Soy sauce, a popular ingredient in both Asian and contemporary Western cuisines, is widely used worldwide. It’s a common addition to many dishes, from Chinese takeout to fine dining establishments. And, this isn’t surprising. After all, the delicious umami and salty flavor, with an occasional dash of sweetness, is so difficult to resist! This article explores soy sauce origins, types, and recipe ideas for marinades, sauces, and dipping sauces.

What is Soy Sauce?

Soy sauce, a delicious condiment and preservative, originated in China over 2,500 years ago through a process of fermenting and salting soybeans, grains, and mold cultures or yeast. However, it quickly spread to its neighboring countries throughout Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and others as it made its way to Western cuisine. It’s not surprising to understand why soy sauce use is so widespread. Soy sauce is packed with umami flavors, provides a dash of saltiness, and a hint of sweetness- making it the perfect condiment for a wide variety of dishes!

Types of Soy Sauces

If you’ve looked at any recipe that calls for soy sauce, you’ll notice that some recipes call specifically for “light soy sauce”, some for “dark soy sauce”, while others don’t specify the variation of the ingredient and simply call for “soy sauce”.

If you’ve ever been to an Asian market or stood in the international section of your local grocery store, you may have noticed the seemingly endless labels of even more variations of soy sauce! There are some with Chinese labels, Korean labels, and Japanese labels, Thai soy sauces, Vietnamese soy sauces, some that are low-sodium, some that are gluten-free, and even chemical soy sauces– all of which are distinct from one another in flavor, color, and that further divide into the rabbit hole of limitless soy sauce variations and different intended purposes.

Faced with all these confusing options, no wonder most Western cooks and restaurants use the Kikkoman brand– a Japanese all-purpose soy sauce. 

Soy Sauce Variations In Different Countries

So what are the differences in all these soy sauce variations? To keep things simple, I will compare light and dark soy sauces as they vary between cultures.

How To Use Soy Sauce

You will notice that these recipes use soy sauce in more than one way in each recipe! Mongolian beef, for example, uses soy sauce to marinade the meat prior to cooking and uses soy sauce once again as a major component of the coating sauce in the final step. To keep things simple, each recipe is in one category even if it may belong to more than one group.

Soy Sauce In Marinades

Soy Sauce
Image: Mongolian Beef

Soy Sauce In Sauces

Soy Sauce
Image: Korean Fried Chicken

Soy Sauce In Dipping Sauces

Soy Sauce
Image: The Perfect Dumpling Sauce

I hope this article helped clarify some of the differences between the various types of soy sauces and helped you understand what type of soy sauce a recipe may call for. In your now well-informed kitchen, you may find that discovering and using the most appropriate type of soy sauce may become a less stressful experience and result in an optimally delicious dish to impress yourself and anyone who tastes your dishes. Enjoy your future soy sauce dishes to their fullest!

Feature image: Kikkoman