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Soy Sauce I Presume?

Soy Sauce

I like soy sauce. I use a dash to add flavor to stews, soups and gravies and of course with any Asian dish. Occasionally if I run out of my Kikkoman soy sauce I will grab one of those numerous little packets of soy sauce that seem to accumulate in my pantry after eating take out and use it. So imagine my surprise when I found out that those little packets are not real soy sauce but a manufactured chemical clone.
Chemical soy sauce is made from hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), water, salt, corn syrup and caramel color. Unlike fermented soy sauce that takes six to eighteen months to make, HVP soy sauce take less than one day and can be sold for less. HVP soy sauce is called non-fermented soy sauce in the United States.

There are two basic types of fermented soy sauce. The Japanese soy sauce (shoyu) is made from equal parts of soybeans and wheat, Chinese soy sauce or tamai is made from 90% soybeans and 10% wheat. The higher ratio of wheat in the Japanese soy sauce gives it a slightly sweeter flavor than the lower wheat content Chinese soy sauce.

Real soy sauce is fermented. Naturally brewed fermented soy sauce takes six to eighteen months to ferment and is a multi-step process. First step consists of mixing boiled soybeans with a grain such as wheat that has been roasted and crushed and then adding in a fungus culture and salt brine that will start the fermentation process called brewing. The brewed mash is then pressed to separate the solids from the liquid. The liquid is then pasteurized to eliminate the active yeast and mold and filtered to remove any particulates. The soy sauce is then aged and bottled.

A very brief history of soy sauce: A liquid seasoning that was made from soybeans is believed to have originated in China around AD 535 and was introduced to Japan around AD 552 when Chinese Buddhist monks traveled East to spread Buddhism. In the 1500s Japanese tamari-shoyu, a soybean liquid seasoning was first sold commercially in Japan. In the 1640s the Japanese discovered that by adding roasted cracked wheat to the soybean mixture it imparted a unique savory rich aroma and flavor to the sauce and developed a darker color. This type of soy sauce was named koikuchi shoyu. Between the years 1716-1867 the Japanese shoyu makers standardized the formula calling for equal parts of soybeans and wheat.

Then soy sauce took a scientific twist. In 1886 Europe developed hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP). The Maggi corporation in Switzerland produced the first commercial product base on HVP, a liquid seasoning for meat that was made from HVP, fats, salt and meat extract.

In 1920 the HVP/chemical soy sauce was born. This soy sauce required no fermentation. Soybeans and wheat were mixed with 20% hydrochloric acid, allowed to sit and then the resulting liquid was filtered from the solids, mixed with sodium hydroxide, caramel coloring, corn syrup, salt and water. This soy sauce was quicker to produce and cost the consumer less but it had a strong, slightly bitter flavor and undesirable odor and was therefore considered an inferior product in Japan.

In 1945, post WWII, all shoyu makers in Occupied Japan were ordered by the U.S to produce only HVP soy sauce in order to receive their allotment of American soybeans. The shoyu makers objected to producing such an inferior product and in 1948 a Japanese company developed a new process that combined chemical hydrolysis with fermentation. This semi-chemical shoyu took one to three months to ferment and had a better odor than the HVP/chemical soy sauce but still had small amounts of sulfur like smell.

By 1968 it was estimated that up to 80% of the shoyu makers in Japan used some HVP in their products. By 1970 all use of HVP in soy sauce was discontinued in Japan. Every shoyu maker in Japan went back to making fermented naturally brewed soy sauce.

La Choy Foods, a Detroit company was the earliest importers and marketers of soy sauce in the U.S. and was one of the main customers of a company called A.E. Staley. The Staley company produced the first HVP/chemical soy sauce in 1933.

Today the HVP/chemical soy sauce is sold under the La Choy and Chun King brand names. 92% of the soy sauce consumed in the U.S. is domestically produced, 61% of that is the HVP/chemical soy sauce.

So, the next time you open one of those little cellophane packets of soy sauce or buy bottles of non-fermented soy sauce know that you are consuming a chemical when the real stuff is just as readily available on your grocer’s shelf.

Reference: – (a fascinating history on soy sauce).