Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

  • Why you should look around

    Since 2003, Chinese-forums.com has been helping people learn Chinese faster and get to China sooner. Our members can recommend beginner textbooks, help you out with obscure classical vocabulary, and tell you where to get the best street food in Xi'an. And we're friendly about it too. 

    Have a look at what's going on, or search for something specific. We hope you'll join us. 
abcdefg

Which kind of soy sauce? 酱油

Recommended Posts

abcdefg

Prompted by a recent question in another thread (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59118-revisiting-the-classics-家常菜/?tab=comments#comment-459919), here's some simple help on picking the right soy sauce. My neighborhood supermarket has 30 or 40 brands on several yards of shelves. If one just walked in cold, the choice would be nearly overwhelming. In figuring out what kind of soy sauce to use, It helps to divide them into broad categories or types. 

 

Light soy sauce 生抽 is far and away the most commonly used. If a recipe just calls for "soy sauce" without specifying further, best strategy is to use light soy sauce 生抽。It is made by fermenting soybeans for several months. The higher grades usually have a longer fermentation time. Look for brands that have no additives (many of the cheaper ones are laced with MSG.) These better ones often bear the designation 特级 te ji, which roughly means "top grade." Expect to pay 15 to 25 Yuan for a 500 ml bottle. Please click the photos to enlarge them. 

 

637573993_IMG_9290(2)-largewitharrow-875px.thumb.jpg.7859440d11847ee3789bd573c5e08491.jpgHere's the kind I have used for the last 5 or 6 years. Notice that it says 不加味精 (no added MSG.) I'm not against small amounts of MSG, but would rather add it judiciously with my own hand instead of having unknown amounts of it hiding in my soy sauce. The arrow near the bottom points to where it says 特级。It has fermented 280 days; that's what the large number means. Same company makes one with a shorter time (180 days) and another with a longer time (380 days.) I take the middle road; the middle way. This brand also has no preservatives. 

 

You can also buy soy sauce in large plastic jugs for little more than the price of Coca Cola. You could afford to take a bath in it, not that you would want to. That stuff is made with lots of zippy "instant chemistry" and has only a passing acquaintance with the soy bean to which it owes its name. Best avoided. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's easy to get seduced by "special purpose" soy sauce being promoted just for making one kind of food. One can buy a special type of soy sauce for steaming fish 蒸鱼豉油 and another soy sauce that has been flavored with tiny 虾米 dried shrimp 海鲜酱油。One other common type is promoted as being specifically for 红烧肉 red-cooked pork. It typically contains star anise plus a little cinnamon.  

 

1270049247_IMG_9297(2)-700px.thumb.jpg.b6d633990262f71da7fb8484deb2436f.jpgThere's nothing wrong with these, but they take a lot of extra cabinet space and aren't really necessary. You can use plain soy sauce just as well and add the extra seasonings by hand as required. 

 

Low-sodium soy sauce exists, and will usually be labeled 低盐酱油, meaning "low salt." It would be a mistake to think that "light soy sauce" means it is low in salt.  Some brands are labeled as being "natural and organic" 天然有机。I don't have any experience with them. 

 

When I use soy sauce in a dish, I dial back the cooking salt 食用盐 a little to allow for it. 

 

All soy sauce contains flour in addition to fermented soy, so it's not gluten free, just in case that is something with which you are concerned.   

 

 

 

 

The second main kind of soy sauce is 老抽,usually rendered into English as "old soy sauce." or "dark soy sauce." It is used in cooking, not as a table condiment. It's quite a bit more concentrated than "young soy sauce" 生抽,and typically contains both flour-based thickeners and molasses-type sweeteners. It is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, whereas light soy sauce just runs right off. 

 

If I'm using a casual Chinese recipe that calls for both 生抽 and 老抽 without specifying precise amounts, I will use three or four times as much 生抽 as 老抽。Old soy sauce imparts a deeper color to a dish but not a whole lot of flavor. It is very often made with fermented mushrooms added during processing to enrich the taste, to make it more substantial. Here's one I've used several years with good results. Note the arrow pointing out that it is also 特级 (top grade.) Costs about the same as 生抽, 15 or 20 Yuan for a 500 ml bottle.

 

1007462453_IMG_9292(2)-largewitharrow-875px.thumb.jpg.223da40ebc5e2ad4353bd526f306c69b.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes one also uses a very thick soy sauce as a dipping sauce for roast meat or duck 烤肉/烤鸭, alone or mixed with plum sauce. It is slightly sweet and comes in a wide-mouth jar; thick enough to require a spoon to serve it. If you are looking for general-purpose Chinese cooking soy sauce, that's not what you are after. Pass it by. 

 

In summary, your kitchen cupboard will be just fine with a bottle of 生抽 and another of 老抽。It's worth shelling out the little bit extra to get 特级 editions of both.  

  • Like 2
  • Helpful 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

DavyJonesLocker

@abcdefg excellent write up, thanks.

 I found a very good one recently and just stick with that now. I do think the taste is richer than the cheaper ones

 

I see it is indeed a 特级 which I never paid attention to before your post!

 

 

 

Screenshot_20191014_140613_com.xstore.sevenfresh.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
abcdefg

Yes, that's a real good one that you found. Top shelf!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
abcdefg

Good point @calibre2001 -- I've definitely enjoyed kecap manis when traveling in Indonesia. Very fond of Indonesian cuisine. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
dtcamero

after living in japan for a few years and trying all their soy sauces, I find I have yet to meet a chinese one that is better than this.

It's tangy in a way that makes all others seem bland, full of fermented soybean flavor.

i did a quick search and couldn't find it on taobao or baidu... but if you go to a fancy import store with lots of japanese stuff you'll probably find it.

well worth the additional penny or two.

1391734744089663_-1750372646.jpg

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
abcdefg

Thank you @dtcamero -- I used lots of Kikoman back in the US. Have not tried the one you pictured, but I appreciate the tip very much. Can it be used as a dipping sauce for sushi and sashimi, or only for cooking? Is it viscous like honey or thin like cola? 

 

I get to Japan every year or two. I will definitely look for it next time and "import" a bottle of it to Kunming. 

 

Last month I was in Taiwan as a tourist, visiting small cities near Taipei. Was surprised at first to see such a strong and pervasive Japanese influence in the cuisine, even though I know the historical reasons. The biggest shock I got was one evening at a glorious night market 夜市 when I saw a sign for 拉面。Had a seat expecting hand-pulled noodles made by Muslim guys with white caps and strong arms. Turned out the same term 拉面 has been adopted to describe Ramen. Similar sound, but it still surprised me. Taste was fine. Broadened my horizons. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
dtcamero

@abcdefg the kikkoman is basically just flavorless colored saltwater.

this stuff, called kishibori shoyu, has got a really strong flavor; great for japanese, chinese or western  cooking. i’m often looking for something to add a little punch of flavor and this is one of my go-to solutions. 

my friend’s wife is an editor for a cooking blog, and after i gave her some she wrote a whole article about how much she like it:

www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/this-is-the-best-soy-sauce-article/amp

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Bibu
On 10/14/2019 at 11:49 AM, abcdefg said:

Light soy sauce 生抽 is far and away the most commonly used.

Soybean sauce aka 酱油 today is so different from my childhood, basically you not not have so many choices and brand like today, but local made soybean sauce, the very traditional sauce,  it turns bad in summer time easily , when many white particles floating in your sauce bottle, you know it turns bad. also the term 打酱油 reflected the way of buying sauce: you take your own bottle to the grocery, and they pour over the amount through a funnel tube into your own bottle. The sauce was in a big jar like the pic attached. 打酱油 normally is the privilege for kids.

 

one day i just realised all the above 10 years ago in Beijing, the same soybean sauce was intact for more than 1 years. For quite a long time i never saw those white floating in my sauce bottle....

 

As a northern, I do believe the term of 生抽 and 老抽 is from Canton area. In those nice old day we only have local organic soybean sauce and local beers.

11090224290965_877.jpg

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
abcdefg
10 hours ago, dtcamero said:

 

this stuff, called kishibori shoyu, has got a really strong flavor; great for japanese, chinese or western  cooking. i’m often looking for something to add a little punch of flavor and this is one of my go-to solutions. my friend’s wife is an editor for a cooking blog, and after i gave her some she wrote a whole article about how much she like it:

www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/this-is-the-best-soy-sauce-article/amp

 

Wow! My eyes have been opened! Sounds terrific. Cannot wait to try it. Actually I would like few things better than to organize a soy sauce tasting with 3 or 4 candidates. One or two high-end mass market ones, and one or two artisanal brands. China might have something similar to kishibori shoyu, but I'm too ignorant to know. Will snoop around some, ask some friends. (It's not likely to be found at Walmart.) 

 

The other thing I really miss here, and I realize this is a small digression, is high-end sea salt. Luckily I've found some decent imports (usually Mediterranean.) Japan, being an island nation, probably has some great ones.   

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Balthazar
5 hours ago, dtcamero said:

the kikkoman is basically just flavorless colored saltwater.

 

They have a whole range of varieties. I recommend you try their marudaizu version (if you haven't already), which uses whole beans. Nothing like the standard offering, but can be hard to find abroad and it's not cheap.

 

I wouldn't really put Japanese and Chinese soy sauce up against each other, as they are quite different beasts (I have no experience with Korean soy sauce, but hear they are closer to the Chinese). I prefer using Chinese soy sauce when making Chinese food and vice versa.

 

Living in the West severely limits our options, but I'll post a info on what we use when I get home

 

Great write-up as usual @abcdefg

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
dtcamero

@Balthazar ya i’m sure they have fancier ones by now, i’m kinda turned off by the whole brand though honestly, anything by suntory as well.

 

@abcdefg this is my favorite sea salt, fab taste and it comes in flakes which have a great little crunch.

64F55763-1044-4001-9752-32A5477BF664.jpeg

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Balthazar
22 minutes ago, dtcamero said:

ya i’m sure they have fancier ones by now,

 

Not trying to argue here, but they've had a pretty broad range for ages. I think the "bottom scrapings" standard variety (which, to be fair, is the quality level of all "big brand" standard varieties) is actually more recent. I'm fairly sure they used better quality stuff back in the late 1600s, for instance 😛

Beggars can't be choosers though, and where I live only Kikkoman and Yamaha is widely available..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
abcdefg
4 hours ago, dtcamero said:

this is my favorite sea salt, fab taste and it comes in flakes which have a great little crunch.

 

Yes, it's a great finishing salt. I've just made a "note to self" to buy a box of it when I next go to the US and bring it back in my suitcase. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Balthazar
9 hours ago, Balthazar said:

Living in the West severely limits our options, but I'll post a info on what we use when I get home

 

... and I'm home.

 

Out of the available options here, we prefer Lee Kum Kee. We used to stick to their "Premium Light Soy Sauce", but a couple of years ago we switched to their "Double Deluxe Soy Sauce" (slightly more delicious, and no E's (which matters more to my wife than it does to me), but at twice the price) also known as "Double Fermented Soy Sauce" in some markets.

 

spacer.png

 

We also use their "Premium Dark Soy Sauce" for certain dishes, and their "Seasoned Soy Sauce For Seafood" when steaming fish (the only "gimmick"/specific purpose soy sauce I actually think is worth buying).

 

spacer.png

 

Also, here's the higher quality Kikkoman I mentioned earlier. I think you'll be hard pressed to find anything better for your sashimi outside of Asia:

 

spacer.png

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
dtcamero

@Balthazar sure i’ve had that kikkoman before, in a japanese house. many japanese people ironically don’t see the point of spending money on soy sauce. 

i would put that in with other “normal” soy sauces personally, way different from the kishibori.

 

i’ll admit that the one i’m suggesting is probably twice the price of regular soy sauce, but given the flavor density i think i use less generally. not to mention the special flavor qualities that make it worthwhile.

 

not sure where you live but you’ll be surprised that many asian supermarkets have kishibori, and amazon carries it in the states. give it a try maybe, i promise i get no money from this endorsement 😂

 

https://www.amazon.com/Kishibori-Shoyu-Artisan-unadulterated-preservatives/dp/B005GQYXTC/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?keywords=kishibori+shoyu+soy+sauce&qid=1571163118&sprefix=kishibori&sr=8-3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Balthazar
1 hour ago, dtcamero said:

many japanese people ironically don’t see the point of spending money on soy sauce. 

 

That's a good point. This seems to be true for "artisan" stuff in general. The fancier the bottle, the slimmer the chance that it's what a local will have in his/her kitchen, etc.

 

Also, I can assure you that kishibori is not available here (Oslo, Norway). If it were, I'd be all over it.

 

I frequent the larger Asian supermarkets, and even coming across the whole beans Kikkoman is a rarity (there is currently one Japan-focused shop that offers it, and that's it). There's a couple of Chinese brands and lots of really cheap South East Asian brands.

 

The internet is always an option, but I'm not about to fork out 2x of the product item for shipping soy sauce to Norway anytime soon 😛

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
abcdefg
8 hours ago, Balthazar said:

(slightly more delicious, and no E's (which matters more to my wife than it does to me)

 

What does "no E's" mean? Is it no additives and no preservatives? 

 

I've seen double fermented soy sauce here, but have not tried it. Embarrassed to admit that I have not explored the high end varieties which are available. Just located a good mid-quality, mid-price soy sauce and then stuck with it. 

 

It wasn't hard to learn to avoid the really cheap ones, because they are typically full of sugar, salt and MSG and taste thin. They just don't have much soy flavor. Have not used them in many years. 

 

I will try to expand my horizons some in the coming days now that I've learned more from the enlightened comments in this thread. I frequently use soy sauce as an ingredient in a simple salad dressings plus as part of a dipping sauce with lime and ginger. It should not be hard to appreciate improved taste in applications like that. Might be less easy to detect a higher grade of soy sauce when it's just one ingredient in a complex cooked dish. (Will investigate. Always glad to learn something new.) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...