Shoyu, or soy sauce made from fermented soybeans, is a liquid flavor base of many Asian recipes, and I would say the main ingredient in Japanese food. I also believe shoyu is addictive. It is known that when traveling outside Japan, many older generation Japanese bring their favorite brand of shoyu with them. However as the quality of Japanese food outside Japan has improved over the years, you don’t hear about this being practiced too often. As an Asian, I can go without soy sauce for a week or two but after that, I do crave it!
As the key ingredient in Japanese food, the brand and type of soy sauce you select will pretty much determine the flavor of your cooking. Do some taste better than others? Absolutely! However, taste is an individual thing. Sometimes familiarity gets confused with taste. Also, taste can depend on how developed your palette is. That’s why it’s important to choose your own ingredients like shoyu, because at the end of the day, you are going to be eating it!
When choosing shoyu the main point to help decipher the taste is saltiness. Soy sauce is a rich brown in color. Although, we associate a dark color with a stronger taste, actually the lighter color shoyu is often saltier than the darker color shoyu. Yes, that goes against conventional thought, so don’t be fooled by this. Remember that soy sauce cannot just be salty, then you might as well use salt. It sounds funny but good soy sauce has a full body, rounded out flavor that leaves no after taste, similar to a fine red wine.
Because our family has moved often, there were times when I had difficulty finding the brand I normally used. I ended up buying a few different bottles to find which one I enjoyed the most and was pleasantly surprised at the result. That’s how I really found out about the relationship between color and saltiness.
If you can, why not try to experiment by buying a few bottles to give yourself a taste test to see what you like. My favorites in the readily available soy sauces in the U.S. are the Lee Kum Kee Superior Soy Sauce for cooking and the Kikkoman Low Sodium Soy Sauce for dipping. Some of my friends prefer Yamasa Shoyu. What’s yours?