-colored soy sauce originated in the Kansai region and accounts for around 10% of domestic production volume. It uses around 10% more salt than common soy sauce, which slows down the fermentation and maturation processes. Its color and fragrance are more delicate, and highlight the flavors found in the base ingredients. It is used in cooked dishes that preserve the color and flavor of its ingredients, such as sugar-boiled stews and takiawase, in which ingredients are cooked separately but served together.
– Thick Soy Sauce
This soy sauce is mainly brewed in the Chubu region. It is characterized by thickness, dense umami, and a unique fragrance. It has long been called “sashimi tamari,” as it is commonly served at the table with sushi and sashimi. It is also used in grilling, boiling in soy sauce, and added to snacks like senbei rice crackers for flavor and color. When heated, it reveals a pleasing red tint.
This specially-produced soy sauce is crafted in an area extending from the San-in region to Kyushu, centered in Yamaguchi prefecture. While most soy sauce is made by blending koji with a water-salt brine during the brewing process, this type is blended with soy sauce instead, which is why it is called “refermented.” It is rich in color, flavor, and fragrance, and is also known as “sweet soy sauce.” It is mainly used at the table for flavoring sashimi, sushi, chilled tofu, and the like.
– Extra Light Color
or White Soy Sauce
This pale amber-colored soy sauce, even lighter than light color soy sauce, originated in the Hekinan district of Aichi prefecture. Its flavor is delicate, but with a percieveable sweetness, along with a unique fragrance. It is used in cooked dishes such as soups and chawanmushi egg custard. It is also used to flavor rice crackers, pickles, and other foods.
Using Japanese Soy Sauce
Soy Sauce is a very versatile condiment. It can be used to color a dish, to flavor a dish, or even added to cocktails to add savoriness and umami.
Sushi (Nikiri Shoyu)
Adding hidden flavor
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