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Paul Winalski

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Soy sauce primer

by Paul Winalski » Tue Jul 07, 2020 4:08 pm

To avoid having to repeat this information in each recipe, I thought I'd do a post on soy sauce basics that I can refer to elsewhere. I'm familiar with Chinese soy sauce and to a lesser extent some of the Thai variants. I invite others to post info here on soy sauce variants from Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere.

Soy sauce is made from soy beans ground up and fermented with flour, water, and salt. Sometimes other ingredients (mushrooms, sugar) are added. Oxidation and fermentation give it a brownish color and distinctive aroma and flavor. This is authentic or naturally-brewed soy sauce. There is also artificial soy sauce that is made from soy bean extract. It has none of the fine aroma and flavor of naturally-brewed soy sauce and should be avoided. Up until the 1970s only the artificial kind was widely available in US supermarkets, mainly under the brand names Chun King and La Choy. Then Kikkoman, a naturally-brewed soy sauce from Japan, came on the scene. Kikkoman is now available almost everywhere in the US. The soy sauce in sachets commonly packed with take-out from US Chinese restaurants is, alas, usually the artificial stuff.

Chinese soy sauce

There are four major types of Chinese soy sauce:

Light soy sauce. This is sometimes called "thin soy sauce". It is "light" in color, versus dark soy sauce, and thinner in texture. Do not confuse it with "lite"--meaning reduced sodium--soy sauce, which is light soy sauce made with less salt. Light soy sauce is generally used in stir-fries, especially with chicken, shrimp, and lighter colored vegetables where you don't want the other ingredients stained brown. It's very popular in East Coast provinces and cities such as Guangdong (Canton) and Shanghai. Kikkoman from Japan is the easiest to find light soy sauce in the US. I personally prefer Pearl River Bridge brand from China.

Dark soy sauce. This has a bit of sugar or molasses added, which gives it a darker color, thicker texture, and more forceful flavor than light soy sauce. It is the preferred soy sauce for red-cooked dishes. It's also used, sometimes in combination with light soy sauce, in stir-fries of darker colored meats such as beef and lamb. It's used a lot in Sichuan.

Mushroom soy sauce. This is light soy sauce with added mushrooms or mushroom extract. It's used to impart a mushroom character to the dish. It's used far less commonly than light or dark soy sauce. I've only seen it called for in a few steamed dishes. I've added some to stir-fries or to red-cooked dishes when I want a touch of mushroom flavor.

Black soy sauce or thick soy sauce. This is molasses with added soy sauce and salt and has the consistency of molasses or treacle and a strong molasses aroma. It comes in jars rather than bottles. Its main use is to give a brown color to Cantonese fried rice. I've sometimes added it to red-cooked dishes where I want a more forceful flavor and color. Koon Chun is the most common brand I've seen. Gravy Master or Kitchen Bouquet can be used as substitutes.

Thai soy sauce

Light, dark, and mushroom soy sauce are also used in Thai cooking, especially light soy sauce. There are also a couple of varieties, less commonly called for, that are not found in China:

Black soy sauce. Thai black soy sauce is also molasses with added soy sauce, but it's a lot thinner than its Chinese counterpart and comes in bottles rather than jars. It can be used in stir-fried rice dishes and also as a dip for dumplings.

Sweet soy sauce. This is a syrup of brown and refined sugar with light soy sauce added. It's used mainly as a table condiment with roasted meats or with dumplings.

-Paul W.
Last edited by Paul Winalski on Fri Jul 10, 2020 2:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Larry Greenly

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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Larry Greenly » Tue Jul 07, 2020 5:18 pm

Off the top of my head I can think of Indonesian soy sauce, ketjap manis, a thick and dark molasses-like sauce with palm sugar and soy sauce as its base and with the addition of aromatic spices for flavor.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Paul Winalski » Tue Jul 07, 2020 5:38 pm

Ketjap manis sounds a lot like the Sichuan preparation "concocted soy sauce". It's dark soy sauce boiled up with sugar and aromatic spices and then strained. It's used in several of the aromatic sauces for Sichuanese cold meat and noodle dishes.

-Paul W.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Larry Greenly » Tue Jul 07, 2020 5:52 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Ketjap manis sounds a lot like the Sichuan preparation "concocted soy sauce". It's dark soy sauce boiled up with sugar and aromatic spices and then strained. It's used in several of the aromatic sauces for Sichuanese cold meat and noodle dishes.

-Paul W.


It does.

How about adding Ponzu sauce to your list?
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jenise » Wed Jul 08, 2020 3:26 pm

And Tamari. Tamari substitutes rice for wheat, if I understand correctly, which makes it gluten-free. (I don't need it, but I know some do.)
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Paul Winalski » Wed Jul 08, 2020 5:08 pm

Apparently tamari is not necessarily 100% wheat (and therefore gluten) free. You have to read the ingredients list.

-Paul W.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Larry Greenly » Wed Jul 08, 2020 5:11 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Apparently tamari is not necessarily 100% wheat (and therefore gluten) free. You have to read the ingredients list.

-Paul W.


You're right. From Kitchn:

Gluten and Tamari and Soy Sauce

Tamari is a wider class of soy sauces, and is made with no (or very little) wheat, while traditional soy sauce does contain wheat.

Tamari: Little to no wheat (always double-check if avoiding gluten)
Soy Sauce: Includes wheat (not gluten-free)

Other Differences
Soy sauce and its many forms are found widely throughout Asia, but tamari is specifically a Japanese form of soy sauce, traditionally made as a byproduct of miso paste.

The differences in production give each sauce its own unique flavor. Tamari has a darker color and richer flavor than the common Chinese soy sauce you may be more familiar with. It also tastes more balanced and less salty than the sometimes harsh bite of soy sauce, which makes it great for dipping.
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Jeff Grossman

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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jeff Grossman » Thu Jul 09, 2020 2:11 am

While we're expanding to other dark pungent Asian sauces, what makes black vinegar black?
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Larry Greenly » Thu Jul 09, 2020 10:35 am

Jeff Grossman wrote:While we're expanding to other dark pungent Asian sauces, what makes black vinegar black?


Well, I know some is made from brown or black rice, but it may have something to do with being aged for a long time in wooden barrels. :?:
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jeff Grossman » Thu Jul 09, 2020 10:55 am

So far, the best description I found is: https://supremevinegar.com/2016/11/10/c ... e-vinegar/

It appears the blackness comes from aging.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Dale Williams » Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:30 am

Besides the thickness/sweetness, to me (a non-Indonesian!) the defining characteristic of kecap manis is the star anise flavoring. But that could just be the 2 brands I buy.
We usually have light and dark Chinese, Kikkoman light (our all purpose- buy the big jug and refill small container), and kecap manis. Lately I've been watching salt so I also have a lower sodium tamari (less sodium than lower sodium shoyu) that is wheat-free and useful when the GF folks visit.
Recently I was supposed to get black vinegar, they didn't have the brand I was used to, had choice between ones labeled "Sweet black vinegar" and "diluted black vinegar." Chose latter, seemed fine to me.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Larry Greenly » Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:32 am

Dale Williams wrote:Recently I was supposed to get black vinegar, they didn't have the brand I was used to, had choice between ones labeled "Sweet black vinegar" and "diluted black vinegar." Chose latter, seemed fine to me.


Better choice. They're two different animals.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jenise » Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:47 am

We always have light and dark soy. For the dark, Pearl River brand and for the light, Lee Kum Kee Premium Soy. Occasionally I buy a cheaper soy for marinating purposes, and I also currently have a delicious whiskey barrel aged soy from Japan. Was $25 for a pint (if that) sized bottle, so I restrict it's use to condiment purposes (like sashimi).
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Paul Winalski » Thu Jul 09, 2020 1:52 pm

IMO the best Chinese black vinegar is Zhenjiang (Chinkiang in the older latinisation). There is a local black vinegar (baoning) produced in Sichuan province but it's not available in the US. Zhenjiang black vinegar is a good substitute.

-Paul W.
Last edited by Paul Winalski on Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Larry Greenly » Thu Jul 09, 2020 2:47 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:IMO the best Chinese black vinegar is Zhenjiang (Chinkiang in the older latinisation).

-Paul W.


I agree.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Paul Winalski » Sat Aug 15, 2020 1:54 pm

It turns out that the Mala Market is carrying SIchuanese baoning black vinegar now. I ordered some. Can't wait to compare it to Zhenjiang vinegar.

-Paul W.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jenise » Sat Aug 15, 2020 2:08 pm

I only know the black vinegar in the yellow label bottle.

Once started going to a Chinese massage doctor with a Chinese friend. The change in my circulation was amazing. He did not speak very good English, and we sometimes had a hard time understanding each other but we managed to form an easy camaraderie nonetheless. One day, he invited me to stay for lunch, or as he put it, "runch", and he prepared a few things. I can't recall exactly what he served the vinegar with, but I had never had it before and it was pretty instant love for me.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Paul Winalski » Sat Aug 15, 2020 2:20 pm

I bought a jar of imported Chinese bean sauce once that listed "monosodium grutamate" as one of the ingredients.

-Paul W.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jeff Grossman » Sat Aug 15, 2020 4:34 pm

OK, as long as we're already being culturally insensitive in this thread: I have a CD by Japanese singer, Miharu Koshi, that is all covers of famous Western works. I can keep my composure when she belts out Verdi's drinking song "Blindisi" from La Traviata, and even through her rendition of "Beyond the Brue Holizon", but I am reduced to a giggling mess when she gets to the fourth verse of "How Much Is that Doggie in the Window?": "With frashrights that shine in the dark..."
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jenise » Sat Aug 15, 2020 5:22 pm

Oh how horrible that she chose that song at all!

Speaking of western favorites, when we river-cruised up the Yangtze in '06, a group of musicians (repurposed waitstaff of course) played an after-dinner soiree on traditional Chinese instruments. We were collectively shocked-fascinated when they suddenly departed from Chinese tunes to that old American song Red River Valley. A few days later, we were taken to a dinner theater in Tsian (terra cotta warriors and all that). More Chinese instruments, supposedly all in the neighborhood of 3000 years old. It was 110 F outside. After several instrumentals, out came a beautiful woman dressed neck to toe in a heavy red velvet dress with huge skirt and white fur cuffs and collar reminiscent of something you might have seen in the movie 'White Christmas'. When she started into the stirring first moments of Red River Valley, Bob and I lost it. Totally and completely lost it. Then we begged everyone's pardon and left before the main course, spending the rest of the evening walking the streets at night and alone, something the Chinese officials had tried to prevent us from doing. A million times better!

Apparently the entire Chinese public believes this is a song Americans can't get enough of.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Larry Greenly » Sat Aug 15, 2020 7:40 pm

Then you haven't heard Wing Han Tsang, who was once featured on South Park. She's so bad, she's got quite a following and at least one album out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cn_efaqrWEE :lol:
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jeff Grossman » Sun Aug 16, 2020 2:38 am

Tread lightly, Greenly-san, or I will share my Australian yodeling records with you.

I have Florence Foster Jenkins, too.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jenise » Sun Aug 16, 2020 6:35 am

I never heard of Wing before. Dear God.
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Re: Soy sauce primer

by Jenise » Sun Aug 16, 2020 6:55 am

You guys have ruined me. Wing led to Mrs. Miller.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0hCBiHm9js
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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