Taste-Off: The best flavored soy sauces — and the worst

Soy sauce is a kitchen staple, a flavor powerhouse that offers such a huge umami punch that it puts salt to shame. Amp up that sauce with extra flavor — mushroom, shrimp, smoke — and it’s magic, a sauce that can serve as dip, soup starter or marinade.

Flavored soy sauces are not new. Chinese sauce makers have been infusing soy sauce with popular Asian flavors for years. Those sauces are certainly tasty, but now some companies are raising the bar, brewing an array of artisan soy sauces laced with imaginative flavors, such as wasabi, lemongrass, cherry blossom, chipotle and even truffles.

But first, a soy sauce primer: Soy sauce, known as shoyu in Japan, comes in a range of styles from light to dark and thin to thick. Light sauces tend to be saltier. The darkest is Chinese black soy, which gets its color from molasses.

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Also good to know: There are two ways to make soy sauce. The best are traditionally fermented from boiled soybeans and toasted wheat, a time-intensive process that produces complex layers of flavor. These sauces, especially those from Japan, are long on flavor — and fairly pricey at $10 to $30 a bottle.

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Inexpensive soy sauces involve serious shortcuts. They use flour and ground soy – and sidestep the fermentation process entirely, using hydrochloric acid to break down the mix into amino acids and sugars. The mixture is neutralized, then flavored with additives such as MSG and corn syrup. The result is a kitchen workhorse — not awesome, but useful enough to place soy sauce in the top three most popular condiments in the U.S., just behind mayonnaise and ketchup.

Pinpointing the best flavored soy sauces isn’t easy. Mainstream markets stock few flavored varieties, and a short list of options from China, Japan and Korea can be found at Asian specialty markets. But the best source for top-quality flavored soy sauces is

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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