What is Soy Sauce?
Posted by culinarydelightsgb on September 24, 2008
Soy sauce is an extremely important ingredient in Asian, especially Chinese, cooking. It is a dark, brownish, salty liquid made by fermenting boiled soybeans and roasted wheat or barley. Although in the US we are accustomed to one main type of soy sauce, China and Japan create a number of varieties ranging in color and texture.
The soybean plant was not discovered by the Europeans until the early eighteenth century, but the Chinese have been relying on the plant as a food source at least 5,000 years ago. Soy sauce immerges about 2,000 years ago during the Zhou dynasty. It originally started out as a salty paste, then evolved into two separate items – the liquid, called shoyu in Japanese; and miso.
Properly prepared soy sauce is made by mixing boiled soybeans with roasted grain, like wheat, rice or barley; and fermenting that mixture for several months. After the fermentation and aging process is completed, the mixture is strained and bottled. Synthetically-produced sauces, in comparison, can be created in a matter of days using a hydrolytic reaction and colored by caramel, and seasoned by corn syrup, salt and water. They often have a metallic taste.
Chinese cooking uses two basic types of soy sauce, light and dark. Light soy sauce has a lighter color and texture, and is much saltier than dark soy, and is used more in cooking. Dark soys are aged much longer than lights, which results in a dark brownish-black color and thicker texture. The pungent odor and very dark color limits its use in cooking. It is good, however, for marinating meat.
Soy sauce has been used in the traditional cuisines of many East Asian and South East Asian cultures, and as an important ingredient in Japanese, Thai and Chinese cooking. Although similar in appearance, sauces created in different cultures and regions are very different in taste, texture and saltiness. It may not be appropriate to substitute sauces from one region or culture for another.
Although there are many types of soy sauces, they have a distinct taste called umami by the Japanese (鮮味, literally “fresh taste”). The free glutamates which natually occur are what give it this taste quality.
A study conducted by the National University of Singapore shows that dark soy sauce “contains 10 times the antioxidants of red wine, and can help prevent cardiovascular disease.” [Daniells, Stephen (2006-06-06). “Antioxidant-rich soy sauce could protect against CVD“. nutraingredients.com. ] It has also been found to be rich in lactic acid bacteria and has high anti-allergic potential.
In 2001 UK Food Safety Agency tests, various low-grade soy sauces (ones made from hydrolyzed soy protein, rather than being naturally fermented), more than 20% of the samples contained a chemicals at levels higher than those deemed safe by the EU. Both chemicals have the potential to cause cancer and the Agency recommends those products be avoided. [Food Standards Agency (2001-06-20). “Some Soy Sauce Products To Be Removed“. Press release. Retrieved on 2008-01-07. ]
Few ingredients in Chinese cooking are more essential, yet more misunderstood, than soy sauce. We use it in a number of ways, either as a condiment or during cooking, as a sauce or as a marinade. I hope this post has opened your eyes a bit more regarding the humble brown liquid, and please avoid any soy sauces that are chemically manufactured.