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The ABCs of Japanese Cooking
#1 Soy sauce

December 5, 2016

Hi, everyone! I'm Madam Akiko.

Since you've browsed your way to this site, let me make an educated guess. You love Japanese food and like eating it at restaurants, but you've seldom tried making it yourself. Am I right?

Now, here's some good news!
JAPANESE FOOD is launching a brand new Japanese cooking course that teaches you the very basics.
We'll be presenting all sorts of interesting information about Japanese food that will make you want to explore the food culture in greater depth.
So hop on board and learn the ABCs of Japanese food, Washoku, with me, Madam Akiko.

Who the heck is Madam Akiko?! I'm sorry, let me tell you a bit about myself.
I'm a tofu fan and one of my favorite foods is deep-fried tofu with a savory sauce. I'm not conscious of this myself, but apparently I'm always exclaiming “Oishii!” - "Yummy!"
Japanese cooking is actually quite easy and the results are so gratifying! It's tasty. It's also healthy. And just like Japanese culture in general, there's a lot of emphasis on appreciating the seasons.
Enjoy cooking with me, Madam Akiko!

Soy sauce

Japanese cuisine makes use of several basic seasonings. But I'd say soy sauce is definitely the most important. It makes a world of difference to your cooking. So let me offer you one or two insights into this must-have seasoning.

1. What is soy sauce made from?
The main ingredients are soybeans, wheat and salt.
These are boiled in water and fermented using koji mold. After six months or so, the fermented mash is squeezed and strained and becomes a delicious soy sauce!

2. What does soy sauce do?
Soy sauce enhances color, flavor and fragrance.

Soy sauce on grilled or fried foods creates a mouth-watering golden brown dish, and to simmered foods it adds luster. Some types of soy sauce actually enhance rather than destroy the original colors of the ingredients. Foods that are fried or grilled to a deep golden brown are sooooo delicious!

From Madam Akiko's Book of Trivia
Did you know that sushi chefs refer to soy sauce as murasaki? This dates back to the days when soy sauce was a deep purple, which is what murasaki means.

Soy sauce is a balance of all five flavors: saltiness, sweetness, tartness, bitterness and umami.

There's nothing like the smell of browned soy sauce. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water! Soy sauce contains over 300 different aromatic compounds.

From Madam Akiko's Book of Trivia
I've heard it said that people arriving at an international airport in Japan will sometimes say they detect a scent of soy sauce. What an amazing sense of smell!

3. Types of soy sauce
Several types of soy sauce are used in Japanese cooking. The three most common types are koikuchi, usukuchi and tamari.

1. Koikuchi soy sauce

A dark soy sauce that originated in the Kanto region.

This is a well-balanced, all-purpose soy sauce, most commonly used in recipes.
If a recipe calls for soy sauce, this is what it's referring to. It has a 16% salt content.

Recommended for: sukiyaki, simmered daikon radish and yellowtail, plus meat and potato stew.

2. Usukuchi soy sauce

A light soy sauce that originated in the Kansai region.

This is used to preserve the natural color of ingredients. Because of its relatively high salt content (19%), it's more suitable for cooking with dashi, rather sweeter dishes.

Recommended for: udon noodle soup, Japanese-style omelets and simmered vegetables.

3. Tamari soy sauce

Produced mainly in the Chubu region.

This is very dark and thick and has a distinctive fragrance. It's mostly made of soybeans with only a small amount of wheat. To enjoy sushi, go with tamari! It has a salt content of 16%.

Also recommended for: yakitori, grilled onigiri rice balls, mackerel simmered in a sweet and savory sauce.

Madam Akiko's recipe of the day

I bet you're getting hungry. Let's start cooking!
I thought we'd start with kara-age fried chicken.

Click here for the recipe!
Akiko Watanabe's kara-age fried chicken It really is oishii! So do try it. Bon appetit!

Mini Quiz

Ahem! After a good meal, there's nothing like a good nap. But not until you answer my quiz!


The main ingredients of soy sauce are soybeans, wheat and sugar.
True or false?

The correct answer is False! The main ingredients are soybeans, wheat and...salt, not sugar.

I hope I've been able to offer you some useful new information about soy sauce. It really is essential in Japanese cooking. The smell of browned soy sauce is divine! Just the thought of it makes me long for another meal. That's it for now. See you again soon.

See also
#2 Mirin, sake, and miso
#3 Knives and cutting boards
#4 Basic cutting techniques
#5 Otoshibuta drop lid
#6 Chopsticks Part 1
#7 Chopsticks Part 2
#8 Dashi
#9 How to cook rice without a rice cooker
#10 Dried foods
#11 How to make miso from scratch
#12 Homemade Tsukemono
#13 Mushrooms
Let Us “Shoyu” the Wondrous World of Soy Sauce