10 Things about Soy Sauce

1. History 历史

Soy sauce is said to have originated from China 3000 years ago and is one of the world’s oldest condiments.


2. Soy sauce is traditionally produced through fermentation 传统酱油是通过发酵来制作的

Traditional soy sauce is made by crushing, blending and cooking the soybeans and wheat before mixing with a cultured mold (Aspergillus), and left for two to three days to develop. The mixture is then mixed with brine and bacteria and yeast are added for further fermentation. This process can take months or even years, where the proteins and starches will be broken down into amino acids and simple sugars. More than 200 flavour compounds will be produced along the process. The longer the aging process, the more flavourful the soy sauce will become. The last step would be the separation of raw soy sauce from the residue through filtration. The soy sauce would then undergo pasteurisation before bottling to extend its shelf life.

There are 2 types of fermentation techniques:

  • High salt-liquid state fermentation: Longer fermentation process at lower temperatures retains the most enzyme activity helps to develop a more flavourful soy sauce but requires a more stringent production environment, causing the cost of production to be higher.
  • Low salt-solid state fermentation: More commonly used method as the fermentation takes place at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time, thus producing a less flavourful soy sauce.

传统的酱油是通过将大豆和小麦碾碎并混合, 经过浸泡及蒸煮, 再加入种曲放置两到三天进行制曲。之后将制好的曲与盐水混合,再加入微生物及酵母进行下一步的发酵。发酵时长需要数个月至数年,过程中大豆及小麦中的蛋白质及淀粉将会被分解成氨基酸和单糖,在此过程中也会产生2​​00多种化合物,使酱油风味更丰富。酱油发酵的时间越长,酱油的风味越醇厚。制好的酱油经过沉淀和过滤后,会在包装前经过灭菌处理以延长酱油的保质期。


  • 高盐稀态发酵:这个技术在较低温度下以较长的发酵时间进行,使酶的活性达到最高,属于对技术、环境、设备等要求较高的制酱油技。发酵过程中也添加了酵母及多种微生物共同反应以形成独特酱香。
  • 低盐固态发酵:由于在较高温度下进行较短时间的发酵,因此产生的酱油风味没有高盐稀态产生的好,成本较低,是比较普遍的酱油发酵技术。

3. Soy sauce can also be produced chemically 酱油也可以化学方式生产

Besides fermentation, soy protein can also be broken down through a chemical process called hydrolysis, where hydrochloric acid is used. It only takes a few days to produce the soy sauce but this method is harsher and results in a less desirable taste profile. As a result, additives like caramel colour, corn syrup, salt and even MSG have to be added to obtain the appropriate and desired colour and flavour profile. Chemically produced soy sauce may also contain 3-MCDP, a type of known carcinogen that is formed due to overheating when adding the hydrochloric acid to the soy and wheat mixture.


4. Flavour 味道

Good quality soy sauce with adequate aging period is described to have a complex flavour profile, due to a myriad of flavour compounds formed during the fermentation process. It is described to have a dominant salty taste, followed by a moderate umami, sweet taste and finally slight bitterness and sourness at the end. The flavour is rich and smooth to help uplift the flavour of dishes.


5. Soy sauce comes in different varieties 酱油有不同的种类

  • Light soy sauce : Light soy sauce is thin and light in colour, but is saltier. It is the most commonly used soy sauce, especially in Chinese cuisines.
  • 生抽:生抽质地较稀,颜色浅,但味道较咸,是中式菜肴中最常用的酱油。
  • Dark soy sauce : Dark soy sauce is aged longer than light soy sauce. Sugar is added and matured under sunlight for a longer period of time. It is much darker in colour, less salty, much sweeter and has a thicker texture than light soy sauce. 
  • 老抽:老抽的颜色较深,发酵时间比生抽长,在制作生抽的基础上,把榨制的酱油再晒制2至3个月。老抽也含有添加糖分,比起生抽,老抽酱油更黑,质地较浓,比起生抽味道没那么咸,但味道较甜。
  • Thick soy sauce: Thick soy sauce is made with molasses and more wheat and starch if often added as a thickener. It has a sweet taste and has a thicker consistency as compared to dark soy sauce.
  • 酱油膏:酱油膏添加了糖蜜,并以更高的小麦比例制成,通常也会另外添加淀粉以增加浓稠度。味道比老抽更甜,浓稠度也更高。
  • Black bean soy sauce: Black bean soy sauce is naturally brewed from black beans and sea salt for over 6 months. As black beans have more protein than soybeans, the sauce that is produced has a slightly different nutritional value and taste profile. Black bean soy sauce is smoother in texture but has a richer flavour. 
  • 黑豆酱油:黑豆酱油是用黑豆和海盐天然酿制至少6个月而成的。由于黑豆含有更多的蛋白质,因此黑豆酱油的营养和口感与用黄豆及小麦制做的酱油略有不同,口味更细腻丰富。
  • Tamari soy sauce: Tamari is made with soy beans and little to no wheat, making it suitable for gluten-free diets. It is made differently from traditional soy sauce making processes. Instead, it is actually a byproduct of making miso and has a bolder, less salty taste with a thicker consistency.
  • Tamari酱油(溜醤油):Tamari是用超过90八仙大豆制成的,几乎或完全不含小麦,因此适合添加进无麸质饮食中。Tamari酱油和传统酱油的制作属于不同的工艺,Tamari酱油是制作味增时所产生的副产品。由于大豆含量高,因此味道较浓厚,但没那么咸,质地也比较浓。
Check out Simply Natural Organic Black Bean Soy Sauce!

6. Storage 贮存

Unopened soy sauce should be stored in a cool and dry place. Once opened, you can choose whether to store at room temperature or to keep it in the fridge. ZENXIN recommends to store the opened soy sauce in the refrigerator to retain its freshness and flavour.


7. Preservatives and additives 酱油中常见的防腐剂和添加剂

Naturally brewed soy sauce does not require additional preservatives or food additives. However, natural preservatives like benzoic acid or sorbic acid will still be added to the soy sauce to extend its shelf life.


8. Nutrition 营养成分

Soy sauce is regarded as a high sodium food type, with close to 1000mg sodium per tablespoon, which meets about half of the daily sodium recommendation and should be used in moderation. Nonetheless, it still contains less sodium than table salt, and you can find sodium-reduced varieties to suit your diet.


9. Usage 使用方法

Soy sauce is commonly used for dipping or cooking, with its different varieties used for different purposes in the kitchen. For example, light soy sauce is used to flavour dishes without darkening them, while dark soy sauce gives colour and sweetness to the dishes. Compared to table salt, it brings natural umami flavour to the cuisine. It is also often used in marinades, glazing or even used as Asian-style salad dressings.


10. Tips of choosing soy sauce 如何选购酱油

While choosing your preferred soy sauce, it is important to read the label carefully. Choose those without food additives and only select those that contain very basic ingredients such as soybeans, wheat and salt. For better flavour, go for those with longer fermentation period (at least 6 months) and naturally brewed, which will usually be proudly stated on the packaging. 


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