If you’ve been enjoying soy sauce for a while now, at one point, you must have stopped to wonder what exactly is behind the sweet/savory/umami/bitter flavor profile?
Does it really live up to its name and contain soybeans as the main ingredient? Or is it made up of entirely different ingredients?
Keep reading and you’ll find out everything you need to know about soy sauce, its ingredients and the techniques used for its production.
Spoiler alert: there’s more to it than meets the eye!
Are Soybeans Used To Make Soy Sauce?
Regardless of the production method used, whether traditional brewing (which results in a rich and complex flavor profile) or modern hydrolysis (which produces soy sauce much more quickly through chemical processes that break down proteins into amino acids but lacks the depth and complexity found in its naturally brewed counterpart), soybeans are at the heart of every bottle — so long as it says “soy sauce”.
Producers may vary in their choice of beans, with some opting for GMO varieties while others relyng on natural, non-GMO sources, depending on what is available to them or what they’re trying to achieve with the sauce.
Some manufacturers may even choose to begin with defatted soybean meal or grits instead of whole beans, but at the end of the day, the essence of soy beans still makes it through to the final bottle you get from the stores.
How Is Soy Sauce Made?
If you dont know the fascinating process behind how soy sauce is made, we’re committed to ensure that stops today: right here, right now!
So, what exactly goes into making soy sauce?
The answer lies in a centuries-old recipe that combines water, wheat, sea salt, soybeans and yeast or Aspergillus spores for fermentation.
The journey begins with soybeans, which are washed and rinsed several times before being boiled for hours on end.
Concurrently, wheat is pan-roasted and then cracked into pieces using a mill to ensures that the yeast or culture can easily penetrate and work its magic during fermentation.
Once the beans are cooked, they’re combined with the wheat and introduced to yeast or a culture of Aspergillus spores.
This mixture goes by different names worldwide; in Japan, it’s called koji.
Meanwhile, a brine solution is prepared by mixing salt and water (and flavorings if desired).
The koji mixture is then added to the brine solution before being blended together.
The concoction is covered and left to ferment for up to 12 months. During this time, it’s crucial to blend the mixture daily for the first six weeks and then once per week thereafter to help aerate gases that build up which helps to keep the culture alive and active.
An alternative method involves combining coarse salt with the soybean mixture for dry fermentation.
After this lengthy fermentation period comes pressing – extracting liquid from the mash which results in what we know as soy sauce!
The liquid derived (or soy sauce) is then filtered and heated to pasteurize it (killing any bacteria or growth) before being bottled up neatly with labels ready for distribution.
Here’s a video below showing how soy sauce is made.
The method above describes the production process of traditionally made soy sauce. There are chemical processes that rely on hydrolysis to break down the amino acids in proteins like soy beans in order to develop complex flavors.
How To Make Soy Sauce Without Soy Beans
You cannot make authentic soy sauce without soybeans, as they are the core component that gives this condiment its distinct flavor and identity.
However, it is worth noting that there are alternative sauces available in the market and even homemade recipes that mimic the taste and appearance of fermented soy sauce, although not identical.
One such example is industrially-produced acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) sauces.
These products can contain various types of proteins such as wheat gluten, maize meal and soy protein.
When the latter is used, a product resembling traditional brewed soy sauce is derived (e.g liquid aminos) but with notable differences in flavor, aroma and texture. So technically, it can be called soy sauce or a type of it.
The production process for HVP sauces involves cooking the proteins with diluted hydrochloric acid which breaks down their amino acid chains and alters their characteristics to produce a new taste profile.
Following hydrolysis, the remaining acid is neutralized by combining it with an alkali substance like sodium hydroxide. This reaction creates salt (comprising about 20% of the mixture) and water.
Finally, manufacturers may choose to fortify their HVP sauces with additional compounds for enhanced flavoring.
Typical examples of HVP sauces that aren’t made with soy beans include Maggi (made from hydrolyzed wheat protein) and bonji sauce (which contains nuts, seeds and legumes).
In the comfort of your own kitchen, crafting a soy sauce alternative without soybeans is entirely possible too.
Numerous recipes recommend mixing, boiling (and immedieatly thereafter, simmering) bouillon and balsamic vinegar (for savoriness) with water, molasses, white pepper and garlic in a saucepan set over medium heat until it reduces to form a concentrated mixture reminiscent of soy sauce.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is There Vinegar in Soy Sauce?
While it may seem like vinegar is a component of soy sauce due to its tangy and acidic taste, soy sauce does not actually contain vinegar.
The tanginess of soy sauce comes from the fermentation process of soybeans, which renders a flavor similar to that of vinegar.
Is There Garlic in Soy Sauce?
Garlic is not a standard ingredient found in traditional soy sauce recipes, even though in can be an added ingredient in various flavored versions of soy sauce available on the market.
If you’re looking for a garlic-infused flavor in your soy sauce, be sure to check the label for specific ingredients.
Is Soy Sauce Fish Sauce?
Soy sauce and fish sauce are two different condiments commonly used in Asian cuisine. While both sauces offer an umami flavor profile, because of their fermentation process, their primary ingredients and production methods differ significantly.
Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, wheat, water and salt; whereas fish sauce is derived from fermented fish (typically anchovies) mixed with salt.
Despite their differences, they can sometimes be used as substitutes for one another in certain redipes when mixed with other ingredients.