Sunday, 21 December 2008


Like tofu, soy sauce is made from soy beans. While the Europeans only discovered the soybean plant in the early eighteenth century, the Chinese were relying on it as a food source at least 5,000 years ago. Nutritionally, soy beans provide a healthy and inexpensive source of protein - two pounds of soy flour contains approximately the same amount of protein as five pounds of meat.

Soy sauce is derived from the fermentation of soy beans, roasted grain, water and salt. Soy sauce was invented in China, where it has been used as a condiment for close to 2,500 years. It has various forms and it is widely used in East and South East Asian cuisines.

It is important to note that despite its rather similar appearances, soy sauces produced in different cultures and regions are very different in taste, consistency, fragrance and saltiness. As such, it may not be appropriate to substitute soy sauces of one culture or region for another.

Examples of different soya sauce:

1) Indonesian Kecap Manis - a thick and sweet soy sauce that is nearly as thick as molasses. Apart from the normal ingredients in soy sauce, it has a generous addition of palm sugar. The term ‘kecap’ is used to identify all ‘fermented’ sauces. The same term is used in Malaysia by the Malays but it is spelt ‘kicap’.

2) In Singapore and Malaysia, the Chinese there refer to soy sauce as dòuyóu (anglicised as ‘toyu’); dark soy sauce is called jiàngyóu and light soy sauce is jiàngqīng. Malaysia, which has cultural links with Indonesia, uses the word 'kicap' for soy sauce. The Malaysian equivalent to the Indonesian kecap manis is the thick caramel soy sauce.

3) The two basic types of soy sauce used in Chinese cooking are light and dark. Dark soy is aged much longer than light soy, giving it a brownish-black color and much thicker texture. As its name suggests, light soy has a lighter colour, plus a saltier flavour. It is used more in cooking, as the rather pungent odour and darker colour of dark soy sauce can ruin the taste or appearance of a dish. (Dark soy is used in red-cooked dishes and is good for marinating meat). There is also mushroom flavoured soy sauce.

4) Japanese soy sauce or shō-yu, is traditionally divided into 5 main categories depending on differences in their ingredients and method of production. Japanese soy sauces include wheat as a primary ingredient and this tends to give them a slightly sweeter taste than their Chinese counterparts. They also have an alcoholic sherry-like flavour. Not all soy sauces are interchangeable. Tamari, a soy sauce unique to Japan is darker in appearance and richer in flavour. It contains little or no wheat; wheat-free tamari is popular among people eating a wheat free diet. It is the "original" Japanese soy sauce, as its recipe is the closest to the soy sauce originally introduced to Japan from China. Technically, this variety is known as miso-damari, as this is the liquid that runs off miso as it matures.

5) Vietnamese soy sauce is called xì dầu, nước tương, or sometimes simply tương. Again, its taste is quite distinctive. If a recipe does call for tương, do try to find it. If not, substitute with light soy sauce.


Usha said...

I did not know there were so many varieties of soy sauce, how interesting :-)

VG said...

Yes Usha, neither did I until I came to Australia.

There are quite a few varieties in Malaysia and I thought that was the extend of things. Imagine when I walked in an Asian grocery shop here and found rows and rows of soy sauces. I used to think Malaysia as very cosmopolitan....but there sure are more varieties here!