Soy sauces - How are they different?
Soy sauce is one of the keys for Japanese cuisine, but what does it consist of, why are there so many different types, and what is the use of these different types? In this post, we have gathered some information to answer these questions! Hope you enjoy reading!
The basic ingredients of soy sauce are soy, wheat, salt, and koji, which is made from seed malt bred by mixing fried steamed soy with wheat.
Protein in soy is decomposed into amino acids, which is the component of the umami(or savory) flavour of the sauce. Starch in wheat is decomposed into glucose, which is the component of the sweetness and the fragrance of the sauce. Salt is an important ingredient to protect the sauce from any unwanted bacteria to let the sauce brew slowly.
Soy sauces are classified into 5 categories under the JAS standards, which are the standards maintained by the Japanese Government.
- 濃口醤油 - Koikuchi (full-flavoured) soy sauce
- 淡口醤油 - Usukuchi (light) soy sauce
- たまり醤油 - Tamari (thick) soy sauce
- 再仕込み醤油 - Saishikomi (re-prepared) soy sauce
- 白醤油 - Shiro (white) soy sauce
Let’s have a look at the characteristics of these different types and what they are suitable for.
1. 濃口醤油(Koikuchi soy sauce)
Koikuchi, or full-flavoured soy sauce is the most common type of soy sauce sold in Japan. About 80% of soy sauces sold in Japan are this type. Despite its name “Koikuchi”, which can be misinterpreted as “strong-taste”, the salinity concentration is a medium degree compared to the others. Koikuchi soy sauce has not only saltiness, but also deep savoriness, mellow sweetness, acidity, and bitterness in itself, and is used for a wide variety of cuisine in Japan. If you see “soy sauce” in a recipe, it refers to this type of soy sauce.
Koikuchi soy sauce is suitable for dishes that you want to give a strong flavour, such as simmered food, etc. It is also suitable for a dipping sauce. Here’s a recipe for stewed diced pork. The recipe is provided by https://tg-uchi.jp/topics/4007.
2. 淡口醤油 (Usukuchi soy sauce)
The place of origin of Usukuchi, or light soy sauce, is said to be Kansai region. Despite its name “Usukuchi”, which can be misinterpreted as “light-taste”, it is saltier than Koikuchi soy sauce because the salinity concentration is higher. The word “light” addresses its colour, not the taste as the colour of Usukuchi soy sauce is so much lighter than Koikuchi soy sauce. The fragrance is less powerful compared to Koikuchi soy sauce.
Usukuchi soy sauce is used when you want to fully utilize the appearance and natural flavour of the cooking ingredients.
3. たまり醤油 (Tamari soy sauce)
Tamari, or thick soy sauce is mainly produced in the Chubu region. Tamari soy sauce is thick liquid compared to Koikuchi and Usukuchi. The main ingredient of Tamari soy sauce is soy whilst Koikuchi and Usukuchi soy sauces use soy and wheat at around the same ratio. Only a little amount of wheat is contained in Tamari soy sauce. Therefore, Tamari soy sauce is rich in savory flavour made of protein contained in the soybeans, and has unique savoriness and fragrance compared to other types of soy sauce.
Tamari soy sauce is good for dipping sashimi(cut raw fish) and sushi. It also makes a good sauce for grilled meat.
4. 再仕込み醤油 (Saishikomi soy sauce)
Saishikomi, or re-prepared soy sauce is produced all over Japan in the present day, though it used to be produced only in Yamaguchi prefecture and Kyushu region back in the days. Saishikomi soy sauce is brewed using “soy sauce” whilst other types of soy sauces are brewed using “saline solution”. It is called “Saishikomi”, or “re-prepared” soy sauce because the process includes the process where soy sauce is fermented twice. Saishikomi soy sauce has a rich and deep taste.
Saishikomi soy sauce is rich in colour, taste, and in fragrance. Therefore, it is suitable to be used as a dipping sauce for sashimi(cut raw fish), sushi, and unseasoned tofu.
5. 白醤油 (Shiro soy sauce)
Shiro, or white soy sauce is mainly produced in Mikawa province in Aichi prefecture. It is said to have been developed during the Edo period, and it is one of the newest types of all the types. The colour of it is even lighter than Usukuchi(light) soy sauce. The main ingredient of it is wheat, in contrast to Tamari(thick) soy sauce whose main ingredient is soybeans. In order to make the colour as light as possible, various ingenious efforts are put into the process of making Shiro soy sauce such as to make the fermentation period shorter compared to other soy sauces as wheat and soybeans get pigmented if the processing period is longer. Originally, Shiro soy sauce was made only from wheat, but now a small amount of soybeans are used as well to align with the JAS standards which state that the standards for soy sauce is that soybeans are used during the process. Shiro soy sauce has a unique fragrance and sweet taste.
Shiro soy sauce is suitable to be used when you want to preserve and utilize the natural colour and taste of the food materials.
Here’s a recipe for steamed savory egg custard with prawns and chicken. The recipe is provided by https://tg-uchi.jp/topics/3323(a visual instruction of the recipe is available on this page).
Q. How long do soy sauces last?
The regular soy sauces sold in plastic bottles are said to last for one, or one and a half years sealed, and one month if unsealed. Therefore, when we buy soy sauce, we’d better choose the portion that we may be able to finish in one month.
Q. Do soy sauces go rotten?
In principle, soy sauces are said not to go rotten even if it’s kept for a long time. However, after unsealing, they get oxidized as they are exposed to the air. The quality gets less as the oxidation process progresses. You can tell the freshness of soy sauce by its colour. Fresh soy sauce is transparent-brownish-black in colour, but unfresh/oxidized soy sauce is dark-black in colour. Recently, some manufacturers started selling soy sauces in special airtight containers that will prevent the sauces from getting oxidized.
Q. How should we store soy sauce?
It must be stored in a cool, dry place away from the direct sunlight. Therefore, we’d better keep it refrigerated to keep the quality longer.
Q. Are there any tips to keep the quality as long as possible?
To keep the quality as long as possible, pour soy sauce in a small container(see this link for an example) and use it from the container instead of using it directly from the bottle. The reason is that the soy sauce can get oxidized if it is frequently exposed to the air every time you open the bottle. By doing that, we can make the oxidation of the soy sauce remaining in the original bottle slower.
Kikkoman and Yamasa are the main manufacturers of the soy sauces widely sold in Japan. In this post, we introduce their products. If you see any other soy sauces you are interested in buying and want to know more about them, please take a photo of the product and send it to the OIST Resource Centre via this webform so we can help you find detailed information for you! Click the name of the product to see the picture of the product.
* It's very rare to find Tamari, Saishikomi, and Shiro soy sauces in supermarkets in Okinawa as they are only produced in particular areas. Therefore, we provided the links where you could buy these sauces online.
1. 濃口醤油 - Koikuchi (full-flavoured) soy sauces
Its airtight container keeps the product fresh for 90 days. The product can be stored at room temperature. * ”pure soy sauce” refers to non-heat-treated soy sauces
Its airtight container keeps the product fresh for 120 days. The product can be stored at room temperature.
The product was fermented for more than a year in Hokkaido. Its airtight container keeps the product fresh for 90 days. The product can be stored at room temperature.
The iconic product of the manufacturer. Well-balanced taste, colour, and fragrance are the characteristics of the product as well as the company’s products. The product is good to be used even with meat and fish that have strong flavour/smell.
The product was fermented in a special way which gives the product extra mildness as well as the savoriness that lasts longer. This page illustrates the “special mild fermentation method” Its airtight container keeps the product fresh for 120 days. The product can be stored at room temperature.
Like the name indicates, its savoriness, deep fragrance, and its rich flavour are at the brand’s top-notched level. The product is good for making simmered food. It is also good for giving taste to thick meat and the material which you want to soak in the sauce’s taste. Its airtight container keeps the product fresh for 120 days. The product can be stored at room temperature.
The product is produced using 100% whole soybeans. The manufacturer developed the mildness, rich fragrance, and rich sweetness and flavour, all of which are the characteristics of whole soybeans sauce. Its airtight container keeps the product fresh for 120 days. The product can be stored at room temperature.
Soy sauce that fully utilized the savoriness of soybeans. The product is rich in savoriness, flavour, and fragrance as good-quality whole soybeans were fermented slowly. The colour, taste, and the fragrance are well-balanced. Therefore the product is suitable for a wide variety of foods.
The sauce was prepared using more soybeans than the regular soy sauces. Since a lot of soybeans are used to produce this product, it has deeper taste and mild fragrance. Sweet rice wine is added during the process. Therefore, it has slight sweetness in taste, and is not too salty. This product is suitable for use with tofu, and pickling or dipping cut raw fish.
Soy sauce made from organic wheat and soybeans.
Soy sauce blended with broth from kelp. The product is a low-saline product. It can be used for a wide range of food from tofu to simmered food.
The red colour and the fragrant flavour will be kept for 180 days by the new freshness preservation function of the package. The product can be stored at room temperature.
The red colour and the fragrant flavour will be kept for 180 days by the new freshness preservation function of the package. The product can be stored at room temperature. The product contains 50% less sodium compared to the manufacturer’s regular rich fragrance soy sauce.
The bottle keeps the freshness of the product for 120 days at room temperature. The product has rich savoriness and fragrance from whole soybeans.
Some condiments are added to the manufacturer’s iconic product “Yamasa real fermentation” to add mildness and savoriness. The product has a mellow taste and light colour.
Slowly fermented using sea salt dried in the sun, organic whole soybeans and wheat as its ingredients.
Organic whole soybeans and sea salt dried in the sun are used as its ingredients. Specially-selected ingredients are carefully prepared using the traditional techniques to create its mellow taste.
Slowly, gently fermented using salt dried in the sun and organic whole soybeans. The product contains 50% less sodium compared to special deliberately selected organic whole soybeans sauce.
Non-genetically modified whole soybeans and sea salt dried in the sun are used as its ingredients. It’s rich in fragrance.
The product has high contents of the ingredients which are the source of its rich savoriness. Therefore, the product is compatible not only with sashimi(cut raw fish), but also with steak, sushi, natto(stinky-sticky fermented soybeans), and for pickling vegetables.
An all-purpose soy sauce which has distinctive colour, fragrance, and taste of Yamasa soy sauce.
An iconic soy sauce of the manufacturer that has great fragrance, savory taste, and bright colour.
Soy sauce with bright colour and mellow taste, and is rich in savoriness. The airtight container will keep the freshness for 90 days.
Sodium content is 50% less than the super special soy sauce.
2. 淡口醤油 - Usukuchi (light) soy sauce
Prepared using the company’s own low-temperature ripening technique. No heat added during the process. The product emphasises the fragrance of fish soupstock. Therefore it is compatible for making soups for udon noodles, etc.. Sodium content is 20% less than regular usukuchi soy sauce.
The colour of the sauce is made light to keep the original colours of the ingredients of the food. The salinity is higher than koikuchi soy sauce even though the colour is lighter. Make sure to taste it before using it too much.
The sauce adds an elegant finish to the dish.
Usukuchi soy sauce with elegant and mellow taste. The product can be stored at room temperature. The package keeps the product fresh for 120 days after unsealing.
3. たまり醤油 - Tamari (thick) soy sauce
Sells soy sauces produced by breweries across the country
4. 再仕込み醤油 - Saishikomi (re-prepared) soy sauce
Sells soy sauces produced by breweries across the country
5. 白醤油 - Shiro (white) soy sauce
Sells soy sauces produced by breweries across the country.