What is Soy Sauce Made Out Of?

A Primer on Sauce

You drizzle it on everything - rice, sushi, veggies, the noodle dish you order from your favorite Chinese restaurant, but what is it and what gives it that signature salty flavor?


The Process

"Soy sauce" is a catch-all term for a style of sauce that originated in China and spread throughout Asia and eventually to the rest of the world. Many different countries have individual traditions for brewing the sauce, but the most common kind you'll find in the West is a blended Chinese-style, which is thicker and darker than its counterparts.

Soy sauce is made by boiling soybeans and then fermenting them with a mixture of roasted wheat and mold cultures. It is then brewed with either salt brine or coarse salt before being pressed to separate the liquid from the solid by-products and heated to kill off any bacteria.

The fermenting process soy sauce goes through is actually pretty similar to other foods you're familiar with, like bread, beer, and kombucha. Though the idea of eating something with mold cultures sounds unappetizing, research is now indicating that fermented foods are actually really good for you. Different fermenting cultures contribute different flavors to the sauce, but it's usually one of three strains of Aspergillus.

However, some sauces contain high levels of sodium. You should always check with your doctor to see what foods are appropriate for your dietary needs.


A Sauce By Any Other Name 

Different types of sauce you may run into:

  • Shoyu - Japanese-style sauce, usually made from wheat products.

  • Tamari - One of the most common varieties of shoyu. Dark, rich-tasting sauce that may contain little wheat or be gluten-free.

  • Ponzu - Soy sauce with yuzu, a citrus fruit that originated in China and Tibet. Sweet, light and citrusy.

  •  Toyò - Filipino-style sauce that is usually saltier than other varieties of soy sauce and is commonly used as a marinade. Toyomansî is a dipping version similar to ponzu sauce.

  • Ganjang - Korean-style seasoning sauce, usually further classified into "traditional" and "modern" brewing methods.