If you have ever come across Asian food of any kind, then you have probably encountered soy sauce. Called shoyu in Japanese, the dark brown liquid has a strong, salty flavor and is popular as a condiment and seasoning across many types of Asian cuisines. But what is it, exactly? How is it made? And most importantly, why are there so many different varieties, and what are they for?
Soy sauce, as a condiment, has its origin in China, during the Han Dynasty about 2,200 years ago. Traditionally soy sauce was made by fermenting a mixture of soy beans and grain with koji, or other specific types of mold and microorganisms. Many companies continue to use this process today, but others have switched to using chemistry to hydrolyze the soybeans. This process, called acid hydrolysis, makes for much shorter brewing times along with a longer shelf life for the product. All of the soy sauces available here at Maido have been traditionally brewed using natural fermentation for a more authentic taste and aroma.
Since its creation, soy sauce has become ubiquitous in east Asian cooking, with each region developing its own unique approaches to brewing. Japan alone has created a number of variations-- each with its own use in Japanese cuisine. Below is a list of the soy sauce varieties we carry here at Maido, and their suggested uses.
Koikuchi: Meaning “thick taste” this dark colored soy sauce is the most commonly used variety in Japan. It is made with about equal amounts of wheat and soybeans, making it slightly sweeter than Chinese varieties of soy sauce. Koikuchi soy sauces are considered the default in Japanese cooking, so any Japanese soy sauce will be this variety unless otherwise specified.
Usukuchi: Meaning “thin taste”, this soy sauce is very popular in the western regions of Japan. It is much lighter in color, and saltier in flavor than koikuchi varieties. The lighter color comes from the incorporation of amazake, or a sweet fermented liquid rice, into the brewing process.
Marudaizu: Made from only whole soybeans and naturally gathered sea salt, this type of soy sauce has a somewhat mild, yet complex flavor and distinct, outstanding odor.
Honzen: Honzen is a dark soy sauce, traditionally brewed in small batches for a deeper, more complex flavor. The small batch size is what helps give this soy sauce its unique flavor and aroma.
Tamari: Sometimes referred to as “Chinese style” by Japanese speakers, tamari soy sauce uses very little to no wheat, and is almost entirely made from soybeans in a way that seeks to emulate Chinese brewing techniques. Tamari has a stronger, saltier flavor than typical Japanese soy sauces. While considered to be gluten free in its finished state, tamari is also available in completely wheat free varieties for those with allergies or other sensitivities.
Smooth Aromatic: This soy sauce features a delicate umami flavor, and rich but mild aroma. It is a distinct reddish brown color. The gentler flavor makes this soy sauce perfect for dipping.
Double Fermented: Double fermented soy sauce is made using a process where typical koikuchi soy sauce is mixed with wheat and soybeans, rather than salt water, to create a soy sauce with an even deeper flavor.
Maroyaka: Maroyaka, which means mellow, soy sauce has a gentler, more subtle taste than other soy sauce types. It is a perfect addition to add an asian twist to any dish.
Reduced Sodium: A relatively new development, this type of soy sauce employs a special brewing technique to lower the salt content of typical koikuchi soy sauce while retaining the flavor. Salt reduction tends to be around 30-40%, but can be as high as 50% depending on the brand. While by no means a low-salt food, reduced sodium soy sauce is perfect for those who need to be mindful of their salt intake.
Ponzu: Ponzu is a type of soy sauce infused with citrus.Usually the native Japanese citrus fruit yuzu is used, but it can also contain lemon or lime. Ponzu has a light, salty and slightly sour flavor, making it ideal for use alongside fish.