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Learn About Soy Sauce: How Much Do You Know About Shoyu?

If you have had a chance to dine in Japan, or if you have eaten Japanese food even outside of Japan, I’m sure you have seen the “Shoyu”. Shoyu, sometimes called by different names such as “soy sauce” outside of Japan, is a liquid condiment made primarily of soy and wheat. It is one of the most basic ingredients in Japanese cooking. Photo:

The Japanese shoyu, which has been exported since the Edo Period (1603-1867) is now exported to over 100 countries worldwide and is loved around the world as an indispensable part of Japanese food. Even so, there are still things about the shoyu that is not so widely known. In this article, we sho-yu some things about the shoyu that may not be known to even the Japanese :).


Shelf Life

The shelf life of the shoyu is actually 30 days. When you look at the container, it usually has an expiration date of about a year and a half ahead. This date only applies if the bottle is unopened. Shoyu usually does not spoil because of the salt content, but it will oxidize, changing both the color and flavor. The contents of the bottle will start oxidizing once the bottle is opened and after a month, the reddish clear color liquid will turn into a brownish color and finally to a dark blackish color.

In recent years, we have started seeing packaging that prevents the sauce from coming into contact with oxygen, therefore slowing the oxidization process.

Also, where do you stock your shoyu? Perhaps below the sink with all your other seasonings…The most ideal place to store shoyu is in cool temperature away from sunlight. So, the cupboard underneath the sink is OK except that you can get unwanted bacteria in your shoyu. Inside the refrigerator would be a better storage space.


Types of Soy Sauce (Shoyu)

The types of shoyu are classified in 5 different types by the Japan Agricultural Standards(JAS). They are, “Koikuchi”, “Usukuchi”, “Tamari”, “Saishikomi” and “Shiro”.

1. Koikuchu

This is the most standard type of shoyu. 80% of the shoyu that is consumed in Japan is the koikuchi. This is the all-purpose type that can be used for dipping, pouring, cooking and mixing.

2. Usukuchi

This is a shoyu that is slightly lighter in color and is a type of shoyu that is indispensable in the cooking of the Kansai area. It is said to bring out the colors and flavors of the dish. The name of the shoyu is usu-kuchi and it seems like the term “usu-i”(light) would indicate a lighter flavor but it actually does not mean there is less salt content. In fact it has about 2% more salt than the “koi-kuchi” (koi=darker, stronger). For this reason, when the word usukuchi is written in kanji characters, the character 淡い (awai) is used, which indicates the color is lighter, not 薄い(usui) to indicate a lighter flavor.

Hyogo, which is the birthplace of the usukuchi-shoyu has shipped its shoyu to Kyoto and Osaka from around 350 years ago. It is said that this shoyu is lighter in color and more salty. Because it brings out the color and flavor of the natural ingredients, it is often used in the traditional Kaiseki-style cooking.

3. Tamari

Its characteristics include a thicker consistency and full-bodied flavors. Other than for dipping, it can be used in stewed dishes, teriyaki and basting for senbei (rice crackers). It is often used in the Aichi Prefecture and other parts of the Chubu area. While koikuchi and usukuchi shoyus use about even parts soy and wheat, the tamari is made mostly of soy.

4. Saishikomi

The saishikomi shoyu, also known as “kanro shoyu” or “sashimi shoyu” is a shoyu that is richer in color and flavor. It is ideal for dipping and pouring over food. Only 1 % of the shoyu produced is this type of shoyu and for this reason a little more pricey. It is said to be a good pairing with sashimi and sushi.

5. Shiro

This shoyu is even lighter in color than the usukuchi shoyu as the name shiro (white) may indicate. The color can be as light as the color of beer. There is less soy used (or sometimes no soy at all) and has a higher content of wheat. So it’s the opposite of tamari. It can be used in cooking when a lighter colored dish is desired. It’s used to add hints of flavor in high-class cooking or in broth of udon-noodles.


Shoyu with the Word “Nama” in its Name

Nama-beer, Nama chocolate, Nama tamago (egg)…the word “Nama” (raw, live) generally indicates foods that have not been treated with heat. Recently we see more and more of nama shoyu in the market.


There are 3 types of soy sauce (shoyu) with the term “nama” used in its name.

1. Ki Age Shoyu (Ki Age Jyoyu)


The character for nama 生 is read as ki in this word, ki-age. Ki Age Shoyu is the shoyu that has just been extracted from “moromi”, which is the unrefined fermented mash in the early stages of shoyu production. The ki-age shoyu has a rich sweet flavor. You will most likely not see this sold in your average supermarket. This has not been filtered or treated with heat and basically just extracted from the moromi. The cultures in it are still active and the quality of the shoyu is unstable. For this reason, the contents could cause the bottle to break if the shoyu is bottled and sealed in this state. They sometimes offer tasting at the shoyu factories so if you are able to visit factories in Chiba Prefecture or Shodo-shima Island in Kaga Prefecture that would be where you may be able to try it.

2. Nama Shoyu (Nama Jyoyu)


This is the shoyu after it has been extracted from the moromi and has gone through the filtration process. The standard shoyu is then treated with heat, but the nama shoyu is unique and has its name because it is not.

Doesn’t it seem like feel more fresh and tasty when something has the word “nama” in its name? Indeed, because the nama shoyu is not treated with heat, it has a better aroma and flavor. Furthermore, when you add heat for the first time during cooking, it is more fragrant.

3. Ki-Shoyu (Ki-Jyoyu)


This is also a word where the character nama is used and is pronounced “ki”. This ki-jyoyu is a shoyu that is both heated and filtered. Why then does it have the word nama in its name, you may ask. This is actually a culinary lingo to indicate “pure” shoyu. It means that there has not been any other seasoning or flavors added to it. The only seasoning that can be added for the shoyu to be called ki-jyoyu with nama in its name is salt.

To summarize…
Soy bean, wheat and koji culture are fermented>>makes Moromi
The liquids are extracted from moromi by squeezing in cloth>>makes Ki Age Shoyu
It is then, filtered>> makes Nama Jyoyu
Then it is treated with heat >> makes Ki Jyoyu

We are seeing more and more of the nama jyoyu being sold in supermarkets in Japan. Look for the character “nama 生” as an indicator. Do try the higher quality nama-jyoyu!!


Other Types of Soy Sauce (Shoyu)

The types of shoyu that we introduced above are the types of shoyu based on JAS. There are other types of shoyu as well.

1. Umakuchi shoyu

In the Kyushu area a sweeter and stronger tasting shoyu is favored. The shoyu from this area which has been seasoned with sugar and other seasoning are sometimes called “Umakuchi Shoyu”. Nagasaki had been a port where there was trade with Holland. Therefore, a lot of sugar was imported into Japan through this port. Therefore, it is said that Nagasaki cooking tends to be sweeter and the shoyu also became sweeter.

2. Sashimi Shoyu

Earlier, we mentioned that the Saishikomi Shoyu is sometimes called “Sashimi Shoyu”. Well, this one is a different kind of shoyu. This sashimi shoyu is shoyu that is said to pair well with the fatty parts of uncooked fish. The standard shoyu is sweetened and flavored with broth, etc and usually has a slightly thicker consistency.


And Even More Kinds of Soy Sauce (Shoyu)

In Japan, there is a tendency to take one food ingredient and make lots of other kinds of foods with it. Here we introduce those foods that have you thinking “They made that with shoyu?”

1. TKG Shoyu

Nama tamago (Raw egg) + Rice + shoyu =makes for a perfect dish called the Tamago Kake Gohan, known as TKG for short. This is the shoyu that is considered to be the most ideal in making the TKG.

2. Shoyu for Custard Pudding


Related: 5 Sets of Japan’s Famous Food Mixes to Get New Flavors

3. Shoyu Cider


4. Shoyu Soft Serve Ice Cream

I actually tried this in Shodoshima. If I were to describe it, it reminds me a little of the mitarashi dango, which is a type of dumplings with a thick sauce.


Lastly, a little fun trick with shoyu. Did you know that you could polish a 10 Yen coin with shoyu to get it really shiny? 

Shoyu, the condiment we use every day. There is a lot more to this all-purpose condiment! Knowing all this can really enhance the experience of eating and cooking Japanese food!

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About the author

Kimi is a Japanese living in Tokyo. She has spent half her life living overseas in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Her hobbies are traveling, eating, drinking and beautifying. She enjoys yoga and has a daily goal of running 6.5 km to offset her love of beer and junk food.

View all articles by Kimi