Soy sauce is Japan's most popular sauce, adding salty umami flavors to so many Japanese dishes. You may be surprised to learn that there are quite a few varieties of soy sauce used in Japanese cuisine based on the region, ingredients and methods in which it's brewed.
To begin with, shoyu (醤油) is the Japanese word for soy sauce. Generally speaking, soy sauce is made from a mixture of soybeans, wheat, water and salt that has been fermented using the active fermenting micro-organism known as aspergillus or koji.
The most common and widely-used soy sauce, koikuchi shoyu accounts for 80% of the soy sauce consumed. Meaning "dark mouth", this soy sauce is deep and full-flavored with lots of umami taste. Typically made from equal parts soy and wheat, it's considered an all-purpose soy sauce used both in cooking and for dipping.
Although lighter in color and texture than koikuchi shoyu, usukuchi shoyu, which means "pale mouth", has a much saltier taste. It's therefore used only sparingly in cooking and when trying to avoid the color change of a dish that would result from using a darker soy sauce. It's also not used for dipping.
Originally a by-product of miso, tamari shoyu has gained popularity as a wheat-free and gluten-free alternative to soy sauce. Although classically made without wheat, some tamari may have trace amounts so it's always best to check the label. It tends to be darker and thicker than other soy sauces but with a more mellow flavor. It works better as a dipping sauce than for cooking.
Saishikomi, which means re-brewed, is a double fermented soy sauce that is made by removing the water and brine from the second stage of fermentation, resulting in the darkest colored soy sauce. Full of umami, this soy sauce is a thick yet sweet sauce perfect for dipping sashimi.
Shiro, meaning white, is most recognizable by it's pale amber, almost translucent color. It has a short fermentation period and is made primarily from wheat. It has a very mild flavor and is best used in dishes where preserving the original color is important.
About the author:
Co-founder of Kokoro Care Packages. Lillian is a half-Japanese, half-British Canadian currently living in LA. She spent almost a decade in finance (capital markets) before co-founding Kokoro Care Packages with Aki Sugiyama in 2018. She is passionate about sharing her Japanese heritage and preserving the traditions of Japan. She has a math degree and studied Kumon for 14 years while being ranked #1 in North America. She believes in the power of community and connections, nature and wellness, and the importance of a good night's sleep.