Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cook's Illustrated does soy sauce

Disclaimer: none of the soy sauces in this photo were reviewed by Cook's Illustrated.

When I saw that the January/February 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated had an article featuring soy sauces, I admit it, I got excited. Still, the first sentence of the piece indicated that I might not be the target audience for the article: "Most of us have rarely given soy sauce a second thought, using it as a kind of liquid salt." I suppose naming one's food blog after soy sauce doesn't qualify as rarely giving it a second thought (let alone keeping at least seven different varieties on hand).

Cook's taste-tested 12 soy sauces (or 11 soy sauces and La Choy's simulcrum of soy sauce based on hydrolized soy protein, if you prefer); two were Chinese soys while the others were Japanese-style soy sauces (four of them tamari). The sauces were tasted straight, served with warm rice, and used as an ingredient in teriyaki sauce.

Rather than easily crowning the single best soy sauce, the Cook's testers found that different soy sauces excelled at different applications. The ones with the most complicated and subtle flavor profiles did best when tasted straight and were recommended for use in dipping sauces. Simpler soys with stronger flavors held up better when cooked, however. Two soy sauces won the "Recommended" rating: Lee Kum Kee's mass-produced tabletop soy sauce and Ohsawa's traditionally-produced nama shoyu. Lee Kum Kee's sauce won the rice and teriyaki tests, while Ohsawa won the plain tasting.

Soy sauces tested, other than the ones previously mentioned, were:

Eden Organic Naturally Brewed Tamari Soy Sauce
Eden Organic Shoyu Soy Sauce
Eden Organic Traditionally Brewed Tamari Soy Sauce
Kikkoman All-Purpose Soy Sauce
Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Organic Soy Sauce
Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Tamari Soy Sauce
Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce
San-J Naturally Brewed Tamari Premium Soy Sauce
San-J Organic Shoyu Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce

The article is a pretty good introduction to soy sauce, especially for those who haven't given it much thought before. Those who've already started stocking a range of soy sauces so as to be appropriately equipped for whatever Asian cuisine they happen to be cooking on a given night may find it a bit elementary.

I have to admit that the heavy emphasis on Japanese soy sauces with a couple of Chinese soy sauces thrown in took me aback. It's not quite like comparing apples and oranges, but they aren't interchangeable, at least not when cooking Asian food. On the other hand, comparing an assortment of soy sauces ranging from Japanese shoyu to Chinese mushroom soy to Indonesian kecap manis really would be comparing apples to oranges to bananas. The best rule of thumb is still to use a soy sauce that hails from the same country as the dish you're cooking (or is at least made in the same style; it would be silly to disallow Kikkoman's soy sauces from Japanese cooking if they happen to come from Kikkoman's Wisconsin plant).


Anonymous said...

Here are some links you may be interested in with regards to various soy sauces....

I had seen several glowing reviews for Yuasa "Ohara Hisakichi Shoyu" from Japan (available here: http://www.yuasashoyu.com/eshop/item/100090.html ) for 1050 Japanese Yen (or around $9 US)

and here domestically http://mgrsti5395q.seamlesstech.biz/Templates/frmTemplateM.asp?CatalogID=440&Zoom=Yes&SubFolderId=0137

or here -- http://www.gratefulpalate.com/index.php?p=RSOYXX0010&parent=Page_47

Unfortunately, they are offering it for $32.95, due to import costs.

Here are some reviews for it: http://www.forkandbottle.com/pantry/index.htm (near the bottom)

http://www.geezergourmet.com/spices_art9.html (this individual compares it to Kikkoman)

Luckily, I have a few friends in Japan and they were able to bring me a small bottle of it this past weekend. I'm still out on whether it's worth spending a small fortune to get it domestically, though my taste buds may not be trained enough to notice the subtleties between various soy sauces.

Here is another type by Yuasa that is highly recommended, but again, expensive domestically....

http://www.earthy.com/Yuasa_Mukashi_Shoyu_-_Dark_Soy_P813.cfm (720ml for $45!)

or http://www.earthy.com/Yuasa_Mukashi_Shoyu_-_Dark_Soy_P496.cfm (200ml for $25!)

Also available through this web site:


If you're interested, here is a history of soy sauce, shoyu and tamari.


and an article on soy sauce in Yuasa, Japan


and if you're really interested in a quite unique soy sauce (though not edible) try this....


Incidentally, here is Cooks Illustrated previous review of soy sauces from January/February 2000:


or PDF version http://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/tasting/jf2000soy3.pdf

I was able to get the Eden Selected Shoyu Soy Sauce, but found it a bit salty. I hope to get the Lee Kee Kum and Ohsawa Nama Shoyu the next time I get to an Asian grocery.

I've been using Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce for cooking (esp. Fuchsia Dunlop's wonderful Kung Pao Chicken (Gong Bao Ji Ding) -- http://www.leitesculinaria.com/recipes/cookbook/kung_pao.html) The Pearl River Bridge Dark Soy Sauce is so thick it coats the bottle and is pitch black (Not exactly the best tasting out of the bottle) and enjoy San-J Reduced Sodium Tamari Soy Sauce.

Hopefully, one of the web links will be of interest to you.

Winslow said...

Thanks for all of the links. In the aftermath of the Cook's article, I need to look at the soy sauces in the Asian supermarket with a new eye. With any luck, some of the ones you suggest might be there.

In terms of soy sauce subtleties, I think it's just like wine. You cultivate the palate and learn more as you taste.

The Pearl River Bridge dark soy sauce is just as you describe it: it almost paints the bottle when you shake it. I don't use it for general stir fries, but a lot of Chinese dishes call for x amount of light soy sauce and y amount of dark (or mushroom) soy. In a way, it's halfway on the spectrum between "regular" soy sauce and oyster sauce.

I'll have to try that kung pao chicken. :)

Steve said...

Regarding the Kung Pao Chicken recipe, the 'hot and numbing' Szechuan peppercorns are a necessity. I remove stems and seeds, toast them in a pan over medium heat until fragrant, grind them in a morter and pestle, use a fine wire strainer to sift out any husks and keep remaining powder in an airtight glass spice jar.

If you use whole szechuan peppercorns you may have an unpleasant surprise while eating!

You can get szechuan peppercorns from:
- or -
- or -

Fuchsia Dunlop recommends the last two dealers. I originally purchased some from Penzeys.

Detailed information about szechuan peppercorns
can be found here: http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Zant_pip.html

It is actually a dried berry of the prickly ash. The photo for 'fagara' or 'jiao' is what it looks like.

I was able to get 4 oz for only $1.99 packaged by Lion Pavilion/Chengdu Shizilou Food Co Ltd at an Asian grocery store. Barbara Tropp's says in one of her cookbooks that you should be able to smell it through the plastic packaging (I can't). Since they are now processed to kill any possible citrus canker bacteria threat, this may have had an effect on the noticeable fragrance - or these aren't top quality. (I haven't used these yet.)

Do your best to get ANY despite quality differences.

Use one-quarter teaspoon of szechuan peppercorn powder.

Instead of scallions I use:
one-half green bell pepper sliced into strips
one-half sweet red bell pepper sliced into strips
one-quarter sweet (Vidalia/Walla Walla/Maui/Bermuda) onion sliced into strips

Also, the sesame oil is of the toasted variety.

I thought I read that Fuchsia Dunlop had some part in consulting with PF Chang's to create their menu.

Fuchsia Dunlop recommends Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark (and Light) soy sauces >for cooking< as their dark soy sauce is very thick and a wonderful coloring agent.

I retasted the Yuasa soy sauce again, last night and noticed a wine-like characteristic (even though I'm not a wine drinker). Perhaps if you were talking about Scharffen-Berger chocolate, then I could relate....as it is complex and the best chocolate I've had :) I think my friends would appreciate it a lot more than I, since they eat sushi and sashimi on a regular basis, which I rarely ever do, though they use Kikkoman.


Winslow said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the additional info. I've heard a lot about Fuschia Dunlop but don't have any of her cookbooks; that is soon to be rectified, however. I do have Sichuan peppercorns; I was able to find a jar of ground peppercorns at the Asian supermarket (I haven't seen the whole ones yet). I'll have to give this recipe a try.

condiment_girl said...

Thanks for all the information on various sauces. Can't wait to try more soys!

olaf675 said...

I found this old posting of soy sauce tastings you might enjoy. I purchased both top rated soy sauces -- Kimlan 'I-Jen' and Kimlan 'Super Special Naturally Fermented', which should be easily found at an Asian market. Haven't tried them though as I'm waiting to use up the Pearl River Bridge I have. Both have quite a bit less sodium than your average soy sauce.


Here is another one that someone wrote about, but I haven't been able to find it.


You also might enjoy watching the Japanese food show
Dotchi no Ryouri Show
(luckily with English subtitles), which pits which ingredient makes the best ramen -- either salt or soy sauce. They then show how this 'best of the best' item is made. Very interesting. An hour long show, but you will only be able to view the first 5 minutes of the show. You need a free Veoh account to view the whole show.