Soy sauce or soya sauce is an East Asian liquid condiment of Chinese origin.
It is one of the world’s oldest condiments and has been used in China for more than 2,500 years.
Soy sauce traditionally made from a fermented paste of soybeans, roasted grain, brine, and Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus sojae molds.
Soy sauce comes in many varieties ranging from light to dark, and thick to light.
It is considered to contain a strong umami flavor.
Soy sauce can be added directly to food, and is used as a dip or salt flavor in cooking.
It is often eaten with rice, noodles, and sushi or sashimi, or can also be mixed with ground wasabi for dipping.
Bottles of soy sauce for salty seasoning of various foods are common on restaurant tables in many countries.
It’s said that the roots of soy sauce can be traced back to a sauce called “jan” in ancient China.
That began from pickling raw materials in salt to preserve them, and there were varieties based on fruit, vegetables, and seaweed etc., on meat and fish, on meat only, and on grains.
The grain type, using rice, wheat, and soybeans, is thought to be the archetype of soy sauce.
It is not clear when it came to Japan, under the name “hishio”, but 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.
An evolution of the condiment that took it closer to the sauce we know today took place when a 7th century Japanese Zen priest studying in China took the paste and developed the recipe. He created a subtler and more appealing condiment by changing it to include wheat and soy in equal proportions.
By the 17th century this recipe had evolved into something very similar to the soy sauce we know today. This evolution occurred primarily as a result of efforts by the wife of a warrior of one of Japan’s premier warlords, Toyotomi Hideyori. In 1615 Hideyori’s castle was overrun by rival troops. One of the warrior’s wives, Maki Shige, survived the siege by fleeing the castle to the village of Noda. There she learned the soy brewing process and eventually opened the world’s first commercial soy sauce brewery. News of the tasty sauce soon spread throughout the world, and it has since been used as a flavoring agent to give foods a rich, meaty flavor.
Soy sauce exportation began in 1647 by the Dutch East India Company.
By the 18th century it was established as the most important condiment in Chinese cooking.
In the 18th century, diplomat and scholar Isaac Titsingh published accounts of brewing soy sauce. Although earlier descriptions of soy sauce had been disseminated in the West, his was among the earliest to focus specifically on the brewing of the Japanese version.
By the mid-19th century, Japanese soy sauce gradually disappeared from the European market, and the condiment became synonymous with the Chinese product.
The first soy sauce production in the United States began in the Territory of Hawaii in 1908 by the Hawaiian Yamajo Soy Company. La Choy started selling hydrolyzed vegetable protein based soy sauce in 1933.
Today soy sauce is made by two methods: the traditional brewing method or fermentation and the non-brewed method or chemical-hydrolyzation.
The traditional brewing method can take years – soya beans are cleaned and soaked, then steamed, mixed with a yeast culture and wheat flour before being fermented for up to two years and then filtered and bottled.
Advancements in food production have led to a faster, less expensive method of producing soy sauce, which uses acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein. This method only requires a few days and produces a more consistent product with a longer shelf life. Traditionalists reject this method, as it does not create the depth of flavor found with the traditional brewing method.
Soy sauce is a lot like wine. The longer it ages, the more interesting and complex its flavor.
A study by the National University of Singapore showed that Chinese dark soy sauce contains 10 times the antioxidants of red wine, and can help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Unpasteurized soy sauce is rich in lactic acid bacteria and of excellent anti-allergic potential.
Soybean is native to East Asia, but is now widely cultivated and consumed across the globe. There is evidence for soybean domestication between 7000 and 6600 BC in China, between 5000 and 3000 BC in Japan and 1000 BC in Korea.