Not all soy sauces are created equal. They are not just a black salty liquid used in Asian cooking. And cooking Chinese food does not mean adding soy sauce to a dish.
Have you actually tried to smell different soy sauces? Have you tried to taste and compare the difference between one another like you would with olive oil, or even wine?
Soy Sauces deserve proper appreciation and credit for their role in Asian cooking. Not all soy sauces are created using the same pale yellow soy beans. My favourites are actually made with black soy beans (which are also called black beans) without any addition of yellow soy beans.
I’m picky about soy sauce probably because my dad’s from a region famous for its soy sauce in Taiwan. This region typically uses black beans for making soy sauce. And apparently black bean soy sauce is only made in Taiwan these days. Black bean soy sauce takes at least 6 months to make, and the entire process is done without chemicals. The black beans are first steamed and cooked, then a certain cocktail of yeasts is added depending on the soy sauce maker. These beans are then layered with salt and left to ferment in huge clay urns for 6 months. These urns (with covers) are left outdoors so they get bathed in the sun during the day.
After 6 months, the beans are pressed, and water added, and we get very fragrant wholesome soy sauce. When you walk past a traditional soy sauce factory, the smell is everywhere in the air. The smell is warming and yeasty. It’s hard to describe the smell. It does not smell at all like beer, but perhaps like roasted wheat and caramelised sugar, good miso (don’t get me started on that one also), with a hint of freshly baked bread.
That’s why at the bottom of a few of my recipes, I kept urging you to find a good bottle of soy sauce. It is SO not used for its salt content! Find one that actually smells good! Taiwanese cooks like me use soy sauce to add its particular flavour and aroma to a dish, rather than using it for its saltiness. The fact it’s salty simply means actual salt does not need to be added. And soy sauce made using black beans have the best aroma and are the least salty. However because they take 6 months to make, most brands you can find on the market are made with yellow soy beans with the addition of wheat because they take way less time to make. And some brands even use chemicals to make soy sauce in days, as opposed to months! So really, pick your soy sauce carefully!
In general, Taiwanese soy sauce are the least salty. I’ve tried some Chinese ones that are EXTREMELY salty without ANY aroma, and we had to bin that (that’s when we first moved to Christchurch and could not find a bottle of Taiwanese soy sauce). Japanese ones seem to vary a lot from region to region. Some region’s soy sauce even taste sweet as well as salty. Out of all the soy sauce I’ve tried, the one I buy is definitely the least salty, even amongst the Taiwanese ones. It is also the only one I can find in Christchurch that’s from the region Dad grew up in, and uses black beans instead of yellow soy beans. I’m not paid by them to write this article, but if you can find this bottle in your local shop, do try it out!
Something I also occasionally use in my recipes is “thick soy sauce”. It’s normally used for dipping. It’s thickened with starch. It has sugar added so tastes sweet. Certain traditional dishes simply would not taste right without it.