Is soy sauce vegan? Soy sauce, a common condiment used in many Asian dishes, can be a bit confusing for those following a vegan lifestyle. While it is often vegan, it isn’t always.
Below, we’ll explore the history, ingredients and production of soy sauce as well as the different varieties. We’ll also look at popular soy sauce brands and check their vegan status.
History of Soy Sauce
Soy sauce has a long history, going back more than 2,500 years in ancient China. It was discovered accidentally when a cook left a mix of soybeans and grains to ferment. When they returned, they found a tasty, dark liquid with a delightful aroma.
The sauce was initially used as a seasoning and preservative. Over time, it became incredibly popular and spread to other Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and Indonesia. Today, soy sauce is a vital ingredient in many dishes worldwide, many outside of Asian cuisine.
Soy Sauce Ingredients
The traditional ingredients and production process of soy sauce involve simple methods that have been passed down for generations. Typically soy sauce is made with 4 ingredients, with the main ingredient being soybeans.
- Soybeans: The primary ingredient of soy sauce is soybeans. These legumes are rich in protein and essential nutrients, making them a key component of the sauce's flavor.
- Wheat: Wheat is used in many traditional soy sauce recipes. It adds a subtle sweetness and helps in the fermentation process. However, some soy sauce varieties, like tamari, are wheat-free and use alternative ingredients.
- Salt: Salt acts as a preservative and contributes to the overall taste of the soy sauce. It also plays a significant role in the fermentation process.
- Water: Water is essential for the fermentation and dilution of the soybean and wheat mixture.
The traditional production process of soy sauce takes a long time and is not something that is typically made at home.
- Preparation: The first step in making soy sauce involves soaking the soybeans and wheat in water to soften them. After soaking, the excess water is drained.
- Cooking: The softened soybeans and wheat are then cooked, creating a mash or paste-like consistency. This cooking process helps break down the ingredients and release their flavors.
- Fermentation: The cooked soybean and wheat mixture is combined with salt and water, and fermentation begins. The mixture is left to ferment for several months or even up to a year, depending on the desired flavor and type of soy sauce.
- Pressing: After the fermentation period, the mixture is pressed to extract the liquid portion, which is the soy sauce. The solids are discarded or used for other purposes.
The soy sauce is then ready to be bottled and used.
Varieties of soy sauce
There are 4 different types of soy sauce: regular, light, dark and tamari. Some of these varieties can also come in Reduced Sodium.
- Regular Soy Sauce: This is the standard and most widely used variety. It has a rich, deep flavor and a dark brown color. It undergoes a longer fermentation process, which contributes to its strong taste and aroma.
- Light Soy Sauce: Light soy sauce is made from the same ingredients as regular soy sauce, but it undergoes a shorter fermentation period. It has a lighter color and a milder flavor. Light soy sauce is often used when you want to add the umami taste of soy sauce without overwhelming the dish with its dark color and strong taste.
- Dark Soy Sauce: In certain Asian cuisines, "dark soy sauce" is a separate variety. It is thicker and has a sweeter, less salty flavor compared to regular soy sauce. It is often used for adding color and sweetness to dishes and is less common outside of Asian cooking.
- Tamari: Tamari is a type of soy sauce that is traditionally gluten-free. It originated in Japan and is made primarily from soybeans, leaving out the wheat. Tamari has a rich, deep flavor with a slightly thicker consistency. It’s a popular choice for those with celiac disease or those seeking a wheat-free option.
Popular Brands of Soy Sauce
The good news is that the majority of soy sauces are vegan. Let's check out some of the more popular brands below.
- Kikkoman: Kikkoman is one of the most well-known and widely available soy sauce brands worldwide. Most of their soy sauces are considered vegan-friendly and do not contain animal-derived ingredients.
- La Choy: La Choy is a mass-produced soy sauce. However, it isn’t naturally brewed and also contains hydrolyzed soy protein, corn syrup and caramel color. While it technically does not contain any animal products, I would steer clear of this brand. Soy sauce should contain basic ingredients and not have the primary ingredients of chemical soy and corn syrup.
- 365 Shoyu Soy Sauce: The Whole Foods brand contains water, organic soybeans, organic wheat, salt and organic alcohol and is vegan-friendly.
- Lee Kum Kee: Lee Kum Kee offers various soy sauce products, and many of them are typically vegan. However, some of their specialty sauces may contain non-vegan ingredients, so it's best to read the labels and check the ingredient list.
- San-J: San-J is known for producing gluten-free Tamari soy sauce which contains only soybeans, water, salt and alcohol and is vegan-friendly.
- Pearl River Bridge: This brand offers a range of soy sauce options, and many of them are considered vegan-friendly, but always double-check the labels.
- Ohsawa: Ohsawa Shoyu soy sauce is raw, unpasteurized and fits in a vegan diet.
- Bourbon Barrel Foods: Their handcrafted small-batch soy sauce is made using non-GMO soybeans and is generally vegan-friendly.
- Yamasa: Yamasa offers various soy sauce products, and some of their versions are vegan. Check the label for specific varieties.
- Coconut Secret: This brand produces a soy-free soy sauce made from coconut tree sap and is a vegan alternative for those looking to avoid soy products. It's also known as coconut aminos.
- Bragg Liquid Aminos: Although not a traditional soy sauce, Bragg Liquid Aminos is a liquid protein concentrate made from non-GMO soybeans and water. It is considered vegan-friendly and gluten-free.
- Trader Joe's Soy Sauce: Trader Joe's contains the traditional soy sauce ingredients plus the addition of vinegar. It's vegan-friendly.
Japanese Soy Sauce vs. Chinese Soy Sauce
Japanese soy sauce and Chinese soy sauce have some differences:
- Ingredients: Japanese has more wheat, Chinese contains more soybeans.
- Flavor: Japanese soy sauce is milder and sweeter while Chinese is stronger and saltier.
- Color: Japanese is darker.
- Fermentation: Japanese soy sauce has longer fermentation.
- Usage: Japanese soy sauce is good for dipping and seasoning, while Chinese is used for marinating and for making a stir fry.
Is soy sauce gluten-free?
Traditional soy sauce is not gluten-free because it contains wheat. However, "Tamari" is a gluten-free soy sauce. It doesn't have wheat and is safe for people with gluten intolerance.
Look for "gluten-free" or "Tamari" labels on the packaging to make sure it's suitable for your diet and always check the ingredients list.
Is fish used in the production of soy sauce?
While traditionally fish sauce and fish products were occasionally used to make soy sauce, it is not commonly used today. Always check the nutritional label for an ingredients list but the vast majority of soy sauce does not contain fish or other animal ingredients.
Is Kikkoman soy sauce vegan?
Yes, Kikkoman soy sauce only contains soybeans, wheat, water and salt and does not include any ingredients from animal sources.
Does soy sauce have any health benefits?
Fermented soy sauce contains beneficial probiotics that can support gut health and improve digestion.
Soy sauce usually is vegan-friendly and it's great to have a bottle of soy sauce in your fridge for adding some great flavor. Traditional soy sauce may have contained fish, but modern versions typically don't. Tamari soy sauce is a great gluten-free and vegan alternative.
Always check labels and look for certified vegan symbols to ensure you're choosing the best soy sauce for your diet.
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