The World of Soy Sauce

You may be familiar with the sachets of soy (or soya) sauce that come as an accompaniment to take-away food. Beyond this concoction of corn syrup, water, salt, caramel colour, vegetable protein, and sodium benzoate there is an enticing variety of soy sauces made by varied methods and offering a range of interesting and subtly different flavours, aromas and textures.

Asia is the origin of soy sauce and we feature here some of the varieties produced in the far East that we would encourage you to seek out.

Lets start with China

Chinese soy sauce can be broadly split into two methods of production: brewed or blended.

Brewing (or fermentation) using wheat, yellow black soybeans, salt, and water without additional additives is used to create four varieties:-

Shēng chōu (“fresh drawn”) or Jiàng qīng is a light fresh, thin, opaque sauce brewed by first culturing steamed wheat and soybeans with Aspergillus oryzae molds followed by fermenting the mixture in brine. It is primarily used for seasoning.

Tóu chōu is a ‘premium’ light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans as the flavour of the first pressing is considered superior. Primarily used for seasoning light dishes and for dipping due to its delicate flavour.

Shuāng huáng is a light soy sauce with a more complex flavour as a result of double fermentation using the light soy sauce from another batch to take the place of brine for a second brewing. This adds further complexity to the flavour. Used primarily for dipping.

Yìn yóu is a darker soy sauce produced by steamed soybeans with aspergillus mixed with coarse rock salt before undergoing prolonged dry fermentation. The flavour is complex and rich and is used for dipping or in “red” (hong) cooking. Brewed primarily in Taiwan.

Soy sauce


There are four notable varieties.

Lǎo chōu (“mature drawn”) is a darker and slightly thicker sauce made from light soy sauce as a result of prolonged ageing and may contain added caramel colour and/or molasses to give it its distinctive appearance. Used mainly during cooking, as its slightly sweeter and less salty flavour is enhanced by heating.

Cǎogū lǎochōu known as “mushroom” dark soy. Straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea) is mixed into dark soy sauce creating a richer flavour.

Jiàng yóu gāo is a dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar and occasionally flavoured with spices and MSG. Used as a dipping sauce in red cooking because of its its sweetness and caramelised flavours.

Xiā zǐ jiàngyóu known as “shrimp” soy sauce. It is a fresh soy sauce which has been simmered with fresh shrimp and finished with sugar, baijiu (a type of distilled liquor, 白酒), and spices. A specialty of Suzhou.


Moving on to Japan

Soy sauce (Shōyu) is traditionally divided into five main categories according to their ingredients and method of production. Normally wheat is a primary ingredient, which tends to give Japanese soy sauces a slightly sweeter taste than those associated with China. Also small amounts of alcohol acting as a natural preservative are sometimes added giving an alcoholic sherry-like flavour.
Koikuchi (“thick taste”) is the typical Japanese soy sauce made from roughly equal quantities of soybean and wheat. Used in marinades as well as for dipping and in stir fries. 

Usukuchi (“thin taste”) is both saltier and lighter (arising from the use of amazake, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice). Particularly popular in the Kansai region. Used to season ingredients.
Tamari is darker in appearance and richer in flavour than koikuchi. containing little or no wheat. Also known as miso-damari as this is the liquid that runs off miso as it matures. Made mainly in the Chūbu region. Used as a dipping sauce.

Shiro (“white”) has a light appearance and sweet taste as it is made mostly of wheat and very little soybean. Used in the Kansai region as a dipping sauce for sashimi.
Saishikomi (“twice-brewed”) is much darker and more strongly flavoured as a result of replacing the saltwater brine in the fermentation stage of koikuchi with a previous batch of already brewed soy sauce. Also known as kanro shōyu or ‘sweet soy sauce’.

Newer varieties of Japanese soy sauce include:- Gen’en (‘reduced salt’) which contains 50% less salt than regular soy sauce and Usujio (‘light salt’) containing 20% less salt than regular soy sauce. All Japanese soy sauce varieties are graded according to how they were made:-

Honjōzō (“genuine fermented”) contains 100% genuine fermented product.

Kongō-jōzō (“mixed fermented”) contains genuine fermented shōyu mash mixed with 30–50% chemicals or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein.

Kongō (“mixed”) contains Honjōzō or Kongō-jōzō shōyu mixed with 30–50% chemicals or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein.

All varieties and grades may be sold according to three official levels of quality dependant on nitrogen content:-

Hyōjun ((Standard grade (more than 1.2% total nitrogen)), Jōkyū ((Upper grade (more than 1.35%)), Tokkyū ((Special grade (more than 1.5%)).


Soy sauce selection












Soy sauce varieties are produced in a number of other Asian countries.

 In Indonesia there are three main varieties of Kecap.

 Kecap manis is a sweetened soy sauce with a thick syrupy consistency and a treacle-like flavour arising from the addition of palm sugar, star anise, galangal and other aromatics. Used as a flavouring.

Kecap manis sedang is a medium sweet soy sauce, less thick in consistency, less sweet and has a saltier taste than kecap manis.

Kecap asin is derived from the Japanese shoyu but is usually more concentrated with a darker colour and stronger flavour.

In addition there is Hakka soy sauce which is made from black beans and is very salty.

In Korea soy sauces or ganjang (“seasoning sauce”) can be divided into two categories: hansik ganjang (Korean-style soy sauce) and gaeryang ganjang (modernized soy sauce).

Hansik ganjang made entirely of fermented soybean (meju) has a distinctive fermented soybean flavour. It is lighter in colour and saltier than other Korean ganjang varieties.

It is categorised by its method of production, as follows:-

Jaerae-hansik-ganjang (“traditional Korean-style soy sauce”) – made with traditional style meju and brine.
Gaeryang-hansik-ganjang (“modern Korean-style soy sauce”) – made with nontraditional meju (which can be made of regular soybean, rice, barley, wheat, or soybean meal, and ripened using traditional method or aspergillus) and brine.

Depending on the period of ageing, hansik ganjang is also divided into three main varieties: clear, middle and dark, as follows:-

Haet-ganjang (“new soy sauce’) – aged for a year. Also called cheongjang (‘clear soy sauce’).

Jung-ganjang (“middle soy sauce”) – aged for three to four years.

Jin-ganjang (“dark soy sauce”) – aged for more than five years. Also called jinjang (‘aged soy sauce’), nongjang (‘thick soy sauce’), or jingamjang (‘aged mature soy sauce’).

Gaeryang-ganjang (“modernised soy sauce”) i.e. sauces not made of meju, is now the most widely used type of soy sauce in modern Korean cuisine. Also known as Jin-ganjang (‘dark soy sauce).

Gaeryang-ganjang is classified into four categories by method of production.

Brewed soy sauce – made by fermenting soybean, soybean meal, or other grains with saline solution.

Acid-hydrolyzed soy sauce – made by hydrolyzing raw materials containing protein with acid.

Enzyme-hydrolyzed soy sauce – made by hydrolyzing raw materials containing protein with enzyme.

Blended soy sauce – made by blending hansik-ganjang (Korean-style soy sauce) or yangjo-ganjang (brewed soy sauce) with acid-hydrolyzed soy sauce or enzyme-hydrolyzed soy sauce.

In the Philippines Toyò sauce is usually a combination of soybeans, wheat, salt, and caramel colour. It is thinner in texture and has a saltier taste than many of its Southeast Asian counterparts.

Varieties of soy sauce can be found also in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite this not inconsiderable range of commercially available sauces artisanal soy sauce producers are developing new products including a fifty year old aged sauce but you will need to be patient as this will not be available until 2039!

Kaffir Lime Leaf

Known as the kaffir lime in western markets it really should be called makrut if you want to be politically correct. The word kaffir has negative connotations in some Asian cultures. However for this profile we stick with the widely recognised name of kaffir lime leaf.

Native to tropical Asia stretching from India to the Philippines, Citrus hystrix (kaffir lime) has become completely associated with South East Asian cuisine. It is said to actually originate in Indonesia but this is disputed as the majority of the citrus family originate from parts of India. Either way it has become widespread in the region. Like other members of the Rutaceae (Citrus family) it is a thorny bush up to 35ft (10m) tall but often much smaller.

It’s characterised by the rough bumpy texture of its double shaped leaves and its small size. They have a distinctive emerald to dark green colour.

Although considered a tropical climate species it can be grown in other more temperate regions as long as it is not exposed to prolonged frosts (much the same way as other citrus species).


Kaffir lime leaf has a very aromatic and citrus flavour profile. It has a slight citrus aroma when dry or recently cut but the essential oils become greatly enhanced when simmered with other ingredients.


What sets kaffir lime leaf apart is its aroma. S-Citronellal is the compound responsible for this with minor amounts of nerol and limonene. The weird thing with this is that R-Citronellal is found in lemon balm but not in kaffir lime.

In the fruit peel of kaffir lime its main components are limonene and β-pinene.


One Kaffir Lime


When possible get the fresh leaves but in reality that is not going to happen unless you live in a region with a large Asian community or are actually in Asia. Go for leaves whether dry or fresh that has at least some aroma. Dry kaffir lime leaves remain slightly aromatic and this is enhanced once put into a soup or stew. The essential oils will be released.


The beauty of kaffir lime is that the whole leaf can be used in the cooking process. Normally in western markets you will find bags of dried kaffir lime on sale. The fresh produce in Asian markets will have a greater flavour and aromatic quality but both are perfectly adequate.

There are exceptions to the rule where kaffir lime is cut extremely fine forming a powder. See cooking ideas below for this.

In almost every dish that calls for kaffir leaf lime the idea is to extract all its essential oils and this contributes to the overall flavour profile of the recipe. It should be used like a bay leaf. Left in during the cooking process then removed before serving.

Very young kaffir lime leaves can be added to salads but to get hold of these would almost certainly mean a trip to South East Asia.


The qualities of kaffir lime leaf are unique among the other citrus species. The same aromatic qualities do not exist in the same way in fruits like orange, lime and lemon. This is what makes kaffir lime so interesting and worth buying.




  • Kaffir lime leaf is an essential ingredient in a number of recipes. Tom Yum soup is one of these. Various Thai and Indonesian curry dishes call upon it too.
  • It appears in shredded form in the Thai fish cakes Tod mun and steamed fish dishes like Haw Moak.
  • A very common paste called Krueng uses kaffir lime as one of its bases. Not only the leaves but also the rind may be used creating an aromatic and astringent flavour.

Creative uses

  • For a citrus kick to a rice dish add a few leaves to jasmine rice.
    Using kaffir lime in a marinade produces a delicious aromatic result. It is best used with chicken, pork or lamb.
  • Kaffir lime added to rum can impart an interesting flavour. This practice occurs in Martinique, Reunion and Madagascar.

Kaffir Lime


Kaffir lime combines well with a huge range of ingredients. Fundamentals to Thai cuisine are lemongrass and ginger. Blended with kaffir lime creates a stereotypically Thai flavour profile. It goes really well with chicken, lamb and pork as well as a large variety of fish and seafood. Asian cuisine relies on the balance of all the taste groups so any food that complements the sharp sour sweet tang of kaffir lime combines perfectly.


  • Getting hold of fresh leaves in the best way to go. A great tip is to dry the leaves under direct sunlight which adds in the release of more aroma than just simply using fresh ones.
  • The intensity of kaffir lime leaf can vary depending on its source, how dried it is and age. Always taste the stew or soup regularly to see if more leaves need to be added.
  • The qualities of kaffir lime leaf are unique among the other citrus species. The same aromatic qualities do not exist in the same way in fruits like orange, lime and lemon. This is what makes kaffir lime so interesting and worth buying.