Jan 1, 2015

The Joy of Soy

Take a dip in this distinctly Asian seasoning, and learn more about other types of shoyu beyond the ubiquitous koikuchi.


Soy sauce, or shoyu in Japanese, is a condiment so ingrained in Asian cooking, you’d be hardpressed not to find at least one bottle of it lying around in the kitchen. Rich, savoury and with a certain burst that lingers on your palate, shoyu is one of the best examples to describe the elusive fifth taste – umami. The versatile seasoning is considered a mainstay in oriental cuisine, used during cooking as well as at the table to enhance the flavour of the food.

Shoyu is said to be introduced to Japan in the 7th century by Buddhist monks from China, where soy sauce originated between the 3rd and 5th centuries. Shoyu manufacturing in Japan harks back to the 1600s, but it was only during the late Edo period (1603-1867) when shoyu was announced as one of the two major food manufacturing industries in Japan (the other is sake) – likely because of the rapidly growing urban culture in Edo (ancient name of Tokyo). Shoyu is, in essence, produced from fermented soybeans. Using a production method that’s interestingly near-similar to that of sake, the standardisation of the shoyu formula – soybeans, roasted wheat, and microorganisms like yeast and bacteria – was only set around 1716. This formula is what sets shoyu apart from soy sauce in China, as the former uses a significantly larger proportion of wheat which, in turn, results in a slightly sweeter sauce. There are, of course, other variations of shoyu with different production techniques. Small amounts of alcohol are added to some to serve as a natural preservative to prolong the shelf life of the much-loved seasoning; some are aged beyond six months (the duration it takes for shoyu to mature, typically) so as to enhance their flavour.

There are five main categories of shoyu in Japan, each bearing a distinct flavour due to their ingredients and production methods. For this feature, we will explore the three more commonly used ones: koikuchi shoyu, usukuchi shoyu, and tamari shoyu.

(Text Tan Lili image 9059144 | prof1649 •