Not so simple sauce – soy sauce

by Sanjeev Kapoor

Want to cook a Chinese meal? Go ahead and gather all the ingredients that will needed to dish up a delicious Chinese spread. Apart from various vegetables, meat and seafood, add to your shopping list, chilli sauce, soy sauce, vinegar etc. These three bottled ingredients will not be completely used, so make sure to store them appropriately so that they can be used for the next meal. Though I am sure that will be quite soon enough. Here we will find out more about soy sauce.

What is soy sauce
Soy sauce is a condiment made from a fermented paste of boiled soybeans, roasted grain, brine, and Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus sojae moulds.  They are first fermented, then the paste is pressed to extract a liquid, which is the soy sauce. The solid residue is often used as an animal feed.

Soy sauce is widely used in East and Southeast Asian cuisines, where it is used in cooking as a condiment. It originated in China in the 2nd century BCE and then spread throughout Asia. Today, it is used in Western cuisine too.

The distinct taste of soy sauce is called umami in Japanese, which is due to naturally occurring free glutamates. Umami was identified as a basic taste in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University.

Saucy secrets
It is not possible to differentiate between real soy sauce and the artificially prepared stuff. One thing is for sure that good soy sauce comes from the fermentation of the soya bean under natural conditions, in giant caskets under the sun, which naturally gives it added flavour. Commercial soy sauce sometimes contains no soy at all but only fermented wheat. These sauces are fermented in machine controlled environments.

Choose your sauce
There are quite a few varieties of soy sauce that are used in China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Philippines and each of them having their own recipe. They all have their local names which are a little difficult to pronounce but for us remembering two types will suffice – one light soy sauce and the other dark soy sauce. The former is light in colour and does not have any great effect on the colour of the dish. It is made from the first pressing of the beans. Dark soy sauce is old soy sauce meaning it has been aged longer and has molasses to give it character.

How to store soy sauce
If the bottle is unopened you can store in a cool, dark place. But once the bottle is opened, it should be stored in the refrigerator so that its flavour is well preserved. The high salt content of most soy sauces will prevent dangerous microorganisms from proliferating at room temperature, but the delicate flavour compounds produced during the fermentation process are best protected under refrigerated conditions.

Culinary uses
In Chinese food, you can use it to flavour noodles or fried rice or Manchurian gravy. You can use the sauce while sautéing vegetables.

Mix soy sauce with garlic and ginger and use it to marinate tofu or steamed noodles or even chicken or sea food.

You can also use soy sauce to make a dipping sauce for dumplings or vegetables or sushi. You can also use this sauce in place of salt in soups and stews. It will not only add saltiness but also an excellent flavor and also colour. 

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.