The world's love affair with soy sauce may have begun with Dutch traders who were stationed in Nagasaki during the seventeenth century. Those early middlemen sent barrels of this liquid treasure back to Europe, some of which ended up in the royal kitchens of Louis XV of France (1645 -1715). It was rumoured around the court that the king's secret ingredient came from the other side of the globe, where it had been fermented for almost two years in three-meter-tall wooden casks. Since that time, soy sauce, with its rich, fermented fragrance and salty, slightly sweet flavour, has secured an international reputation as a versatile and delicious seasoning.
Although Westerners now indiscriminately sprinkle soy sauce on everything
from beef to popcorn, experienced cooks use it with discretion to enhance
the subtle, natural flavors of foods. But beware: the dark, thick seasoning
enjoyed by yesterday's European aristocrats is very different from most of
the soy sauce sold in supermarkets today. Almost half of the 60 million dollars
Americans spend annually on soy sauce is for a product containing soy extract,
ethyl alcohol, sugar, salt, food colouring, and preservatives. Not fermented, this
product is the result of a one-day chemical process. Nearly all of the remaining
soy sauce sold in the United States is made from chemically processed soy meal
and contains sodium benzoate as a preservative. High-tech, accelerated
methods and temperature-controlled fermentation are used in the manufacturing
of this product.
If you want to experience the true flavour of traditional soy sauce, usually called "shoyu", read labels carefully. Traditional shoyu is made with water, cultured whole soybeans, whole wheat, and sea salt, and is unhurriedly aged in wooden casks at natural temperatures for eighteen months to two years. (Tamari is another type of traditional soy sauce related to shoyu, but it is wheat free and has slightly different cooking qualities than shoyu.) Shoyu contains no artificial preservatives; traditional producers rely on naturally occurring alcohol from wheat fermentation, which acts as a preservative.
Soy sauce (also called soya sauce) is a condiment produced by fermenting soybeans with Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus sojae molds, along with water and salt. After the fermentation, which yields moromi, the moromi is pressed, and two substances are obtained: a liquid, which is the soy sauce, and a cake of (wheat and) soy residue, the latter being usually reused as animal feed. Most commonly, a grain (wheat) is used together with the soybeans in the fermentation process, but not always. Also, some varieties use roasted grain. Soy sauce is a traditional ingredient in East and Southeast Asian cuisines, where it is used in cooking and as a condiment. In more recent times, it is also being used in Western cuisine and prepared foods.
All varieties of soy sauce are salty, earthy, brownish liquids intended to season food while cooking or at the table. Soy sauce has a distinct basic taste called umami , literally "delicious taste") in Japanese.