The Art of Soy Sauce

The Flavor of Fermentation

The soy sauce you’re consuming goes through an intense, two stage fermentation process that’s more complex than virtually any wine or beer.

At the most basic level, Japanese soy sauce is made by fermenting four simple ingredients: wheat, soybeans, water and salt. Subtle variations in the ratio of ingredients, brewing techniques, time and fermenting microbes can create an enormous variety of flavors and quality.  The brewing process involves three different types of microbes and two distinct stages, allowing a brewer to demonstrate their craft and make a superior product.

Umami Bomb

The fermentation process produces glutamic acid, which is the amino acid that creates the “umami” flavor. Umami has been called the fifth flavor, along with salty, sweet, sour and bitter. The umami gives soy sauce its unique rich flavor and mouth-feel, and intensifies the meaty, savory flavor of other foods as well.

Bad Soy

Much of the soy sauce you’ve probably been consuming is rancid, mass-produced stuff.

One of the most important elements of a great soy sauce is that it is fresh. Soy sauce is stored in an airtight bottle when it leaves the brewery and remains stable as long as the bottle remains closed. Much like opening a bottle of wine or beer, as soon as the cap is removed from the bottle, oxygen reacts with the soy sauce and begins to change the flavor. 

If soy sauce is exposed to air for too long – hours, days or even weeks on the table in a restaurant or your refrigerator –  the wonderful volatile organic compounds that give the soy sauce such great flavor will dissipate and the complex aromas will disappear. Even worse, exposure to oxygen will oxidize the soy sauce and create unpleasant, off flavors, often leading to bitter or metallic tastes, or overpowering sour sensations. 

Common off notes include:

  • Metallic taste
  • Excessive bitterness
  • Excessive acidity, which can taste caustic or cause a burning sensation.
  • Excessive saltiness which overwhelms all other flavors.
  • Unpleasant, heavy flavors which distract from the food, like a thick caramel flavor or cigarette tar.

Good Soy

The flavor of a freshly opened bottle of soy sauce should be bright, clean, balanced and complex.

Shiso soy sauces come in small bottles to assure that they are fresh. Our soy sauces have a delicate yet distinct yeast smell from the yeast used in the second fermentation. The smell can be reminiscent of a great beer, or a freshly baked loaf of sour dough bread and results from the same biological processes. The yeast smell is ephemeral and dissipates quickly as the hundreds of volatile organoleptic compounds are released into the air to create the complex aroma.

Take a moment to smell and taste Shiso soy sauces – all of the complexity and subtlety of a great wine or beer is there – plus flavors that will make your favorite foods pop without overpowering them.