Plays an enormous part in Japanese food tradition and culture – from Sushi to Ramen, soya sauce has never been left out. I once heard from a Japanese old man said, “without soya sauce, nothing tastes right”. Although I found it rather subjective, it was actually not too difficult to understand his sentiments.
Besides adding flavour to our food, soya sauce itself is said to be a good food to our bodies. Since it goes through an unique fermentation process, healthy bacteria are produced along the way which help us to improve digestion and appetite.
There are 5 kinds of soya sauce which cater to each and every specific needs. Here are their differences.–
Koikuchi Dark Soya Sauce
The most common type of soya sauce found in Japan. In a bright dark red-brown colour, it contains at least 16% of salt content. Besides tastes relatively salty, it also gives out a strong flavour of unmami with a mellow tinge of sweetness, sourness and bitterness.
Besides adding fragance and taste to your cooking, it can be used alone as dipping sauce for Sushi rolls 寿司 and Sashimi 刺身. Relatively a versatile multipurpose condiment.
Usukuchi Light Soya Sauce
Though it is lighter in colour, it doesn’t mean it is lighter in taste. Originally came from Kansai area, Usukuchi is in fact saltier than Koikuchi.
Because of its brewing method, it is not as flavourful as we expected although it contains 18-19% of salt content. But one good thing – it retains the original taste of the ingredients used without leaving any dark colour on them.
Suitable for making dipping sauce for Udon/Soba noodles うどん・そばつゆ, vegetables stew Ni-mono 野菜の煮物 and traditional clear soup Osui-mono お吸い物.
Tamari Soya Sauce
More commonly used in central Japan. It has a thick concentrated texture and flavour which carries a same amount salt content like Koikuchi.
Primarily made from soya beans and often known as a gluten-free soya sauce. However depending on manufacturers, there are some who do include a small percentage of wheat in their process of making. So unless it is stated, Tamari may not be 100% gluten-free.
Also being called as “Sashimi-Tamari”, it is mainly being used as a dipping sauce for sushi rolls 寿司 and sashimi 刺身. Tends to give a very nice reddish-brown glaze when cooked, many like to use it for Teri-yaki 照り焼き and Tsukudani 佃煮 dishes. Popular Japanese rice cracker, Senbei 煎餅 also uses it to give that extra distinctive colour and taste.
Saishikomi Soya Sauce
Relatively more common in Kyuushu areas. Compared to other soya sauce, Saishikomi has an unique brewing method whereby it is being brewed twice.
It will first go through the same process like any other soya sauce. Once it is ready, Koji rice malt 米麹 will be added and then put under another round of brewing. Hence explaining why it has such a thick concentrated texture that is full of richness and aroma.
Also known as Kanro Shoyu 甘露しょうゆ or Sashimi Shoyu 刺身しょうゆ sometimes, it is being served together with sushi rolls 寿司, sashimi 刺身 or cold tofu 冷奴. Mainly used as dipping sauce rather than adding into cooking.
Shiro White Soya Sauce
Personally I don’t use this at all. In fact it is pretty rare to find in other parts of Japan. Originally produced from Aichi Prefecture and commonly used in the Chubu areas.
Compared to other soya sauce, it tastes sweet rather than salty. Has a strong unique taste and fragrance that somewhat similar to the Wheat Miso mugi-miso 麦みそ. Because it is also light in colour, it will not change/ darken the colour of your food.
Used when making traditional clear soup Osui-mono お吸い物, Japanese famous chawa-mushi 茶わむし, rice cracker, Senbei 煎餅 and also pickled dishes tsuke-mono 漬物.
Soya sauce oxidises easily – so once the seal is broken, keep it in a cool dry place and away from direct sunlight. To retain taste, flavour and colour at its maximum, it is good to store the opened bottle in the fridge.
Manufacturers always recommend to use our soya sauce as soon as possible – always best before its shelf life expires. However that’s always not be possible for me especially with big bottles.
So to prevent contamination, what I’ll do is to transfer a small amount of it into a soy sauce pourer as shown above and refill accordingly. The rest will in the fridge.