Regular Shoyu

What is it?

The flavouring agent in Japanese cooking, shoyu (soy sauce) is made from soybeans (…duh), wheat, salt and water. Be sure to check labels when purchasing shoyu, as many brands skip the natural fermentation process and instead use chemicals, leading to a harsher, more acidic flavour profile. Welcome additives, however, are things like kombu or katsuo stock, which add umami.

How do I use it?

Japanese recipes use soy sauce for its rich flavour in addition to its kick of salt. A staple in the stock and sauce trifecta of dashi, shoyu, mirin, it’s worth buying a large bottle if you’re going to be doing any substantial amount of Japanese cooking.

What should I buy?

Use a Japanese shoyu when cooking Japanese food. Because it is the main flavouring agent in Japanese cuisine, dishes have been built around its particular properties. Japanese soy sauces are thinner and more delicately flavoured than Chinese soy sauces, so don’t use Chinese sauces in Japanese recipes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a snob thing – it’s a flavour thing.

  • Koikuchi (Regular) shoyu

If you’re only going to buy one shoyu, then this is it. It’s most versatile, and if you use it where a recipe calls for light shoyu, you won’t have strayed too far. A regular bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce at your local grocery store fits this category.

  • Usukuchi (Light) shoyu

Light in this case means light in colour, not in salt. Usukuchi is slightly higher in salt content than regular shoyu, but is used in recipes that require a more delicate colour, such as simmered vegetables or Kansai (western Japanese) style soups.

  • Low sodium soy sauce

Different from “light” soy sauce, this is a lower-sodium substitute for regular shoyu. Use this when cooking for those concerned with high blood pressure or salt intake.

  • Tamari

A historical precursor to shoyu, tamari is used in Japan mostly for dipping sushi and sashimi. Made without wheat, gluten-intolerant food lovers can use tamari as a shoyu substitute. Its salt content is roughly the same, so use in equal parts, but its darker colour and thicker consistency will mean that your results will be somewhat different than if using regular shoyu.

Usukuchi (light) soy sauce

Storage: Keep your shoyu capped tightly in a cool, dark place, as evaporation will lead to a darker colour and more intense/salty flavour. Use for up to a year or until the bottle’s expiry date.