What Is The Japanese Word For Soy Sauce? A Complete Guide

Are you a fan of Japanese cuisine?

Do you love adding soy sauce to your dishes for that extra umami flavor?

If so, have you ever wondered what the Japanese word for soy sauce is?

In this article, we’ll explore the world of soy sauce and its Japanese counterpart, shoyu.

From its history to its production process, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about this versatile condiment.

So, grab a seat and get ready to expand your culinary knowledge!

What Is The Japanese Word For Soy Sauce?

The Japanese word for soy sauce is shoyu. It is a broad term used to describe Japanese-style soy sauces that are made from fermented soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. Shoyu is a staple ingredient in Japanese cuisine and is used as a cooking and table sauce.

The History Of Soy Sauce

The history of soy sauce can be traced back to ancient China, where a sauce called “jan” was used for pickling raw materials in salt to preserve them. Over time, different varieties of jan emerged, including those based on fruit, vegetables, and seaweed, as well as meat and fish. The grain type, made from rice, wheat, and soybeans, is thought to be the archetype of soy sauce.

When Buddhism came to Japan from China in the 7th century, vegetarianism was introduced and many soy-based products were brought with it. Soy sauce, known as shoyu in Japan, was one of these products. Prior to this, a common Japanese condiment was gyoshō, which was fish-based.

According to the Taiho Code, “hishio” made from soybeans was to be made at the hishio institute belonging to the cuisine division of the Imperial Household Agency. In modern terms, hishio was midway between soy sauce and miso paste and appears to have reached the dining tables of palace banquets.

During the Muromachi period, shoyu began being used as a liquid seasoning and the word appears in a dictionary written in the early 1500s. By the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603), soy sauce had spread quickly among the common people, and demand for the product increased. The first soy sauce factories emerged during the late 16th century and early 17th century.

In response to the popularity of soy sauce during the Edo period (1603-1867), wheat was used to produce a fragrant kind of soy sauce called koikuchi shoyu, perfect for flavoring the fish caught in the Edo Bay. Soybeans were mainly produced in western Japan until the Kamakura period when they began to be cultivated all over Japan. This is also the period when tamari emerged as a new condiment.

Tamari is derived from the verb “tamaru” that signifies “to accumulate,” referring to the fact that tamari was traditionally from the liquid byproduct produced during the fermentation of miso. Japan is now the leading producer of tamari.

Today, shoyu is one of the most essential ingredients for Japanese flavor and is used in seemingly 90% of dishes. It adds saltiness as well as umami to dishes. With its long history and cultural significance in Japanese cuisine, shoyu continues to be a beloved ingredient both in Japan and around the world.

The Different Varieties Of Soy Sauce

There are several varieties of shoyu that are classified by the Japan Agricultural Standards (JAS). These varieties have unique characteristics that are influenced by regional preferences, brewing history, and other factors. Here are some of the most common types of shoyu:

1. Koikuchi Shoyu (Common): This is the most general type of shoyu and accounts for around 80% of domestic production volume in Japan. It has a deep umami flavor, rounded sweetness, refreshing acidity, and a bitterness that brings all the flavors together. It is a widely usable, general-purpose condiment that can be used in cooking or at the table.

2. Usukuchi Shoyu (Light color): This light-colored shoyu originated in the Kansai region and accounts for around 10% of domestic production volume. It uses around 10% more salt than common shoyu to make the fermentation and maturation processes more gradual. Its color and fragrance are reduced to bring out the original flavors of the ingredients. It is used in cooking dishes that preserve the color and taste of the ingredients, such as sugar-boiled stews and takiawase.

3. Tamari Shoyu (Tamari): This soy sauce is mainly brewed in the Chubu region and is characterized by thickness, dense umami, and a unique fragrance. It is commonly used at the table with sushi and sashimi. When heated, it reveals a pleasing red tint, and it is also used in grilling, boiling in soy sauce, and the processing of products such as senbei rice crackers.

4. Saishikomi Shoyu (Refermented): This specially-produced soy sauce is blended with other soy sauce, which is why it is called “refermented”. It is dense in color, flavor, and fragrance, and is also known as “sweet soy sauce”. It is mainly used at the table for flavoring sashimi, sushi, chilled tofu, and similar dishes.

5. Shiro Shoyu (Extra light color): This pale amber-colored shoyu originated in the Hekinan district of Aichi prefecture. Its flavor is bland but has a strong sweetness and a unique fragrance. It is used in cooking dishes such as soups and chawanmushi egg custard using its fragrance and light color. It is also used in rice crackers, pickles, and other foods.

6. Light Soy Sauce: This soy sauce is commonly used in Chinese cooking and is thinner with a lighter color than dark soy sauce. It is saltier than dark soy sauce but can be found in reduced-sodium versions.

Understanding the different varieties of shoyu can help you choose the best one to complement your dish. Each variety has its unique characteristics that can enhance or overpower the flavors in your dish, so it’s essential to use the right type of soy sauce for your recipe.

The Production Process Of Shoyu

The production process of shoyu involves a double fermentation process that is similar to making beer. The four main ingredients used in making shoyu are soybeans, wheat, water, and salt. The first step in the production process is mixing soybeans and wheat together before adding mold spores known as koji to begin the fermentation process. This mixture is then left in a tank for at least six months to develop into moromi, which is also used in the sake brewing process.

The next step in the production process involves further fermentation and maturation of the moromi, which eventually becomes soy sauce. During this stage, the moromi is slowly pressed and filtered to extract the raw soy sauce, which is then pasteurized to preserve its intense flavor and quality.

For homemade shoyu, one can start by purchasing prepared koji for shoyu. The process involves mixing the prepared koji with salted water and fermenting the mixture for six to twelve months in a cool and dark place. The mixture needs to be mixed every day for the first week and once a week thereafter until it reaches the desired fermentation length.

Shoyu production involves many small details, but the basic five-step overview includes mixing soybeans and wheat, adding koji mold spores, fermenting the mixture into moromi, further fermenting and maturing the moromi into soy sauce, and pasteurizing it to preserve its flavor and quality. The end result is a complex, umami-rich taste with over 300 different flavor profiles detectable, such as fruits, vanilla, coffee, and whiskey.

The Role Of Soy Sauce In Japanese Cuisine

Soy sauce plays a crucial role in Japanese cuisine, adding depth and complexity to many dishes. It is considered an essential ingredient in any Japanese pantry and is used in a variety of ways, from dipping sauces to marinades and dressings.

One of the key characteristics of soy sauce is its ability to enhance the umami flavor in food. Umami is one of the five basic tastes, alongside sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, and is often described as a savory or meaty taste. Soy sauce’s rich flavor and aroma come from its fermentation process, which creates over 300 fragrant components that include floral and fruit aromas.

Soy sauce is used in a wide range of Japanese dishes, from sushi and sashimi to noodle dishes like ramen and udon. It is also a key ingredient in many sauces, such as teriyaki and yakitori. In addition to its flavor-enhancing properties, soy sauce also acts as a natural preservative, extending the shelf life of foods.

In Japanese cuisine, there are different types of soy sauce that are used for different purposes. Dark soy sauce is the most common type and has a higher salt content than light soy sauce. Tamari soy sauce is made only from soybeans and has a richer, milder flavor than other types. Twice-brewed soy sauce is made by fermenting the mash twice for a deeper flavor, while white soy sauce is made from wheat and has a lighter color and flavor.

How To Use Soy Sauce In Your Cooking

Soy sauce is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways to add depth and flavor to your cooking. Here are some tips on how to use soy sauce in your recipes:

1. As a seasoning: Soy sauce can be used in place of salt to add seasoning and flavor to stir-fries, marinades, and dipping sauces. It is especially useful in dishes that feature seafood or vegetables.

2. In braises and stews: Soy sauce can be added to braises and stews to enhance the umami flavor of the dish. It is best to add a few splashes of soy sauce to taste and adjust the flavor accordingly.

3. To add color: Soy sauce can also be used to add color and depth of flavor to stocks and sauces. It works particularly well in dishes that feature meat or poultry.

4. As a dipping sauce: Soy sauce is an excellent dipping sauce on its own, but it can also be combined with other ingredients like fresh ginger, rice wine, and scallions to create a show-stopping dipping sauce. Let the mixture sit for a while to meld the flavors, and store any leftover dipping sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for days.

5. In fried rice: Day-old rice can be used to make Bacon, Egg, and Shrimp Fried Rice by adding soy sauce as a seasoning.

By incorporating soy sauce into your cooking, you can elevate the flavors of your dishes and add a touch of Japanese cuisine to your meals. Experiment with different recipes and find the best ways to incorporate soy sauce into your cooking style.

Health Benefits And Risks Of Soy Sauce Consumption

Soy sauce is a popular condiment used in Asian cuisine, but concerns have been raised regarding its health effects. One of the main concerns is the high sodium content of soy sauce, which can increase blood pressure and contribute to cardiovascular disease. However, there are also potential health benefits to consuming soy sauce.

Studies have shown that soy sauce can aid in digestion by promoting the secretion of gastric juices and supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Japanese-style fermented soy sauce, in particular, has been found to be beneficial for digestion due to its fermentation process.

Another concern with soy sauce is the presence of cancer-causing compounds such as acrylamide and 3-MCPD. However, these compounds are only present in small amounts and are not considered a significant risk to human health.

Individuals with sensitivities to histamine or those looking to reduce their sodium intake may want to consider alternative condiments. However, for those who consume soy sauce in moderation, it can be a flavorful addition to a healthy diet. It is important to note that not all soy sauces are created equal, as different varieties have varying levels of salt and other ingredients. It is recommended to read labels carefully and choose high-quality, traditionally fermented soy sauces when possible.