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Soy Sauce: A Tale of Two Condiments
A dab of soy sauce can enrich almost any dish with a salty, distinctly Asian flavor. Soak up Groupon’s study of this liquid seasoning to discover what gives your meal its zest.
Although it’s often applied in a quick dash, the dark liquid that adds salt to sushi or a stir-fry may have been fermented for months according to centuries-old methods. Then again, it’s possible the entire process took only three days. Because the United States doesn’t require soy-sauce manufacturers to disclose how they make their product, it’s hard to pin down what process produced any given brand.
Soy sauce is made one of two ways. Traditionally, Japanese producers have brewed their soy sauce, known as shoyu, from a blend of soybeans and wheat called koji. The active ingredient in koji is a seed mold that, when mixed with saltwater, brine, lactic-acid bacteria, and yeast, helps ferment the soybean-wheat mash into a semiliquid that can be filtered and refined into soy sauce. The months-long process produces a translucent, reddish-brown liquid that imparts a mild, salty-sweet flavor to Asian cuisine.
Because of the high demand for soy sauce around the world, some manufacturers have figured out how to create nonbrewed soy sauce in a manner of days. Instead of koji, they begin with a hydrolyzed vegetable-protein mixture, made from soybeans or other proteins boiled for almost a day in hydrochloric acid. After neutralizing and filtering the mixture, they add salt and caramel color, and sometimes sweeten it with corn syrup. In contrast with mellow, semitransparent shoyu, the nonbrewed soy sauce often has an even saltier flavor and an opaque appearance, which is why it’s rarely used to fill aquariums. In the supermarket, authentic shoyu can be discerned by checking that the ingredient list is free of nonbrewed giveaways such as hydrolyzed soy protein and corn syrup.