In a world of artisanal ingredients and gourmet cuisine, it doesn't feel like enough these days to just buy the cheapest bottle labelled 'soy sauce'. Recipes can differ greatly from requiring a thick and sweet soy to a light, clear distillation depending on the country or region, and it's important to consider production processes such as natural brewing too. You may also have some personal specifications to keep in mind, such as low salt, organic, vegan, or gluten-free.
Choosing the right soy sauce can make a huge difference to the authenticity (and success) of your dish, be it a dipping sauce for sushi, dim sum, or dumplings, or as a seasoning for fried rice. Thankfully, we've done the research to determine the best options available online from Amazon, eBay, Tesco, Asda and Waitrose including top producers like Kikkoman, Clearspring and Lee Kum Kee. It's time to find the perfect umami match for your creations!
There are actually many varieties of soy sauce, all made to each region's typical recipe — but many of us don't know what the differences are, which are the best for each purpose, and what to look for or avoid in a soy sauce. Read on to find out how to tell your shoyu from your kecap manis!
Japanese soy sauce, or shoyu, has just a few ingredients; soybeans, wheat, salt, and water, and often kojikin, a fermenting agent. The ratio of these ingredients can differ depending on the type of shoyu, which we'll discuss below, but overall they're relatively thin, clear and sweet and suit delicate dishes.
The most widely available shoyu is koikuchi, which is a dark soy sauce with a deep, salty umami flavour. Roughly equal parts soybeans and wheat, koikuchi makes for an excellent all-purpose option that no Japanese pantry should be without!
Then there is usukuchi, or light soy sauce, which is lighter in colour than koikuchi but not lighter in taste. Usukuchi is saltier than regular soy sauce, making it ideal for soups and stocks.
If you prefer a sweeter, rounder flavour profile you might want to try saishikomi. Meaning "twice-brewed" saishikomi is double-fermented, giving it a stronger umami taste, more natural sweetness and less saltiness than other types. You're less likely to find these shoyu variations in British supermarkets, so look for authentic artisanal Japanese brands online if you'd like to sample them.
As tamari is made with little to no wheat, it is the closest of the shoyu varieties to the original Chinese soy sauce. It's well-known throughout the world for being a gluten-free soy sauce, so it's great for those with allergies or intolerances. Be aware it can still contain traces and is not necessarily 100% free of gluten unless the label directly advertises this.
Tamari is a darker, thicker and richer soy sauce with a stronger flavour than other Japanese soy sauces, and is said to be the best match for sushi and other dipping purposes.
Chinese soy sauce is traditionally made only from soy, but these days it is normally brewed with wheat flour. It also often contains added sugar and is denser, saltier and darker than Japanese styles. Choose the thickness you prefer, or try a few out! You can test this by shaking the bottle — Chinese soy sauce will tend to coat the glass.
Thin and savoury, light soy sauce is used to enhance the flavours of the other ingredients in a recipe. Light Chinese soy sauce is what we in the West think of as regular soy sauce, as it is extremely widespread and popular throughout the world.
Some cheaper Chinese soy sauces are made by hydrolysing soy protein and combining it with other flavourings and colourings such as corn syrup, caramel and E numbers. The resulting flavour is far removed from that of traditionally fermented soy sauces, so if you try to avoid additives check out the ingredients list before buying.
Chinese dark soy sauces are darker in colour and thicker in texture, but tend to be lighter in saltiness which makes them somewhat similar to dark Japanese styles. They are generally fermented longer than thinner options, have a sweet-salty taste and are mainly used for cooking.
Double-dark soy sauce (as you can probably guess) is even thicker, darker, and sweeter than dark soy and is often used to add colour and rich, sweet flavour to dishes. It's making us hungry just thinking about it!
The Indonesian answer to soy sauce, otherwise known as kecap manis, is made from around 10-15% liquid soy sauce along with a mixture of sugar and water. This gives it its signature sweetness and syrupy consistency, which sometimes has spices added to it as well.
The combination of sugar and soy sauce gives it a deep, dark colour and opacity, and the use of palm sugar creates smoky, savoury undertones and caramel notes. More sweet than salty, it's often used alongside regular soy sauce, fish sauce and salt in Indonesian cooking and is great as an all-purpose condiment for the table.
Some Thai, Malaysian, or other Southeast Asian soy sauces use similar recipes, and are worth trying too if you like your sauces nice and sweet!
Traditionally, making soy sauce involves soaking the soybeans and roasting and crushing the wheat, mixing them with a culturing mold such as Aspergillus oryzae and other related micro-organisms and yeasts (this mixture is called "koji" in Japan) and leaving this for a few days to develop.
Next, water and salt are added, and the mixture is left to ferment for five to eight months. This skilled process is always used for high-quality soy sauce, and these varieties are often labelled as 'naturally brewed'. If the label does not state this, it may have been made using a chemical method of production which makes it far less attractive in terms of taste and aroma.
Non-naturally brewed sauces usually have extra flavouring, colouring and salt added, plus the process produces some undesirable compounds including some carcinogens. Therefore, ingredients-wise, most soy sauce aficionados recommend sticking to a recipe as close to the original four ingredients of water, salt, soybeans and wheat flour as possible.
With all those tempting ideas in mind we'll now reveal our top 10 favourite soy sauces, ranging from multipurpose supermarket staples to artisanal foodie delights. We promise they're all equally lip-smacking!
|Ingredients||Refined sugar, water, brown sugar, glucose syrup, soy sauce (water, soybeans, salt, wheat flour)|
|Ingredients||Water, salt, soybeans, sugar, wheat flour, flavour enhancers (E631, E627)|
|Ingredients||Soybeans, wheat, water, salt|
|Ingredients||Water, soybeans, salt, wheat flour, preservative (E202)|
|Process||Naturally fermented and reduced|
|Ingredients||Soya bean extract, sugar, salt, colour (caramel), wheat flour, additives (E621, E211, acetic acid)|
|Process||Naturally fermented and aged|
|Ingredients||Whole soybeans, water, sea salt, mirin (sweet rice, water, cultured rice), *organically grown|
|Ingredients||Soybeans, wheat, salt and water|
|Process||Naturally fermented in cedar-wood kegs|
|Ingredients||Water, soybeans, wheat, sea salt|
|Process||Naturally fermented in wooden barrels|
|Ingredients||Processed soybeans, wheat, salt|
|Process||Barrel aged for 1 year|
|Ingredients||Non-GM soybeans, wheat, salt|
Pearl River Bridge
Lee Kum Kee
Premium Artisinal Japanese Soy Sauce
Shoyu Jozo Shiho no Shizuku
Organic Japanese Shoyu Soya Sauce
Organic Japanese Tamari Soya Sauce
Kicap Manis Sweet Soy
Light Soy Sauce
Less Salt Soy Sauce
Premium Light Soy Sauce
Sweet Soy Sauce
The Best Barrel-Aged Soy Sauce You'll Come Across
A Delightfully Artisanal Japanese Option
A Superior Organic All-Purpose Shoyu
A Naturally Brewed, Mellow Soy Sauce
Gluten-Free and Made With Organic Soya Beans
A Caramel-Sweet Sauce for Creating Authentic Malaysian Food
An Authentic and Trustworthy Chinese Choice
A Healthy, Naturally Brewed Option With Reduced Salt
Traditionally Brewed in the Chinese Style
A Thick, Sweet Soy Sauce From Thailand
|Process||Barrel aged for 1 year||Naturally fermented in wooden barrels||Naturally fermented in cedar-wood kegs||Naturally brewed||Naturally fermented and aged||Naturally fermented and reduced||Slow fermentation||Naturally brewed||Naturally brewed||-|
|Ingredients||Non-GM soybeans, wheat, salt||Processed soybeans, wheat, salt||Water, soybeans, wheat, sea salt||Soybeans, wheat, salt and water||Whole soybeans, water, sea salt, mirin (sweet rice, water, cultured rice), *organically grown||Soya bean extract, sugar, salt, colour (caramel), wheat flour, additives (E621, E211, acetic acid)||Water, soybeans, salt, wheat flour, preservative (E202)||Soybeans, wheat, water, salt||Water, salt, soybeans, sugar, wheat flour, flavour enhancers (E631, E627)||Refined sugar, water, brown sugar, glucose syrup, soy sauce (water, soybeans, salt, wheat flour)|
If food is your passion and you live to make dinner for your loved ones, you'll want to make sure you always have the right kitchen staples on hand to cook up a storm. From Mediterranean to Asian and South American ingredients, we'll help get your cupboards stocked and have you feeling inspired.
So the variations on soy sauces are a little more intricate than you thought, right? It's exciting to discover such a simple ingredient can alter so much depending on the region it's from, and it means you can find the perfect match for your cuisine whether that be elegant sashimi, mouthwatering Indonesian fried rice or a delectable Chinese dish.
Author: Melanie McPhail
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