Going with modern globalization, soy sauce becomes popular all over the world. Soy sauce is the third best-selling sauce after ketchup and mayonnaise in the United States. New York Times reported in year 2011 that about 65% American households have soy sauce in their kitchens. Buying a right one at supermarket is not always easy because the Asian shelves have rows and rows of different types and brands from different countries and regions.
This article serves as a detailed guide to all major types of soy sauces available in Asian stores in America, which one to look for and which to avoid.
What's Soy sauce
Soy sauce, also known as soya sauce (UK), is a staple Asian seasoning and condiment brewed from only four basic ingredients of soybean, wheat, water and salt. With the distinct yet basic umami taste of naturally occurring free glutamates, soy sauce is a versatile, salty and brownish flavor enhancer used to season food while cooking or at the table. Although it originated from a meat-fermented sauce in China about 2500 years ago, it has been fully developed across Asia. Nowaday, Japanese soy sauce has emerged as the market leader in the globe, and alternatively, Worcestershire sauce and Maggi Seasoning become dominating in Western cuisine.
Soy sauce production requires multiple steps and can take 30 days to months to years to complete, depending on the brewing techniques which vary by regions. A typical brewing method consists of four major steps
- Preparation: The soybeans or defatted soy meal are soaked in water, and then cooked in a large cooker. The length of cooking time, as well as the temperature and pressure, will affect the finished product. Defatted soy meal is less expensive and ferments much quicker than whole soybeans. Whole soybeans, with more oil and longer fermentation time, lead to a smoother, softer and more complex flavor. This longer fermentation also increases the amount of glutamic acid, the primary component for umami flavor and mouthfeel. If whole wheat is used, it is roasted and cracked. The degree of roasting and size of the cracked wheat have important effects on the finished taste of the soy sauce. Many soy sauce directly uses wheat flour and/or wheat bran, or rice flour to get rid of wheat gluten. The main purpose for Chinese soy sauce to use wheat flour and/or wheat bran is to kickstart fermentation.
- Cultivation: The cooked soybeans and prepared wheat are mixed proportionally while still warm. The ratio varies depending on the style of soy sauce and recipe. The mixture is inoculated with a proprietary seed mold and incubated in large perforated vats through which air is circulated for proper temperature and humidity. After certain time of incubation, mold growth covers the entire mass which turns greenish as a result of sporulation. The incubation time varies from one to seven days. The soy mass, called "koji" in Japanese, contains rich enzymes necessary to break down starch, proteins and seed oils.
- Fermentation: The soy mash is transferred to fermentation tanks, where it is mixed with a specific amount of salt brine for wet fermentation or with coarse salt for dry fermentation. Over the time, the enzymes of mold on the soy and wheat break down the wheat and soy proteins into amino acids including glutamic acid, starches into sugars, and seed oils into fatty acid, some sugar of which is further fermented to lactic acid and alcohol. Lactic acid bacteria and yeast cultures may be added to promote fermentation. Historically, the slurry was fermented naturally in large vats and under the sun, which was believed to contribute additional flavors. Today, the mixture is transferred in a temperature and humidity controlled incubation tank. Taking 30 days to several months, or in some cases, several years, this fermentation process creates over 200 different flavor compounds and builds the soy sauce flavor profile.
- Refinement: After fermentation, the raw soy sauce is drawn or squeezed out of the fermented mash. It is then heated not only to build another layer of flavor by encouraging browning reaaction between amino acids and sugar, but also to stop further fermenting. The high-temperature pasteurization makes the soy sauce ready to bottle and consume.
Salt, or sodium chloride, is added at the beginning of fermentation at approximately 12-18% of the finished product weight. The salt is not just added for flavor, but it also helps establishing the proper chemical environment for the lactic acid bacteria and yeast to ferment properly. The high salt concentration is also necessary to help protecting the finished product from spoilage unless extra sugar or alcohol is added alternatively.
To take soy sauce out from the fermented mash within an artisanal production process, a bamboo-woven cylinder is placed at the center of fermenting vat and then over sometime, the raw soy sauce is drawn or extracted from the cylinder. After the first batch of extraction, salt and water are added into the vat to ferment again. Over a period of time, a second extraction is performed. The quality of the first extract is the best and literally labeled as "Premium" (特级) or "Touchou" (头抽) and the second extract is called "Gold Label" (金标). The third extract may be bottled as "Silver Label" (银标) or used to make dark soy sauce or recycled back as brine for next new batch.
Types of Soy Sauce
Soy sauce has been incorporated into the traditional cuisines of many Asian cultures. Despite their rather similar appearance, soy sauces made in different cultures and regions vary widely in flavor, consistency and saltiness. There are literally hundreds of soy sauce varieties which are categorized in several different ways which are usually achieved as the result of different production methods, durations of fermentation, proportional ratios of ingredients, or addition of other ingredients. In the United States, main varieties found in grocery stores can be grouped by origins of China including Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Southeast Asia and Korea.
Chinese Soy Sauces
Chinese soy sauce is also called jiangyou (酱油), zhiyou (豉油) and douyou (豆油). Compared with Japanese soy sauce of roasted wheat, Chinese soy sauce generally includes less maount of wheat flour and wheat bran in recipe. Technically, the wheat flour is used more for incubation instead of flavor enhancement.
China's national standard GB18186-200 and SB/T10173-1993 stipulate the classification of fermented soy sauce which emphasizes how the soy sacue is produced. Fermented soy sauce is classified into brewed soy sauce and blended soy sauce. The former is brewed directly from a fermentation process using soybean, wheat, salt, and water without additional additives, while the latter is made from brewed soy sauce by adding additives to modify its flavor and texture.
China has no national standard to distinguish Chinese soy sauce by color or by use. The types of "light soy sauce" and "dark soy sauce" originally come from the traditional naming convention in Southern Cantonse cuisine regions, including Guangdong and Hong Kong. Nowadays, this soy sauce naming convention is slowly becoming popular in China and outside.
Historically, most regions outside of Southern China, including Sichuan, use only one soy sauce for everything, insead of a light one for stir-frying and a dark one for red-cooking separately. For example even at present, the locally well-known brands in Sichuan, such as Zhongba and Xianshi, still produce only one all-purpose soy sauce. This "all-in-one" soy sauce culture is similar to those of Japan and Taiwan. It is not uncmmon that many local people there still do not know light soy sauce and dark soy sauce at all. Most of time today, the all-purpose soy sauce is unofficially called "Northern soy sauce", while a light or dark soy sauce is called "Southern soy sauce".
In the United States, Chinese soy sauces found in grocery stores are Southern soy sauces made in Southern China. They are labeled with Cantonese naming convention as we are discussing below.
Light Soy Sauce (生抽)
Classified as a brewed soy sauce, light soy sauce is also named thin soy sauce. It is quite thin in consistency, light in color, salty in flavor and low in viscosity. Compared to Kikkoman all-purpose soy sauce, this soy sauce is light in color. It is referred to as regular soy sauce in Cantonese cuisine. If a Cantonese recipe calls for soy sauce without specification, it means light soy sauce. The quality degree of light soy sauce is literaliy classed in "Premium" (特级), "Gold Label" (金标) or "Silver Label" (银标). Like extra virgin olive oil, the flavor of the first premium extract is considered superior to the gold label counterpart. The premium light soy sauce is called touchou (头抽) sometime. Its delicate flavor leads it to be used primarily for seasoning light dishes and for dipping.
If fermented twice by using the light soy sauce from another batch to take the place of brine for a second brewing, the result is called double-fermented soy sauce (双璜). The deluxe flavor makes it primarily for dipping and stir-frying.
Koon Chun Light Soy Sauce
All Koon Chun products are made in Hong Kong. Its Thin Soy Sauce is an award winning premium light soy sauce made from Canadian soybeans, quality sea salt, and wheat flour. Superior First Extract is Koon Chun's best light sauce which is different from its Thin Soy Sauce with 6-12 months of fermentation time. The Gold Label Soy Sauce stands between its Thin Soy Sauce and Black Soy Sauce. This soy sauce is perfect for dishes that calls for non-specific soy sauce, especially non-Cantonese dishes
In general, Koon Chun soy sauces get better recommendation marks than other brands. Its light soy sauces have a complex, balanced but salty flavor with only four basic ingredients.
Pearl River Bridge Light Soy Sauce
Pearl River Bridge brand is synonymous with quality Chinese soy sauces made in China. It is one of most recommented soy sauce brands on the internet. Like Koon Chun, all Pearl River Bridge light soy sauces do not have addtional additives.
However, Pearl River Bridge soy sauces supplied for US market are different of those for China itself. Fortunately, they have different packages. All Pearl River Bridge soy sauces pictured in this article are all made for export.
Amoy Light Soy Sauce
Amoy has been produced sauce over a hundred year. Amoy soy sauces supplied for US market are made in Hong Kong with Canadian non-GMO soyabeans fermented natually. Amoy light soy sauces contain added flavor enhancer.
Lee Kum Kee Light Soy Sauce
Lee Kum Kee was voted in Cooks Illistrated as have the best tasting soy sauce in an independent blind study.
Double Fermented Soy Sauce has the richiest flavor without additional flavor enhancer.
Haitian Light Soy Sauce
Dark soy sauce (老抽)
Classified as a blended soy sauce, dark soy sauce is also called black soy sauce. This variety is darker in color, slightly thicker in texture. Its taste is , richer and sweeter in taste, less salty and less savory than its light couterpart.
Traditional artisanal production makes this soy sauce by aging the first extract of light soy sauce under sunlight for another few months. The water evaporation and salt crystalization during the aging process make the soy sauce darker, thicker and less salty, with a sweet aftertaste. Modern production just adds molasses or caramel color to light soy sauce (rarely first extract) to give it the distinctive appearance.
Dark soy sauce is majorly used for slow, long-time cooking, such as braising, red-cooking etc. It gives the dish a nice caramel color and a slightly sweet undernote.
The flavor weakness is the reason why during making dark soy sauce, the broth of straw mushroom is added to create a richer flavor than plain dark soy sauce. The resulting product is called mushroom-flavored dark soy sauce or mushroom dark soy sauce (草菇老抽).
Koon Chun Black Soy Sauce
Both black and double black soy sauces are brewed with the combination of molasses and first extract soy sauce. The difference is that Double Black has the thickest color in all of Koon Chun soy sauces and is perfect for dishes which call for taste and color.
Other Dark Soy Sauces
Comparing bottles of LKK Premium soy sauce and Premium Dark soy sauce, the sodium levels are basically the same. Dark has added caramel color (hence the dark) and sugar.
It is interesting that all the dark soy sauces of the three brand names do not have additional flavor enhancer (such as MSG).
All-Purpose Soy Sauce
Lee Kum Kee Supreme Soy Sauce is a newly created, all-purpose, Japanese style soy sauce made from only four basic ingredients of soybean, wheat, salt and water without additional addtitives. It is different from Lee Kum Kee Premium Soy Sauce which is a light soy sauce with flavor enhancers added.
In recent years, most Southern Chinese brands start to produce Japanese style all-purpose soy sauces.
Seasoned Soy Sauce for Seafood(蒸鱼豉油)
Seasoned soy sauce for seafood is a type of premium light soy sauce which has been seasoned with fish sauce, sugar, cooking wine and spices. It is mainly used for classic Chinese-style steamed fish. The suace can creates a restaurant flavor at home, with a taste less salty than light soy sauce and a slightly sweet undernote. Of course, the seasoned soy sauce can substitute light soy sauce for everything else.
Seafood Soy Sauce (海鲜酱油)
Seafood soy sauce is a type of premium light soy sauce which is blended with extract of fermented seafood or fresh seafood. This sauce has both flavors of soy sauce and a like of fish sauce.
Thick Soy Sauce (酱油膏)
Thick soy sauces are sweeter and have a thicker consistency than dark soy sauce, due to the addition of molasses and starch thickener. It is majorly for restaurants and catering services who wants an enhanced attractive surface in dishes such as Roasted Piglet and BBQ chicken.
Hong Kong style thick soy sauce is different of Taiwan style thick soy sauce. The later is used for dipping or some special type braising cookings.
Seasoned Soy Sauces
Seasoned soy Sauce is a modern all-purpose soy sauce with added flavor enhancers of monosodium glutamate, disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate. According to Lee Kum Kee, this type of soy sauce is an ideal sauce for marinating, dipping or stir-frying which enhances the taste and appearance of all kinds of dishes. This type of soy sauces is becoming popular in the United States, looking like knockoffs of the prized Maggi Seasonings.
Based on Wikipedia, however, disodium guanylate is not safe for babies under twelve weeks, and should generally be avoided by asthmatics and people with gout, as guanylates are metabolized to purines.
Low Sodium Soy Sauce
Low sodium soy sauce contains 35% - 40% less sodium than regular soy sauce which is used to cut down salt intake with respect to blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
Salt is an important component in the production of soy sauce to acts as an antimicrobial agent. It is not just added for flavor, but it also helps establishing the proper chemical environment for the lactic acid bacteria and yeast to ferment properly. The high salt concentration is also necessary to help protecting the finished product from spoilage.
Low sodium soy sauce is made either in the same way as regular soy sauce with about 40% salt taken out post-brewing, or by adding into production with less salt but more sugar and alcohol to control the proper chemical environment of fermentation, resulting in a product with less amount of lactic acids and less amount of other flavoring compounds. Lactic acids and alcohol are added to the finished soy sauce to make up the flavor loss and to help protecting from spoilage.
If it is not neccessary, low sodium soy sauce should not be used to substitute regular soy sauce.
Gluten Free Soy Sauce
The growing popularity of soy sauce in the U.S. marketplace has also led to the increasingly widespread availability of wheat-free and reduced sodium versions of this food. For example, it has become relatively common to find "wheat-free tamari" available in U.S. supermarkets, even though tamari is a type of soy sauce traditionally prepared with a small amount of wheat. You'll almost always find this information ("wheat-free" and/or "reduced sodium") prominently displayed on the product label.
Originated in Switzerland over 140 years ago, Maggi has been working as an all-purpose seasoning with the consistency of soy sauce. It is made from fermented wheat protein and blended with variant umami enhancers which are changed to meet regional tastes. Maggi is sold in a dark brown bottle with a yellow label. The color of the bottle cap changes with country. A red cap is used in Europe, while a yellow cap is used in China. American version uses the yellow cap.
Maggi can be found at the Asian ailses in some supermarkets and large Asian groceries. The standard American version on left is Chinese-made, with the same ingredients as the counterpart sold inside China where it is called weijixian (美极鲜) in Chinese. American Maggi has a neutral savory strong taste like an all-purpose soy sauce. The middle German version has a little blue globe sign indicating its special European identity. It is full of meaty taste like beef broth, less salty but tastier than American Maggi. French Maggi Arome on right is of four different versions. They are most expensive, almost triple price of the American Maggi bottle. French Maggi Arome are seen by Viet-American as the best among all different kinds of Maggi, with taste smoother than German Maggi and flavor richer than American Maggi. Maggi and Maggi knockoffs are more and more popular in Asian-American kitchens to substitute stock bouillon and soysauce. When use, a few dashes produce the result.
Japanese Soy Sauces
Soy sauce is called shoyu in Japanese, and there are several different types of soy sauces, including the regular shoyu and tamari popularly found in the United States.
Compared with Chinese soy sauce, Japanese soy sauces are all-purpose oriented in general. One bottle can work for all kinds of dishes from preparation in kitchen to cooking to finishing touch on table.
Regular soy sauce
Japanese soy sauce, or shoyu, takes over 80% of total Japanese soy sauce production. It is naturally brewed for about 6 months with roughly equal quantities of soybean and whole wheat. The wholesome roasted wheat not only contributes the aroma of soy sauce, but also makes the soy sauce clearer and thinner than Chinese soy sauces which are produced from soybeans with little wheat flour. This difference in ingredients as well as fermenting time makes Japanese soy sauce slightly sweeter, rounder and richer in flavor and Chinese soy sauce denser, sharper and saltier.
Tamari soy sauce
Tamari, as the "original" special form of Japanese soy sauce, is more similar to the traditional Chinese soy sauce which is made with artisanal production processes. Tamari style soy sauce is traditionally made without wheat. It is thicker in texture, darker in color and stronger but smoother in taste. Tamari soy sauce doesn't flash off flavor under high temperatures. Because regular soy sauce is brewed with half wheat, it contains more aromatic flavor notes in the form of alcohols and esters, which flash off under high temperatures.
San-J is the first company who produced Tamari soy sauce in history.
Tamari soy sauce is supposed to be gluten free. Nowadays, however, many tamari-style soy sauces actually contain a trace of wheat. If you have a wheat allergy, tamari can be a good alternative to shoyu, though you should always be sure to check the ingredients list for the presence of wheat.
Japanese soy sauces are all-purpose oriented
Kikkoman soy sauce
Kikkoman soy sauce, as one typical representative of Japanese soy sauces, is naturally brewed by using only four basic ingredients of soybeans, wheat, salt and water. It is a versatile flavor enhancer for a wide variety of foods, from Asian to mainstream American.
Beside Japan, Kikkoman has production plants in China, the United States, the Netherlands, Singapore and Canada. Kikkoman soy sauce found in supermarkets of the United States is made in the company's factory in Walworth, Wisconsin.
Kikkoman claims that their soy sauces in the United States are categorized as highest “Special Grade” soy sauce by Japanese national soy sauce standard.
It is recognized by some Asian-American that the Kikkoman all-purpose soy sauce packaged in golden tins has the best taste among the other package types. Unfortunately, it is hard to find in supermarkets except of Asian stores.
San-J soy sauce
San-J Tamari is brewed from 100% soybeans without wheat for up to six months. San-J Tamari can serve as a versatile flavor enhancer for a wide variety of foods, from Asian to mainstream American.
San-J Tamari is certified for gluten free, kosher, vegan, and Non-GMO Project. The final product has no artifical preservatives or additives.
Compared with regular soy sauce, San-J Tamari has a noticeably richer and smoother taste than regular soy sauce due to its higher soy protein and less alcoholic fermentation from wheat. San-J Tamari flavor doesn't flash off under high temperatures. Because regular soy sauce is brewed with half wheat, it contains more aromatic flavor notes in the form of alcohols and esters, which flash off under high temperatures.
Soy Sauces Made in Japan
The Japanese soy sauces bottled in these plastic shapes can be found in Asian stores. They are made in Japan. These plastic bottles are all made in Japan. That's all I want to tell.
Taiwan-Style Soy Sauces
With its own specialty, the history of soy sauce making in Taiwan can be traced back to China and Japan. In the United States, Taiwan-style soy sauce takes about 30% shelf space of soy sauce in Asian groceries. Taiwan's soy sauce culture is slightly different in Greater China. Without knowing its specialty and types of Taiwan-style soy sauces, possibilities are dizzing.
Taiwan-style soy sauces can be splitted into soy-wheat soy sauce and black bean soy sauce. The former is similar to Japanese-style soy sauce and Chinese Northern soy sauce, but not to Chinese Southern light-dark soy sauce, while the latter is close to traditionally handmade Chinese Northern soy sauce with soybeans replaced by black beans. Black bean soy sauce is a specialty of Taiwan.
Taiwan-style soy sauce does not have the Chinese light-dark soy sauce scenarios.
It is believed that the best soy sacue goes to the bottom of the fermentation vat. That part of soy sauce is called vat bottom soy sauce (壶底油) which mneas "Premium" soy sauce
Soy-Wheat Soy Sauce (豆麦酱油)
The name of soy-wheat soy sauce is unique to Taiwan. It represents the soy sauces that are massively produced from soybeans (or defatted soybean meal) and wheat by using Japanese industrial technology inherited from Japanese colonical period. Soy-wheat soy sauce takes over 90% of Taiwan's soy sauce production. Soy-wheat soy sauce is close to Japanese-style soy sauce in consistency, color and taste.
Taiwan has no categorization of light and dark soy sauces even though Kimlan has some bottles packaged in this way for the US market.
If soy sauce is fermented for a longer period of time, sometime up to one year, than the regular counterpart, it is marketed as Aged Soy Sauce (成年酱油).
Wan Ja Shan Soy Sauce
Wan Jia Shan soy sauce is a versatile seasoning that can be used as a marinade, dip and glaze to enhance the flavor of all types of meats and vegetables. It is naturally brewed from soybeans, wheat, salt, water, sugar and alcohol in the Hudson Valley of New York, without addtional additive, except of sugar and alcohol for preservation of freshness.
Compared with Kikkoman, Wan Jia Shan soy sauce has two more ingredients of sugar and alcohol and has a sweeter taste, while Kikkoman has sodium benzoate as a preservative. However, Wan Jia Shan's retaurant version has the same ingredient list as Kikkoman.
The Aged Soy Sauce is fermented for a longer of time, up to one year, and thus slightly sweeter and more flavorful than the regular one (the middle one in picture). The Premium Aged Soy Sauce is one grade higher of Aged Soy Sauce, with Chinese name vat-bottom soy sauce (壶底油).
Wan Jia Shan Tamari is ideal for barbecuing and also makes an excellent dipping sauce for seafood.
Kimlan Soy Sauce
Kimlan soy sauce is naturally brewed from soybeans and wheat. Like Wan Jia Shan, Kimlan tends to be versatile all-purpose soy sauce for all kinds of foods. Im overall, Kimland soy sauces are slightly saltly and sweet, and also use liquorice extract as sweetener sometime.
The naming of Kimlan soy sauces are very complicated.
The first two bottles of premium soy sauces are twice fermented from only four basic ingredients of soybeans, wheat, salt and sugar. The whole fermentation process takes over one year to complete and the resulting flavor is better balanced taste and aroma. The third premium soy sauce has pretty transprant color which does not mask the color of main ingredient and thus is best for professional chefs. The aged version (left fourth) takes longer time to ferment than the regular one (left fifth) which ferments only 3-6 months. The third one on right is sweet that regular, while the second from right is categroized as a lighter color soy sauce, based on Taiwan's soy suace standard.
Kimland has a set of yellow bottles for the US market, which may have "Imported" printed on. Comparable to Chinese soy sauces, Kimland also offers the light and dark soy sauces.
Super Special soy Sauce (left first) was awarded the Excellent Production Process Improvement Award by the Food Science and Technology Association of Taiwan in 1982. It's a interesting finding that the package is very close to the premium double-fermented soy sauce Chishe (豉舌酱油) as compared below.
Black Bean Soy Sauce (黑豆荫油)
Black bean soy sauce is a specialty of Taiwan. It is naturally brewed from locally grown black beans and sea salt through the traditional artisanal production proccess which ferments the black beans under the shade of sunlight for over 6 months.
Black bean soy sauce is dark brown in color, slightly salty in taste and sweet in aftertaste. Because black bean has about 3% more proteins, and has a different nutritional profile, black bean soy sauce not only has a more delicate and richer flavor than soy-wheat soy sauce, but also has a special mellow undernote that soy-wheat soy sauce can't have.
Black bean soy sauce can be found in some Asian stores.
Thick Soy Sauce (酱油膏)
Thick soy sauce, also called soy sauce paste, is another specialty of Taiwan. It is a soy-wheat soy sauce or black bean soy sauce that has been thickened with glutinous rice (10-15%) or starch. Glutinous thickening makes the soy sauce easier for dipping with great flavor.
Thick soy sauce is often used as a dipping sauce or finishing sauce and poured on food as a flavorful addition. However, due to its sweetness and caramelized flavors, the sauce is also used in red cooking sometime.
Taiwan-style thick soy sauce is different of Cantonese-style thick soy sauces in the other regions of Greater China, including Koon Chun thick soy sauce which is widely used as coloring agent by restaurants.
Vegetarian Oyster Sauce (素耗油)
Vegetarian oyster sauce is a thick soy sauce added mushroom extract or mushroom powder, often oyster mushroom or shiitake mushroom. It may contain more taste enhancers if less mushroom extract is used to reduce costs.
In other words, Vegetarian oyster sauce is a mushroom-flavored thick soy sauce. It is different from the regular oyster suaces which are made from fermented oysters of seafood.
Chinese Worcestershire Sauce (乌醋)
Worcestershire sauce, sometimes shortened to Worcester sauce, a soy sauce mixed with many ingredients. It is complex and unique in its flavor and frequently used to enhance various food and drinks.
Worcestershire sauce is called gip-jap (喼汁) in Cantonese cuisine, "spicy soy sauce"(辣酱油) in Shanghai and "black vinegar" (乌醋) in Taiwan. It is used in Cantonese dim sum items and a variety of Western-inspired dishes.
Soy Sauces Used By Restaurants
Why does soy sauce from restaurants taste a lot better than the kind bought at the grocery store? Many people asked this question on the Internet, but there is no confirmative answer elsewhere so far.
Here is a list of ALL the 5-gallon-sized soy sauces stocked by a large Chinese wholesale wharehouse in the Northeast for use by local Chinese restaurants. From the list, we can get the following meaningful facts
- There is no light or dark soy sauce in the list, which means Chinese restaurants do not use Chinese light or dark soy sauce in general. They use all-purpose soy sauces instead. The soy sauces in the condiment holder on restaurant tables are all-purpose soy sauces.
- The regular soy sauces used by Chinese restaurants have only 4 ingredients of soybeans, wheat, water and salt, with sodium benzoate as the preservative. No brand has any extra additive except the special Less Sodium and Gluten Free versions. It is not worth to guess that Chinese restaurant's soy sauce has MSG. The reality is NOT.
- The soy sauces used by Chinese retaurants are the best soy sauces of each brand. For example, Kikkoman's restaurant version may have a better taste than a bottle grabed at Costco or Walmart. San-J's retail bottle has no the Chinese characters of "特级酱油" which is on the 5-gallon label, meaning the highest premium grade of soy sauce. It makes sense for each company to try their best to earn Chinese restaurant business with best products.
- Kikkoman is the best seller, with about 70-90% market share of Chinese restaurants.
- If you want to compare soy sauces of different brands, it would be better to pick their restaurant versions instead of retailing bottles.
Many American Chinese restaurants have two in-house private master soy sauces - a garlic-blended soy sauce (鱼香, namely yuxiang sauce) for slightly sweet dishes and a slightly spicy one (宫爆, kongpao sauce) for the rest. If you want to duplicate restaurant taste of soy sauce at home, you have to buy the best soy sauce and may need to blend other spices you may find in restaurant dishes.
Benefits of Soy Sauces
Based on Wikipedia, 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 is of excellent anti-allergic potential.
The nutritional content will vary depending on the variety of soy sauce and the ingredients used to make it.
It contains more than 300 different flavor compounds which provide a balanced complexity of flavors, many of which can mask fishy smells and infuse food with savory flavor.
Soy sauce enhances food by adding umami flavor of its glutamine acid which is one of the amino acids in soy sauce
When heated during frying or grilling meat marinated with soy sauce, soy sauce produces an rich, shiny coloring on food that stimulate the appetite.
How to Use Soy Sauces
Soy sauce is used for all kinds of cooking of Chinese and Japanese foods. Whether it’s for precooking, cooking, or finishing touches, soy sauce can make a meal taste much better. Without soy sauce, many Chinese and Japanese dishes cannot get cooked correctly.
Soy sauce is widely used as dipping sauce for sushi, sashimi, dumpling, dim sum, steamed vegetables etc.
It has become popular in Western countries to use soy sauce as a marinade for fish and meat. Over an open fire, meat marinated with soy sauce produces a wonderful smell that stimulates the appetite.
Soy sauce is a versatile cupboard ingredient, either added to dishes during cooking or used as a table condiment. It makes a great marinade or can be splashed into stews or used in sauces for meat and vegetables. Use light soy sauce to flavor dishes without darkening them - when stir-frying vegetables or chicken, for instance. Use dark soy sauce to give color to noodle dishes; its sweetness also makes it good as a dipping sauce.
A standard addition to stir fry and Chinese take-out, soy sauce is a great way to bring umami to the table. A little bit of soy sauce goes a long way in flavoring marinades, brines and all sorts of dipping sauces.
There's no question that soy sauce is great for stir-fries, marinades and dipping sauces, but its uses are far more wide ranging.
Did you know that it can also help create a butterscotch flavor in ice-cream or bring out the sweetness in a blueberry muffin? Naturally brewed soy sauce adds that delicious fifth taste, "umami", which enhances flavor and adds balance and complexity to food. Here are some clever ways to add soy sauce to harness food's true potential.
Which Soy Sauce to Buy
Believe or not, up to today, even speding one whole day to search on the web, you still could not find the right answer to which soy sauce to buy.
To enhance current Western cooking instantly, Maggi Seasoning is a universal flavoring agent, similar to soy sauce but not soy sauce-based. It tends to enhance flavor at the end of cooking. Vietnamese prefer French Maggi in general.
For Japanese food, use a good all-purpose soy sauce or a Chinese light soy sauce as a replacement.
Chinese food is contributed by a number of different styles originating from the diverse regions of China. The best known and most distinctive styles are Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine and Sichuan cuisine. Chinese food in America is mostly developed from Cantonese cuisine.
If your constant Chinese food is of Cantonese style or the similar, buy Chinese light and dark soy sauces. Use "Seasioned Soy Sauce for Seafood" to cook steamed fish which is a staple dish in Cantonese cuisine. If a Cantonese recipe calls for soy sauce without specification, it means light soy sauce. Our preferred brands are (1) Koon Chun, (2) Pearl River Bridge and (3) Lee Kum Kee. You have to try out the best one by yourself because each has its own strength and weakness.
If "Northern soy sauce" is your constant use, including cuisines of Sichuan, Hunan, Shandong and part of Jiangsu, buy one all-purpose soy sauce of Kikkoman, San-J, Kimlan and Wan Ja Shan. If you prefer Tamari which is similar to Sichuan artisanal soy sauces, San-J is the best. If Kikkoman is your choice, its golden tin box is the best. Kimlan and Wan Ja Shan are slightly sweet and slightly alcoholic wihtout no preservatives, and thus would be the best for Eastern China style and Taiwan style cookings. Try them to find the best of yours, and note that both Chinese light soy sauce and dark soy sauce are not a right substitution in most cases. In this category, Lee Kum Kee all-purpose Superume soy sauce is a new comer and Maggi knockoffs are becoming popular. Here is a logical routine to choose a right one
- Is a Maggi Seasoning (美极鲜) or Maggi knockoff (味极鲜) right for you? If not, go next.
- Is your cooking close to styles of Jiangsu, Shanghai, East China, or Taiwan? If yes, Kimlan and Wan Ja Shan would be the best
- Otherwise, Kikkoman all-purpose, or San-J tamari, or Lee Kum Kee Superume.
Low sodium soy sauce may have additives to make up flavor loss and preservation loss of salt reduction. Unless necessary, low sodium soy sauce does not offer better healthy benefit and is not recommended.
Seasoned Soy Sauces?