Why Soy Sauces are not all created equal. What’s in your cupboard?
One day early in 2002, in our old wood warehouse, we lined up eight difference sauces on one of our longest wooden tables. It was a blind taste test of brown-colored liquids from three different countries.
The result? The similarities that the sauces shared were in name only. Yes, they were all salty – but that was about it. Some were, if words could describe them, sharp. Some were crunch-your-eyes-closed salty. Some were bitter, and some were sweet. In all, though, most did not taste great. In fact, most tasted down-right awful. And, there was no clear winner; everyone picked a different “favorite” sauce.
(By the way, we sample everything we carry by tasting it “plain Jane” – straight out of the bottle or jar with just a spoon. We find this to be the best way to compare one food with another. Just as we sample in our store, vinegars and oils are tasted on a spoon so that you can taste the food flavor, pure and unadorned.) Years later, we did a much smaller but similar sampling of the same products and found that, no matter how you tasted it, the flavor was less than “refreshing” – until now.
Though the flavor was still overwhelmingly strong, the one thing that this one sauce had above all the others was a clean finish; No aftertaste when you were done. Pretty impressive, when the whole idea is to use the sauce to enhance the flavor of other dishes (or add umami to), while preventing its personality from being the dominate force.
As you probably have guessed by now, we are talking about soy sauce. Soy sauce (Shoyu in Japan) has been around for close to 2,500 years. Made almost everywhere in Asia, the most familiar varieties are made in China, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia. Soy sauce is considered a “crucial” ingredient in most Asian cuisines. Not only does quality soy sauce enhance flavors while contributing an earthy flavor to whatever dish you are preparing, but traditional, artisan-produced, dark soy sauce also contains 10 times the antioxidants of red wine, and helps with the prevention of cardiovascular diseases!
Health Benefits of Traditional Shoyu (Soy Sauce)
There is reason to be concerned about what type of soy sauce you use. Like miso, traditionally brewed shoyu is a fermented soy (and wheat) food, so it has many of the same nutritional properties. The natural fermentation process converts soy and wheat proteins, starches and fats into easily absorbed amino acids, simple sugars and fatty acids. A recent study by the National University of Singapore reports that the dark soy sauce has antioxidant properties that are 10x more potent than red wine, and 150 times more effective than vitamin C. It’s the high concentration of brown pigment in shoyu that is thought to contribute to its strong antioxidant and anticancer properties. Shoyu is also said to aid in digestion and be rich in minerals.
Compare this to the commercially produced soy sauce. Made with hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), produced by boiling bulk soy beans in hydrochloric acid, and then bating them in sodium hydroxide. The liquid is then colored with added caramel coloring and flavored with artificial flavoring. The whole process takes about, oh, 2 days! Not only do commercially-produced, “fake” soy sauces not have the same health benefits as the traditionally fermented kind, but they may actually be bad for you.
Plus, I can tell you from the taste tests we’ve done, they are not that appealing to-boot. In 2001, the British Food Standards Agency warned that some low-quality soy sauces actually contained high levels of potentially cancer-causing chemicals. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
by Tim Mar
Serving Suggestioin for Traditional Kishibori Shoyu
I use Kishibori Shoyu when I eat sushi at home, and using a quality shoyu makes a big difference. Or, kick up your palette a notch with Kishibori Shoyu, instead of that cheap soy sauce you usually use. Your guests will be happy you did!
This is one of Chef Lesa’s stand-by recipes. She often serves this pate as an appetizer for our Farmer’s Market cooking class, and it’s always a winner.
Also works well with as a light lunch atop some country bread, accompanied by a nice glass of red wine. It taste wonderful, not to mention it’s a great combination of super foods to boot!
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Keywords: Traditional, Shoyu, Soy sauce, Japan, Kishibori, umami, health benefits of shoyu, heath benefits of fermented foods