I’m just back from this week’s general manager’s conference in Galena, Illinois. If you get a chance to spend a weekend in Galena I highly recommend it. Many of the buildings in the small city are from the 1800’s, the rolling hills are gorgeous and the people are friendly in this quaint town along the Galena River.
Soy sauce, one of the world’s oldest and most popular condiments, was the topic of my presentation and tasting at the conference. The cornerstone of Asian cuisine, soy sauce was first used by the Chinese over 2500 years ago. The basic process for making good soy sauce has changed little over the centuries. Cooked soy beans are blended with grain, usually wheat, and inoculated with a particular mold. Chinese soy uses a higher ratio of soy to wheat than Japanese soy. Japanese soy, because of the high wheat content, tends to be lighter and sweeter than Chinese soy. After a period of fermentation, the mixture is placed in wooden barrels or ceramic crocks and covered with sea salt and water. Aging the brew allows the flavors to develop and mellow. We tasted Kimlan Aged Soy, which is aged for 18 months before it is pasteurized and bottled. Its flavor was noticeably earthier and mellower than the other Chinese soy sauces.
Also popular with tasters, Pearl River Bridge Golden Superior Light Soy, Big Bowl has used this award winning Chinese soy for the past five years. Several tasters commented on its wine like flavors and aroma. Great for dip sauces, this soy is naturally brewed and fermented and aged for a minimum of 180 days.
We tried one artisanal soy sauce brewed in Kentucky and aged in whiskey barrels. Kentucky bourbon standards require the whiskey be aged in new oak barrels in order to be called Kentucky Bourbon. Bourbon Barrel Foods takes these used barrels to age its soy sauce, as well as Worcestershire and teriyaki sauces. Made with non-gmo soy beans and spring water, some tasters really liked the unusual flavors found in this soy. Like so many artisanal, handcrafted products it carries a high price tag, especially for soy sauce.
The least favorite soy? A widely available soy packet used by many restaurants and take outs. The sauce was dark and flavorless. After reading the label, we learned that there was actually no soy in the ingredients. Caramel color, sugar, salt and preservative are the main ingredients in this product. This type of soy, like so many on the market, can be made in as little as three days and has little resemblance to the fine soy sauces at Big Bowl.
The bottom line – soy sauce, like wine, comes in many flavor profiles and tastes different to each taster. Use Chinese soy for Chinese food, Japanese soy for Japanese food. Read the label first and make sure you are getting real soy. And just as we did this week in Galena, taste it. It’s the best way to know.