Soy sauce comes in many varieties, some heavier, some lighter, some sweeter and some saltier. Find out about soy sauce here at Sushi PRO!
Soy sauce (醤油) is the brown, salty liquid used as a dipping sauce of sorts for sushi. It is in fact commonly used in many countries, but in the context of sushi, it is the primary condiment which provides the salty component used with sashimi and with many varieties of sushi.
Here we concentrate mainly on the thinner, lighter varieties of Japanese soy sauce (shoyu) used in sushi bars. Heavy, dark, strong or flavored soy sauces are discouraged because they alter or overpower the subtle flavors of the fish or sushi roll ingredients.
Soy sauce is a fermented product made from soy beans. Yeast mold is added along with rice or wheat, and salt, and the sauce is left to "age" in a giant vat.
Although it was invented much earlier in China, soy sauces used in Japanese cuisine, and sushi in particular are distinct. They are never flavored with mushroom or other unrelated ingredients. The basic recipe has evolved to use different ingredients and techniques throughout the various regions of Japan.
Although not generally known in the west, there are different grades and distinct types of shoyu that vary by sweetness or saltiness, by their thickness and in flavor. Much of this variation is due to the use of varying amounts of the ingredients; in fact some varieties use very little soybeans!
Modern sushi lovers often use low-sodium soy sauce gen-en (減塩), now commonly found in sushi bars. Indeed shoyu can contain fairly high levels of salt, so it should be used sparingly by those on low sodium diets. On the other hand, soy sauce is rich in anti-oxidants, and the bacteria used in production may have some beneficial heath effects as well.
Tamari (「たまり), shown on the left, is the name for a Japanese variety of soy sauce that is thick and dark. The name denotes it's derivation from the miso-making process.
It was noticed centuries ago that the thick brown by-product that "accumulates" when miso paste is produced tasted pretty good.
This is probably the closest thing to the original soy sauce introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks centuries ago. It has a very strong taste, and if any of the common varieties can be said to be more authentic than others, it's definitely this one.
Many popular varieties of shoyu are lighter in color, and saltier in taste than the more traditional varieties.
In Kansai prefecture, a light variant called
Usukuchi （淡口） is popular. It is made using a light, sweet rice-based liquid called amazake. It is light, not strongly flavored but fairly salty.
Another common variety in this area of Japan is
Shiro （白）, which literally means light. It is a light, sweet soy sauce and is considered appropriate for use with premium sashimi as it will only accentuate, not distract from the flavor of the fish.