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December 06, 2007

Choosing Soy Sauce

Soy 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_4 What do I use? I use Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu (shoyu is the Japanese word for soy sauce; nama shoyu means it's unpasteurized) made with 100% organic unpasteurized soy beans. 

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.


The idea that umami is a fifth flavor is a hoax perpetrated by the Ajinomoto Corporation. Don't get sucked in, LF!

Maybe you can help me out with something…? I want to order all of my food online from now on because of various reasons, but I don’t know where to go for quality food. I have tried 2 companies so far, Fresh Dining, and and Celebrity Foods, but I wanna get others I can try out. Do you know of any? The main thing I’ve ordered so far is steak. I guess you can say, I’m a steak junkie. LOL!!! From what I have found out (from what I have ordered so far) I think I am able to regulate the quality of beef I buy. I hate going to a store and getting that crappy slab of beef that I have to cut down until there is like nothing left. Hahaha!!!! (its so true though) Anyhow, sorry that I made this comment so long. If you can help me out or point me in a direction where I might find more quality foods online, I would greatly appreciate it. Have a good day or night! (depending on when you read this) LOL!!!!

It's funny because organic soy sauce can be really overpriced. Consider the history of L' Chepeau Organic Soy Sauce which sells for $500 a bottle in Dubai. What's funny is that all natural soy sauce should be organic or at least not contain MSG. I guess using organic wheat and soy beans is worth something, but with the salt being as strong as it is, high-priced expensive premium soy sauce is silly because it will never have a quality distinction like wine.

I'v been using Nama Shoyu for years. Could anyone direct me to the cheapest source (preferably on the east coast)for buying case quantities of Ohsawa 4 year Nama Shoyu?
Let me know at by email at cybscribe@comcast.net,
Thanks kindly.

Here's a fun appetizer recipe.
Halve and seed a just-ripe avocado. Perforate it like crazy with a fork to make it holey, drizzle a fine quality aged balsamic just around the top only, and let it seep in. Half fill the seed hole with Nama Shoyu. Use a small spoon to scoop and dip as you eat...enjoy a holy moment!

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