Scientifically checked

Soy Sauce

By Katrin Koelle
Updated on 05. Nov. 2020

Soy sauce has been adding rich flavor to meals for thousands of years. But is this time-honored condiment healthy? Find out below.

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Soy sauce...

  • ...is a natural product when produced in the traditional way.
    Produced in the traditional Japanese way, soy sauce contains only soy, wheat, water and salt. This mix matures naturally with the help of certain microorganisms and in the end, it keeps without any preservatives. If you’re looking for a natural soy sauce produced in this traditional way, it is best to use an organic product.
  • ...is a good source of protein.
    Since soy sauce is produced from protein-rich soybeans, it ends up containing a relatively high amount of protein in itself. However, since soy sauce is eaten in relatively small quantities, chances are you won’t consume a large enough portion for a high protein intake.
  • ...might aggravate symptoms of celiacs disease.
    Despite the very low or undetectable gluten content of soy sauce, most varieties can still contain trace amounts that can aggravate symptoms if you have celiacs disease. If you have celiacs disease, it’s recommended to purchase a variety of soy sauce that specifically says it is gluten-free on the label.
  • ...contains histamines.
    Anyone who suffers from bad reactions to histamines, as they’re often found in soy sauce. However if you only have a slight histamine intolerance, chances are the relatively low amounts of histamines in soy sauce won’t cause side effects.
  • ...may contain many additives.
    Unfortunately, not all soy sauces are produced naturally and unadulterated. Often they are not matured in the traditional way, with brewing times instead accelerated by chemical agents. Chinese soy sauce in particular may also contain flavorings and preservatives, sugar, glutamate and other artificially added substances. So it's always best to look at the label: the fewer ingredients there are, the better!

What You Should Know About Soy Sauce

When it comes to soy sauce, the saying "all good things take time" rings particularly true. The traditional way of producing soy sauce is long and ardous; first, soy beans and wheat are ground and inoculated with bacterial cultures to produce a kind of mash - the koji. Next sea salt and water are added and the mixture is poured into cedar wood barrels and allowed to ferment. This last step takes the most time-- the traditional Japanese and Chinese methods call for maturing the sauce for at least 18 months and sometimes up to 5 years depending on quality.

During fermentation, the soy protein is converted into amino acids and the wheat starch is split into sugar, alcohol and natural acids, resulting in the typical rich taste and dark color of the soy sauce. 

Today, mass-produced soy sauce is made a little differently. Most producers use soy flour instead of beans and rely on chemical substances to expedite the maturing process. Unfortunately, doing away with this fermentation process generally leads to a less flavorful sauce, which is then usually enhanced with the addition of flavor enhancers, preservatives and food colorings. From a culinary point of view this process is controversial, but from a health point of view such soy sauces are completely harmless, so if you like the taste of big-brand soy sauces, don't sweat the un-traditional production process. That said, if you want to try soy sauce in its traditional form, pick out an organic kind. All manufacturers of organic soy sauces guarantee the use of natural raw materials from controlled organic cultivation and natural fermentation in wooden barrels.

Origins

Buddhist monks are said to have invented soy sauce in China some 5,000 years ago, soon introducing it to Japan where it eventually became popular throughout all of East Asia. 

Season

You can buy soy sauce all year round.

Flavor

Soy sauce contains around 300 different flavor and aroma substances. Together they combine to imbue soy sauce with a rich, almost meaty flavor, reminiscent of mushrooms or ketchup, which the Japanese call umami.

Varieties

Soy sauce comes in dark or light varieties. Whether you choose dark or light soy sauce is a matter of taste and depends on what you're using it for. Light soy sauce tastes sweeter and milder, while dark soy sauce has a stronger flavor and contains more salt. The most intense taste is that of tamari, which can also be used for cooking.

Find all our recipes with soy sauce here.

How Healthy is Soy Sauce?

Soy sauce contains valuable amino acids and relatively high protein levels, but only a few calories and no fat. US researchers also found that dark soy sauce contains about ten times as many antioxidantsas red wine. However in order to benefit from this effect, soy sauce would have to be drunk by the glass -- the usual quantity consumed isn't sufficient to bring demonstrable health benefits. 

If you have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular issues, remember that soy sauce is very high in salt (100 ml contains 59 ml), and so should be consumed in moderation.

soy sauce NUTRITIONAL INFO (100 ML)   
Calories 108
Protein 10 g
Fat 5 g
Carbohydrates 6 g
Fiber 4 g

Shopping and Cooking Tips

Shopping

If you want to be absolutely sure that you get soy sauce from traditional production on the table, it is best to buy organic quality products. All manufacturers of organic soy sauces guarantee the use of natural raw materials from controlled organic cultivation and natural fermentation in wooden barrels.

Storage

Once opened, a bottle of soy sauce should be stored in the refrigerator, where it should stay fresh for up to 6 months.

What to Make with Soy Sauce

Soy sauce adds incredible, rich depth of flavor to a variety of savory dishes. Of course soy sauce is most closely associated with Asian cuisine, where it's used as the primary saucing ingredient in traditional dishes from an array of countries, from Thailand's Shrimp Pad Thai to the ultimate Salmon Sushi condiment in Japan. However soy sauce makes a wonderful ingredient utilized in cuisines  and cooking styles from around the world, adding depth of flavor to vegetarian dishes like Broiled Eggplant or this elegant Silken Tofu with Bonito Flakes, while enhancing the natural flavors ofmeats in dishes like this Seared Beef Carpaccio or Fried Perch.

Scientifically checked by our EAT SMARTER experts
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