The meal I had for today’s lunch is braised pork soy sauce bibimbap. While I was eating, I couldn’t stop wondering where the soy sauce comes from and why we love to use it as a condiment for food.
There are various kinds of soy sauces in the market, to pick a right one shouldn’t be so difficult. We here would like to introduce the sauce, what is it, and how to choose the right one when cooking.
What is soy sauce?
The soy sauce is a condiment that fermented from soybeans and grain starch. The original sauce is a derivative of soy paste. The skill of making soybean paste in ancient times is no different from today.
There was a book in AD 540 which records the process of producing the soy paste at that time. Add steamed soybeans in a tank with specific mold, salt, and spices, ferment them into the sauce.
There was another file from this book that records one more production method of the soy paste—adding the saltwater instead of salt, which forms a semi-liquid sauce. The filtered juice of the sauce is called Jiangqing, which is the ancestor of the soy sauce.
Why soy sauce taste different?
As a condiment, the signature taste of soy sauce is salty, but it is umami and aromatic while comparing with salt. Then what makes the unique taste of it?
The key to this unique taste is the use of Aspergillus oryzae. Apart from making soy sauce, Aspergillus oryzae could be used to make miso, rice wine, and sake, which is the reason it is called the “national fungus” in Japan.
During the brewing process, Aspergillus oryzae decomposes soy protein into amino acids, creating a unique umami taste. Carbohydrates in wheat would be decomposed into sugar by it, making the sauce aromatic and sweet.
Sometimes, lactic acid bacteria and yeast are added at the beginning, which would produce lactic acid and alcohol. All these materials would ferment and decompose in a few months, and finally produce many substances that enhance the flavor of the sauce.
The brewing process produces melanin, which makes up the color of the sauce.
The differences between soy sauces
Generally, light soy sauce is used for food seasoning, or as a direct dip. It is the sauce which directly used after brewing. The further processed and blended with additives is the dark soy sauce. Comparing with regular sauce, it is thicker and richer in flavor, which is suitable for coloring dishes.
Soy sauce is quite a vital seasoning, no matter in any Chinese cuisine. It could cook delicacies, as well as make rice tasty than nothing. If there is any problem with using the sauce, it is the high containment of salt. Don’t add too much to your meal.