Choosing Soy Sauce
On Tuesday, I posted a recipe for the Slanted Door's Grapefruit and Jicama salad. Today I have updated the post with Local Forage-y recs for soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. It reminded me that soy is a very sticky topic (think: agribusiness and the world's hugest money crop) which I haven't delved into here yet because it would take a lot of time to compile the research and to create a coherent post. If you are interested, I suggest you read the book, The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla Daniel, Ph.D.
Suffice it to say that I completely avoid products like soy milk and tofu (and not because I'm allergic). I eat very small amounts (no more than a couple of times per week) of the fermented products -- miso, natto, tempeh, shoyu and tamari -- made with organic (non-GMO) soybeans.
Every so often I have to use a little soy sauce because nothing else can substitute that particular flavor, as in the Grapefruit and Jicama Salad recipe. Many of you out there, I'm sure, have it in your fridge. If you do, I would like to suggest that you carefully choose your soy sauce as you would an olive oil or a fine wine. Look for the words traditionally brewed, natural and organic. Real shoyu is made by artisan's skilled in the ancient method of koji (a mold more technically called Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus soyae)fermentation, a complex process using koji inoculated whole soybeans, wheat, careful tending and aging in cedar casks through two cycles of the seasons. Tamari is similarly crafted but without wheat.
By contrast, commercial soy sauces (even some labeled as shoyu or tamari) are usually made from soybeans that have been defatted with hexane, a petroleum derivative. Common shortcuts are artificial fermentation methods including genetically engineered enzymes. In fact most soy sauce is actually caramel colored water with lots of salt, hydrochloric acid treated soy isolate, and sugar added.
It is said that tamari soy sauce implants its flavor in food, while shoyu soy sauce harmonizes, enhances flavors and bouquet. They are very different in nature. Tamari is most commonly used in food processing, while shoyu is most commonly used in the kitchen and at the table. Shoyu is best for everyday cooking such as stir frying or seasoning vegetables, as it harmonizes and enhances without overpowering.
Tamari, with its stronger flavor, is traditionally used to season longer cooking food such as soups, stews, and baked dishes. Both tamari and shoyu are good in marinades and salad dressing, to flavor grilled food, and on the table as condiment or dipping sauce.
Ohsawa Nama Shoyu
Ohsawa Nama Shoyu is made in the Japanese mountain village of Kamiizumi-mura, using the spring water from the mountain. The soy sauce is hand-stirred and fermented in sixty 150-year-old cedar kegs, in a wooden post-and-beam factory surrounded by organic gardens. The flavor of Ohsawa Nama Shoyu develops over an unusually long period of time because it is double-fermented. After fermenting the sauce in the cedar vats for at least two summers, the makers add more soybeans and wheat and age it another two summers. Instead of a heavy salt flavor, there is a more complex bouquet of aroma and flavor. Like wine, the aging makes it mellower.
Ohsawa is not cheap at $6.50 for 10 ounces. But spending a few extra bucks for a traditional, slow-brewed soy sauce is worth the investment, especially for use as a dipping sauce or as part of a salad dressing. Because Ohsawa Nama Shoyu is unpasteurized, it's enzyme- and lactobacillus-rich.
And incidentally, Ohsawa Nama Shoyu won a Cooks Illustrated Tasting Lab test. They sampled 12 nationally available brands, including both tamari and shoyu sauce, from Japan, China, and the United States. They tasted them three times: first plain, then with warm rice, and finally cooked in a teriyaki sauce with ginger, garlic, and mirin and brushed over broiled chicken thighs. Ohsawa Nama Shoyu won in the plain tasting. (A cheap mass-produced brand, Lee Kum Kee, won in the heated applications.)
Tip: The flavorful esters in soy sauce are volatile, and cook off when heated. It's sort of like using vanilla. When using soy sauce in cooked dishes, add it at the end.
Hey, got a line on any other artisanal soy sauces? Click on "comments" below and give it up to your fellow Foragers.