Thursday, January 20th, 2022:
A Guide to Soy Sauce Varieties.

Sofrito Lovers,

I've been having an affair with Soy Sauce.  It's a forbidden love affair between a middle-aged fat guy with hypertension and a sodium-based condiment that makes everything delightfully salty.

Soy sauce is one of the oldest condiments in the world-and the best!  I know some of you are reading this and wondering why you should care?  Well, you should because the different varieties of soy sauces out in the market either could vastly improve your take-out or make your next recipe a complete success!  If you know which to buy and when to use it, you could totally change your dining experience.

The SeriousEats article below goes into the history of soy sauce, the different varieties, and how you can use them.  Trust me, it's a fascinating (and delicious) read.  I never knew my favorite condiment had such a rich and interesting history.  Who knew those little plastic Chinese takeout packets had such an intricate past?

Go taste for yourself!  ¡Buen Provecho!

A Guide to Soy Sauce Varieties: There's more to soy sauce than the Kikkoman you buy at the store.

Updated Jan. 14, 2022

Soy sauce isn't something that most people think a lot about. And since most recipes that call for soy sauce don't specify a type or brand, people will usually reach for what they have around, which is either what's most readily available at the store or the style and brand they grew up with in their households. For many Americans, because of its ubiquity in grocery stores, that means they're using Kikkoman soy sauce.

However, there are many different kinds of soy sauces out there, and they vary wildly in flavor, texture, and appearance. We've put together a primer on some of the varieties of soy sauces that you can buy, with suggestions for how to use them, as well as some of our recommendations for brands that we turn to most frequently in our kitchens.

What Is Soy Sauce?

Soy sauce is one of the oldest condiments in the world. It's believed to have originated during the Western Han Dynasty in China, over 2,500 years ago, a byproduct of fermented soybeans and wheat that have been mixed with brine. Known in Chinese as jiang you, soy sauce's manufacturing process slowly spread across Asia and was readily adopted by various different culinary traditions, and now is one of the most used condiments in the world.

While there are many different kinds of soy sauces, many of them share the same manufacturing process. First, a substrate of cooked soybeans, often mixed with roasted wheat, is inoculated with Apergillus mold. After the mold colonizes the substrate, a process that takes about three days, the culture is combined with salt water and transferred to large vats where lactobacillus—a bacteria that breaks down sugars into lactic acid—is added, and the resulting mixture ferments for a period of time, anywhere from six months for some standard supermarket brands to several years for more pricey bottles. Once fermented, the mixture is strained and the liquid is typically pasteurized, bottled, and sold.

Japanese Soy Sauce

Despite the fact that soy sauce originated in China, if you stand in the international foods aisle of a mainstream grocery store and you're most likely to see a range of shoyu, or Japanese-style soy sauces. While traditional Chinese soy sauces were made only using soy beans (some modern Chinese soy sauces contain wheat, too), when the brewing method made its way to Japan, the recipe was modified to use an even ratio of soybeans and wheat, producing a soy sauce with a sweeter flavor profile.

There are two primary types of Japanese soy sauce, koikuchi shoyu (dark soy sauce) and usukuchi shoyu (light soy sauce), but there are three others, namely shiro shoyu (white soy sauce), tamari shoyu, and saishikomi shoyu (twice-brewed soy sauce).

Koikuchi Shoyu (Dark Soy Sauce)

Use: General purpose seasoning for cooked and raw applications.

Koikuchi shoyu is the most commonly used soy sauce in the Japanese kitchen, and it's likely what you think of when you think of soy sauce. Most major supermarket brands available in the US, like Kikkoman's All-Purpose Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce, don't indicate a type on the label, but they are koikuchi shoyu.

Koikuchi shoyu is a good all-purpose choice; it can be used in marinades, sauces, gravies, braising liquids, and stir-fries. If a recipe calls for soy sauce but doesn't specify a type, koikuchi shoyu is likely what is meant.

While the koikuchi soy sauces at your local supermarket are perfectly acceptable to use, if you are interested in a more premium product, we recommend seeking out marudaizu shoyu, which is koikuchi shoyu that has been made with whole soybeans. Unless the label specifies that the soy sauce has been made with whole soy beans, it's likely that the soy sauce was produced using soy bean mash, which reduces the cost of production but also reduces the quality of the final soy sauce. However, if you can't find it, while marudaizu soy sauce has a fuller and more nuanced flavor, barring a side-by-side taste test, it isn't likely that most people would be able to distinguish between the fuller, more nuanced flavor of a marudaizu shoy and non-marudaizu shoyu, particularly in something like a pan sauce.

Kikkoman is a well-known brand whose koikuchi is widely available; consequently, it seems to be a standard in many cooks' kitchens. Kikkoman produces a marudaizu shoyu (the branding in English simply states that it is "organic") that's quite easy to purchase online but rarely found in grocery stores, although specialty markets, including Japanese supermarkets, will likely have it on hand. Yamasa is another large, well-known Japanese mass-market soy sauce brand, and it similarly produces a marudaizu that is easily found at specialty markets and online.

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