Surely, you’ve used soy sauce to dip sushi into, but do you know that there are various types of soy sauce for nearly every Asian country? These soy sauces vary in texture, flavor, and ingredients. Each soy sauce variety perfectly complements the cuisine it’s paired with.
Below, we dive into the question "what is soy sauce" and discuss the different varieties available.
What Is Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is an Asian condiment that is thought to have originated in China. It adds a delicious salty, umami flavor to dishes. Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans. Some soy sauce varieties include wheat, which helps add sweetness. The soy sauce ingredients change based on the type you're using and the origin.
Are There Different Types Of Soy Sauce?
Absolutely! There are quite a few different types of soy sauce, from Chinese to Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and more. Other countries where you'll find soy sauce varieties include the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Hong Kong. The flavors of each variety differ slightly from each other – some are sweeter, some more savory, and some are saltier.
What Type Of Soy Sauce Is Best?
There is no correct answer to this question! The best type of soy sauce varies depending on your personal preference and which type of cuisine you're eating. For example, Japanese soy sauce is slightly sweeter, so it works well in teriyaki dishes, soups, noodle recipes, and more.
Japanese Soy Sauce
Here are the available Japanese soy sauces and how to differentiate between them.
Tamari is naturally gluten-free. It's made from fermented soybeans and has a thicker consistency than traditional Japanese soy sauce. One of the top soy sauce brands to try is Igeta Gluten-Free Tamari Soy Sauce. Tamari is great to dip sushi and sashimi into and adds a delicious subtle umami taste to dishes.
Dark Soy Sauce
Japanese dark soy sauce, aka koikuchi, is the most common variety of Japanese soy sauce. You've had dark soy sauce if you've ever tried Kikkoman soy sauce or Kikkoman Organic Soy Sauce. Many consider this variety the best soy sauce as it offers a rich umami flavor. It’s perfect for everything from noodles to fried rice.
Light Soy Sauce
Light Japanese soy sauce, also known as usukuchi soy sauce, is lighter in color and saltier than regular and dark soy sauce. It also has a delicate fruity aroma that perfectly complements its umami flavor. Light soy sauce is typically used for steamed vegetables and light broths, as it won't alter the color much.
White Soy Sauce
White soy sauce has an even more subtle flavor and a lighter color than light soy sauce. It's less common in households and more common in restaurants. White soy sauce uses more wheat than soy, which helps produce its distinct color and flavor. White soy sauce works with any recipe that calls for standard Japanese soy sauce, though expect a milder taste.
Twice brewed, also known as double fermented, soy sauce uses equal wheat to soybean ratio. However, it is fermented twice (as the name suggests) to provide a bolder, more umami-rich, and thicker sauce. This variety of soy sauce is not usually used in cooked dishes. Instead, it's generally offered as dipping sauces. You can use Kikkoman Double Fermented Soy Sauce when you want a less salty taste.
Chinese Soy Sauce
Below are the two Chinese soy sauce options you can try at home.
Dark Chinese Soy Sauce
Dark Chinese soy sauce is different than dark Japanese soy sauce. It has a sweeter flavor due to the addition of sugar or molasses. This soy sauce is usually only used for cooked recipes, not dips. For example, you can use dark soy sauce for red braised pork belly. It adds a more decadent texture to dishes as it's slightly viscous.
Light Chinese Soy Sauce
Light soy sauce is more expensive in China yet is the most common variety you’ll see noted in recipes. If you’re reading a Chinese recipe and it only notes soy sauce, assume it’s talking about light soy sauce. It’s slightly saltier than dark soy sauce and not as sweet. Try using an option like Pearl River Bridge Gold Label Sheng Chou Light Soy Sauce for seafood dishes or as a dumpling dipping sauce.
Korean Soy Sauces (Ganjang)
In Korea, there are three varieties of soy sauce, aka ganjang. Below, we explore each type.
Ganjang is the main variety of soy sauce and offers a slightly sweet flavor. It's made from soybean paste, water, and salt. This soy sauce provides a strong umami flavor to stir-fries, marinades, and braised dishes. There are multiple types, including an option known as soup soy sauce.
Yangjo ganjang is a naturally brewed variety of Korean soy sauce. This option is typically higher quality and pricier. It offers a richer soy sauce flavor. Since it's higher in cost, many people use this soy sauce as a dipping sauce and avoid using it in larger quantities.
Jin ganjang is a Korean soy sauce that blends naturally brewed soy sauce with chemically made soy sauce. It's cheaper and offers a similar flavor to yangjo ganjang, though a trained palate can taste a slightly artificial flavor. Since it’s cheaper, many people use this variety of soy sauce for dishes that require larger soy sauce quantities, like braised meat and marinades.
What Are The Differences Between Soy Sauces Varieties?
If you're wondering about the difference between various soy sauces, this section will help you distinguish each option.
Tamari Vs. Soy Sauce
As mentioned, tamari is similar to a thick soy sauce. It's less salty than standard Japanese soy sauce, and it has a milder flavor.
Light Vs. Dark Soy Sauce
There are a few major differences between these two soy sauces. Light soy sauce is saltier, more watery, and has a brighter flavor. Dark soy sauce is thicker, sweeter, and richer in flavor.
Soy Sauce Vs. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is much thicker than soy sauce. It's also sweeter and contains additional seasoning like chilis, sesame oil, and garlic.
Korean Soy Sauce Vs. Japanese Soy Sauce
Korean soy sauce is similar to Japanese soy sauce, though it does not have any wheat. Korean soy sauce is much saltier than Japanese soy sauce. It's also thinner and has a more watery consistency.
Chinese Vs. Japanese Soy Sauce
If you're wondering what's the difference between Chinese soy sauce vs. Japanese soy sauce, the flavors, and ingredients are different. Chinese soy sauce is usually made from 100% soy, making it saltier and stronger-tasting. Japanese soy sauce uses a mixture of soy and wheat for a sweeter, subtler flavor.
More on Soy Sauce
Many more varieties are available than mentioned above, including sweet soy sauce, chemical soy sauce, low sodium options, and gluten-free varieties. Below are some additional details on soy sauce, including a few substitutes.
How To Store Soy Sauce
There are a few different ways to store soy sauce. If you're using soy sauce frequently, you can keep it in a cool, dry area like a cabinet. Storing soy sauce this way will allow it to stay good for about a month. If you store soy sauce in the fridge, it extends its life to a few months.
There are quite a few different brands, as mentioned. Some of the most popular brands include Kikkoman (Japanese), Pearl River Bridge (Chinese), and Datu Puti (Filipino).
Where To Buy?
Bokksu Grocery, an online Asian grocery store, features soy sauce varieties from Asian countries like China, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and more. You can find all your Asian condiment needs here.
Shaoxing Wine Substitutes (Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic)
Like soy sauce, Shaoxing wine (a cooking wine) is a common ingredient in many Chinese recipes like stir-fries, soups, and chow mein recipes. Here are a few alcoholic and non-alcoholic options to use as substitutes for a similar flavor.
- Mirin (Japanese rice wine)
- Dry sherry
- Cooking sake
- White grape juice + rice vinegar (non-alcoholic)
How To Use Substitutes (Ratios)
Here are some ratios you can use for the above Shaoxing wine substitutes.
- Mirin: Use a 1:1 ratio but reduce other sources of sugar in the recipe.
- Dry Sherry: Use a 2:1 ratio when replacing Shaoxing wine with dry sherry, where dry sherry is ½ the amount required by the recipe.
- Sake: Use a 1:1 ratio as a replacement.
- White Grape Juice + Rice Vinegar: Use ½ cup white grape juice + 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar for every cup of Shaoxing wine.