Ingredient of the Week: Soy Sauce

Last week, we brought you fish sauce, the essential ingredient of southeast Asian cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese. This week, we feature a sauce of Chinese origin whose use has spread all over Asia and even the world. Read on, and see how you can add soy sauce to your cooking repertoire.

What is it?

Soy sauce is used as a condiment or cooking ingredient and was first made in China over two thousand years ago. The basic recipe involves fermenting soybeans with particular molds, salt, water, and sometimes grains, then pressing. The resulting liquid is soy sauce.

There are a variety of soy sauces. Light (as in color, not in sodium) soy sauce comes from the initial pressing of the fermented soybeans; it's considered of higher quality and thus sold at a premium. It is lighter in color and thinner in consistency than its counterpart, dark soy sauce. In addition to cooking, the saltier-tasting light soy sauce is also used for seasoning.

Dark soy sauce, on the other hand, comes from later pressings and often contains caramel. In addition to aging longer, it is darker and thicker. Dark soy sauce is usually reserved for cooking. It has a slightly sweeter, less salty flavor than light soy sauce. It is often used to add color to a dish. (Think of that brownish tint so ubiquitous of a many Chinese restaurants' fried rice.)

Japanese soy sauce (called shoyu) uses an even ratio of soybeans to wheat, resulting in a milder, sweeter flavor than the Chinese version.

How do I use it?

Depending on whether it's light or dark, soy sauce can either be added during the cooking process or used as a seasoning condiment at the end right before serving. Mixed with additional ingredients, it becomes a delicious dipping sauce for all sorts of goodies: dumplings, savory pancakes, sushi, and so on. Keep in mind that in Chinese cooking, if a recipe calls simply for "soy sauce," it usually means light soy sauce.

Like fish sauce, soy sauce is already fermented, so it keeps indefinitely and does not need to be refrigerated. It does, however, need to be stored in a cool, dark place. I keep mine next to the fish sauce in a cabinet under the stove for quick access when cooking.

Where can I find it?

In the sauce and condiment aisle of any Asian grocery store or the international aisle of American stores.

Kikkoman and Kim Lan are the most popular soy sauce brands. Just be sure to review the recipe to see if it calls for light or dark soy sauce.


Again we bring you two recipes: one to showcase light soy sauce, and another utilizing both light and dark soy sauces.

Korean Short Ribs Using light soy sauce, this family recipe from Howard Yoon, the creative director of Gail Ross Literary Agency in Washington D.C., follows his brief, humorous introduction of the dish on NPR.

Soy Sauce Chicken This recipe from Rasa Malaysia is a popular Cantonese dish and uses a mixture of half light and half dark soy sauce.

What do you do with your soy sauce? Know of a superior soy sauce brand we should try? Let us know in the comments.

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