Soy sauce

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Light soy sauce

Soy sauce (English) , soya sauce (Commonwealth), or shoyu (Japan) is a fermented sauce made from soybeans, roasted grain, water and salt. Soy sauce was invented in China, where it has been used as a condiment for close to 2,500 years. In its various forms, it is widely used in East and Southeast Asian cuisines and increasingly appears in Western cuisine and prepared foods.


Soy sauce is widely used as an important flavouring and has been integrated into the traditional cuisines of many East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures. Despite their rather similar appearance, soy sauces made in different cultures and regions are different in taste, consistency, fragrance and saltiness. Soy sauce retains its quality longer when kept away from direct sunlight.


Chinese soy sauces, jiangyou/jeong yau is primarily made from soybeans, with relatively low amounts of other grains. Chinese soy sauce can be roughly split into two classes which can be brewed or blended.


Soy sauce that have been brewed directly from a fermentation process using wheat, soybeans, salt, and water without additional additives.

  • Light or fresh soy sauce is a thin (low viscosity), opaque, lighter brown soy sauce, brewed by first culturing steamed wheat and soybeans with Aspergillus, and then letting the mixture ferment in brine. It is the main soy sauce used for seasoning, since it is saltier, has less noticeable colour, and also adds a distinct flavour.
    • Tóuchōu/tau chau: The light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans, which can be loosely translated as first soy sauce or referred to as premium light soy sauce. Touchōu is sold at a premium because, like extra virgin olive oil, the flavour of the first pressing is considered superior. Due to its delicate flavour it is used primarily for seasoning light dishes and for dipping.
    • Shuānghuáng/Seong wong : A light soy sauce that is double-fermented by using the light soy sauce from another batch to take the place of brine for a second brewing. This adds further complexity to the flavour of the light soy sauce. Due to its complex flavour this soy sauce is used primarily for dipping.
  • Yìnyóu/Yaam yau: A darker soy sauce brewed primarily in Taiwan by culturing only steamed soybeans with Aspergillus and mixing the cultured soybeans with coarse rock salt before undergoing prolonged dry fermentation. The flavour of this soy sauce is complex and rich and is used for dipping or in red cooking. For the former use, yinyou can be thickened with starch to make a thick soy sauce.


Additives with sweet or umami (savory) tastes are sometimes added to a finished brewed soy sauce to modify its taste and texture.

  • Dark and old soy sauce, a darker and slightly thicker soy sauce made from light soy sauce. This soy sauce is made through prolonged ageing and added caramel colour, 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 flavour than light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is partly used to add colour and flavour to a dish after cooking, but, as stated above, is more often used during the cooking process, rather than after.
    • Mushroom dark soy: In the finishing and aging process of making dark soy sauce, the broth of Volvariella volvacea mixed into the soy sauce and is then exposed to the sun to make this type of dark soy. The added broth gives this soy sauce a richer flavour than plain dark soy sauce.
    • Thick soy sauce, is a dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar and occasionally flavoured with certain spices and MSG. This sauce is often used as a dipping sauce or finishing sauce and poured on food as a flavourful addition, however due to its sweetness and caramelized flavours from its production process the sauce is also used in red cooking.
  • Shrimp soy sauce: Fresh soy sauce is simmered with fresh shrimp and finished with sugar, baijiu (type of distilled liquor, 白酒), and spices. A specialty of Suzhou.


Japanese supermarket soy sauce corner

Buddhist monks from China introduced soy sauce into Japan in the 7th century, where it is known as shōyu

Shōyu 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 flavour, sometimes enhanced by the addition of small amounts of alcohol as a natural preservative. The widely varying flavours of these soy sauces are not always interchangeable, some recipes only call for one type or the other, much like a white wine cannot replace a red's flavour or beef stock does not make the same results as fish stock.

Some soy sauces made in the Japanese way or styled after them contain about fifty percent wheat.


  • Koikuchi,"thick flavour": 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 can be considered the typical Japanese soy sauce. It is made from roughly equal quantities of soybean and wheat. This variety is also called kijōyu or namashōyu when it is not pasteurised.
  • Usukuchi,"weak taste": Particularly popular in the Kansai region of Japan, it is both saltier and lighter in colour than koikuchi. The lighter colour arises from the use of amazake, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice, that is used in its production.
  • Tamari: Made 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, as this is the liquid that runs off miso as it matures. The Japanese word tamari is derived from the verb tamaru that signifies "to accumulate", referring to the fact that tamari was traditionally a liquid byproduct made during the fermentation of miso (type of seasoning). Japan is the leading producer of tamari.
  • Shiro,"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,"twice-brewed" : This variety substitutes previously made koikuchi for the brine normally used in the process. Consequently, it is much darker and more strongly flavoured. This type is also known as kanro shōyu "sweet shōyu".

Newer varieties of Japanese soy sauce include:

  • Gen'en,"reduced salt": This version contains 50% less salt than regular shōyu for consumers concerned about heart disease.
  • Usujio,"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 made:

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

  • Hyōjun: Standard grade, contains more than 1.2% total nitrogen
  • Jōkyū: Upper grade, contains more than 1.35% of total nitrogen
  • Tokkyū : Special grade, contains more than 1.5% of total nitrogen

Soy sauce is also commonly known as shoyu, and less commonly shōyu, in Hawaii and Brazil.


Kecap manis (left), Indonesian thick and sweet soy sauce is nearly as thick as molasses and kecap asin (right)

In Indonesia, soy sauce is known as kecap (also ketjap), which is a catch-all term for fermented sauces, and cognate to the English word "ketchup". The term kecap is also uses to describe other non soy-based sauces, such as kecap ikan (fish sauce) and kecap inggris (Worcestershire sauce). 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 flavour; it can be replaced by light Chinese soy sauce in some recipes. Salty soy sauce was first introduced into Indonesia by Hokkien people so its taste resembles that of Chinese soy sauce. Hakka soy sauce made from black beans is very salty and large productions are mainly made in Bangka Belitung Islands.
  • Kecap manis : Sweet soy sauce, which has a thick, almost syrupy consistency and a unique, pronounced, sweet somewhat treacle like flavour due to generous addition of palm sugar. In cooking, it could be replaced by molasses with a little vegetable stock stirred in. However this is different than the smooth and mild sweetness of palm sugar and the strong flavour of fermented soy, as molasses can tend to have bitter flavours.
  • Kecap manis sedang : Medium sweet soy sauce, which has a less thick consistency, is less sweet and has a saltier taste than kecap manis.

In Indonesian cuisine, kecap are used either within cooking process or as condiment. Kecap manis is an important sauce in Indonesian signature dishes, such as nasi goreng, mie goreng, satay, tongseng and semur. Sambal kecap for example is type of sambal dipping sauce of kecap manis with sliced chili, tomato and shallot, a popular dipping sauce for sate kambing (goat meat satay) and ikan bakar (grilled fish/seafood). Since soy sauce is Chinese origin, kecap asin is also an important seasoning in Chinese Indonesian cuisine.


Traditional Korean soy sauce

Korean soy sauce, (called 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 dip sauce. Joseon ganjang, thin and dark brown in colour, is made entirely of soy and brine, and has a saltiness that varies according to the maker. Wide scale use of Joseon ganjang has been somewhat superseded by cheaper factory-made Japanese style soy sauce, called waeganjang (hangul: 왜간장/倭: 간장). According to the 2001 national food consumption survey in Korea, traditional fermented ganjang comprised only 1.4% of soy sauce purchases.

Burmese or Myanmar

Burmese soy sauce production is dated back to the Bagan era in the 9th and 10th century. Scripts written in praise of pe ngan byar yay, literally "bean fish sauce") were found. Production increased during the Konbaung dynasty, circa 1700, when there was bolstered migration of ethnic groups from the north to boost and modify the production of silk in Amarapura.


A soy sauce based product popular in the Philippines is called toyo, usually found alongside other sauces such as fish sauce (patis) and sugar cane vinegar (sukâ). The flavour of Philippine soy sauce is a combination of soybeans, wheat, salt, and caramel colour. It is thinner in texture and has a saltier taste than its Southeast Asian counterparts, similar to Japanese shōyu. It is used as a marinade, an ingredient in cooked dishes, and a table condiment. It is usually mixed and served with calamansi, a small Asian, lime-like citrus fruit. The combination is known as toyomansi which can be comparable to the Japanese ponzu sauce (soy sauce with lemon). It is also a main ingredient in the preparation of the Filipino national dish, chicken (and/or pork) adobo.


Soy sauce (shoyu) is a very popular condiment and marinade for many Hawaiian food dishes in the cuisine of Hawaii.

Singapore and Malaysia

In Mandarin Chinese spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, soy sauce in general is referred to as dòuyóu a Mandarin transliteration of the Hokkien term for the sauce or jiàngyóu; light soy sauce is jiàngqīng. Angmo daoiu, lit. "foreigners' soy sauce") is the Hokkien name for Worcestershire 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.


The history of soy sauce making in Taiwan can be traced back to southeastern China, in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. Taiwanese soy sauce is known for its black bean variant, known as black bean soy sauce (黑豆蔭油), which takes longer to make (about 6 months). Most major soy sauce makers in Taiwan make soy sauce made from soybeans and wheat. Some make black bean soy sauce.


In Vietnam, Chinese-style soy sauce is called xì dầu (derived from the Cantonese name 豉油) or nước tương. The term "soy sauce" could also imply other condiments and soy bean paste with thick consistency known as tương. Both are used mostly as a seasoning or dipping sauce for a number of dishes. Vietnamese cuisine itself favours fish sauce in cooking but nước tương has a clear presence in vegetarian cooking.

A bottle of commercially made light soy sauce


The most common type of soy sauce found in Brazil is the Japanese type (shōyu), due to influence of Japanese immigration. There are some differences between the shōyu sold in the Brazilian market and that found in the Japanese market. For example, Sakura, the market-leading Brazilian brand for soy sauce, features a 35% less salt variety (instead of the Japanese standards 20% and 50%) and all of its soy sauce is gluten free (it uses maize instead of wheat in the fermentation process).


A study by the National University of Singapore showed that Chinese dark soy sauce contains 10 times the antioxidants of red wine, and can help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Soy sauce is rich in lactic acid bacteria and of excellent anti-allergic potential.

Soy sauce does not contain the level of isoflavones associated with other soy products such as tofu or edamame. It can also be very salty, having a salt content of between 14–18%. Low-sodium soy sauces are made, but it is difficult to make soy sauce without using some quantity of salt as an antimicrobial agent.

100ml of soy sauce contains the following nutritional information according to the USDA:

  • Calories : 60
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 5.57 g
  • Fibers: 0.8 g
  • Protein: 10.51 g
  • Sodium: 6 g


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. Japanese tamari soy sauce is traditionally wheat-free, and some tamari available commercially today is wheat- and gluten-free.


See also

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