At age 18, Myron Becker joined the U.S. Navy and became a member of the Naval Security Group, a branch of the National Security Agency, a national communications intelligence agency. They stationed him in Kami Seya, Japan, a small seaport base about 14 miles from Yokahama. There, he was assigned to intercept Russian naval communications, but culinary espionage led him to survey secrets far more interesting.

“I became enamored with Japanese culture and spent a lot of time learning about Japanese cuisine,” says Becker, who is now a professional chef and manufacturer of Japanese sauces and marinades. His position afforded him the opportunity to spend time off base, which meant many of his clandestine trips were spent hiding in the back of yakitori houses (restaurants that specialize in teriyaki-style cuisine), learning the secrets of teriyaki.

Becker recalls the flavor points in those sauces were acceptable not only to him (his adventuresome parents had exposed him to a variety of ethnic cuisines), but also to other American sailors from more conservative culinary backgrounds. “I remember guys from Kansas, Tennessee and Ohio all captivated by the flavors. The authentic flavors were not too foreign or esoteric for the American palate. They just hadn't been [exposed]…to soy sauce and Asian marinades in the U.S.,” says Becker.

In 1967, when he returned to the States, he searched supermarkets and specialty stores for Oriental sauces. “The sauces that were called teriyaki sauces in U.S. stores didn't even closely resemble what I tasted in Asia,” says Becker. “In those days, what Americans knew of soy sauces was hydrolyzed vegetable protein.”

I'll Shoyu

Since then, Becker has worked to redefine Asian cooking sauces for the American palate. “Clearly, Asian flavor profiles in food are much more than a trend at this point; they are a pretty established vogue,” he says. However, for most people, their experience is limited to soy sauce at Americanized Chinese restaurants. Although Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines also have become more common to Americans, soy sauce has been relegated for use only within these cuisines.

In many Asian countries, soy sauces are brewed, aged and collected like fine wine. There are soy sauces for special occasions and sauces for daily use. In Japan, there are more than 2,600 soy sauce breweries, says Becker. “They distinguish themselves by fairly nuanced flavor profiles. There is a vast difference between the mass-produced and small brewery brands.”

Distinctions in soy sauce brands are caused by several different variables, including the quality of the spring water, the type of vats used to age it, the length of aging, the percentage of wheat, the length the wheat has roasted and the filtering process.

In general, the two main types of natural soy sauce, shoyu and tamari, are produced through the fermentation of soybeans, water, salt and koji (Aspergillus) spores. Tamari is made from the liquid that collects atop miso, a fermented soybean paste. In the case of shoyu, the yellowish-green mold inoculates the wheat. This takes about three days to develop. “Like bakeries that each have their own sourdough yeast, each soy sauce brewery will have a proprietary koji,” says Becker. It is a process similar to making beer or wine.

“It takes time to learn what the proper amount of water, soybeans, salt, temperature or humidity is, to create the best-tasting soy sauce,” says Wendy Esko, a marketing assistant at a natural foods distributor and importer of traditionally made, Oriental foods.

The pH of the water source also can contribute a huge degree of differentiation. Oftentimes, soy breweries are centered on natural springs in the southern part of Japan, where limestone increases the pH. The alkaline water supply makes for sweeter water, says Becker.

Sea salt is added to the water to stop the fermentation process, and to stabilize the soy sauce. The longer a soy sauce ages, the less salty and the more expensive it will be. Electrolysis is another recently developed method by which the salt content is reduced by almost 50%, reports Esko.

Glutamic acid is produced through the fermentation process and produces a taste sensation called umami, a Japanese word for savory. There is a natural umami flavor in most foods. “A well-brewed soy sauce amplifies the flavors that are naturally occurring in proteins, vegetables or grains,” explains Becker.

“Umami is a state of mind,” opines Herbert Stone, president of Tragon Corp., a Redwood City, Calif.-based marketing, research and consulting firm. Stone, also the current president of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT, Chicago, Ill.), has spent the last several years working in and out of China. “You can't just sprinkle umami on a product. It's hard to know what flavoring materials are associated with umami,” he says. “It really turns out to be a family of compounds that includes glutamate.”

Some processes do not utilize natural fermentation but are created in a temperature-controlled incubator with certain additives to speed up the fermentation process. “A slow, traditional fermentation will yield a different sensory profile than a chemical process,” informs Stone. Esko comments that naturally made, slowly fermented soy sauce has a toasty caramel flavor, which is slightly sweet, not overpoweringly salty and has a clean taste that is both complex, yet balanced.

“Since there is no way to duplicate the slow fermentation flavor, a manufacturer must decide how close the sensory profile should match the slowly fermented sauce and how the finished product will be applied in the marketplace,” suggests Stone.

Tsukeyaki Slide

In China, diners use both dark- and light-colored soy sauces. Interestingly, the lighter sauce tastes saltier than the darker sauce. Like Japanese tamari, Chinese soy sauces have different culinary uses. Dark soy sauce is more viscous, and has a much deeper, thicker flavor; it is used to braise and stew foods. The lighter sauce more often is used in soups and stir fries, or when lighter colors are desired.

Similarly, Japanese cooks use different intensities of soy sauces and a variety of what Becker describes as teriyaki sauces; however, they simply are called sauce or shoyu. Shoyu is made with roasted wheat, while tamari contains all the same ingredients minus wheat. “The wheat is responsible for imparting the delicious flavors that shoyu has,” Becker explains. “They use a different marinating sauce or basting sauce for red meats and dark heavy foods than they would for lighter foods.”

The word teriyaki comes from the Japanese verb terimasu (to shine), and yaki (to cook over a fire or grill). Teriyaki is more a flavor profile in the U.S., but it is a grilling technique in Japan. “Just plain honey and soy sauce is teriyaki. You could use ketchup, and it would still be teriyaki,” comments Becker.

When a filet of sole is “teriyakied,” a very light, delicate sauce with a high concentration of sake, or Japanese rice wine, is preferred. It also will have ginger and maybe some citrus. Tsukeyaki is an example of such a sauce. A teriyakied piece of beef would require a much darker, more robust sauce with deeper flavor points and a good peppery or garlicky flavor profile.

Traditional tamari, the liquid collected from the top of fermented hacho (soybean) miso, usually is an expensive, rare commodity reserved for special occasions. Because it does not contain wheat, it has a very strong taste compared to shoyu. To brew a large quantity of tamari, more water is added to the hacho miso recipe, generating a sauce with similar flavor--for less cost and with less viscosity.

“Tamari, which is slightly more bitter and salty than sweet, is used more frequently in food processing. The flavor tends to mellow with longer cooking,” says Esko. It is used in dishes that need to be cooked longer, such as beans. It is sprayed on crackers to create a salty flavor and a shiny appearance. Tamari is darker in color than shoyu, has a stronger flavor and is thicker. Tamari soy sauce implants its flavor in food, while shoyu soy sauce harmonizes and enhances flavors.

Someone's in the Kitchen with China

Most times, soy-based sauces are added because of their ability to complement the protein being used. “The deep, full-body flavor of slow-brewed sauce doesn't mask the natural flavors of the food but blends in, enhances and brings out natural flavors,” says Esko. It is just as complementary when used to marinate meat, stir-fry noodles, roast vegetables and can be used to glaze candied yams.

“Used judiciously, soy-based sauces do not make American regional foods or European-style foods taste Oriental when you use them,” explains Becker. Americanized Asian sauces are not as sweet. “[Formulators] play a balancing act between authenticity and market preferences. If we could be faulted for not being quite authentic, it would be because we don't sweeten sauces as much as the Japanese do,” he says.

Becker has seen Asian sauces used in French restaurants as a marinade on Portobello mushrooms sandwiches or mixed with tomato purée and then simmered with pork loins. He has come across ponzu sauce mixed with caviar in certain seafood appetizers or teriyaki sauce added to French onion soup stock. “I hear about incredible culinary applications with my sauces that I never would have thought about,” says Becker.

Becker suggests that Oriental sauces can be used to season meats in Home Meal Replacement (HMR) prepared foods, since they are largely dependent on sauces. “You don't really need a lot of soy sauce to get a delicious flavor. There is a fine line between using just the right amount of sauce to bring out the flavors in food, and doing the opposite by adding too much, which would mask the flavors and all you taste is sodium,” says Esko.

“Oriental sauces are not very complicated or detailed as would be seen in traditional French cooking or even in contemporary American cuisine,” says Stone. “The difference in China versus here is the diversity of the raw materials--plants, fruits and roots--that are used in Oriental preparations but not typical over here.” For example, he notes that it is not unusual to have dried, black, fermented tea as a seasoning or sauce. The Asian sensory experiences are much different.

Seaweed, another example, is dried and added as flakes to some dishes. “Many of these taste characteristics don't hit you right away,” says Stone. “They linger a little bit.” Some thick Asian sauces slow down the rate at which you experience the taste sensation. In addition, because most Asian foods are cooked quickly at high heat, the sauces are better able to bring out the natural umami of the plant or animal material. Soy sauces are useful to enhance the saltiness of a product--without adding additional salt.


“Any food company in the flavor business that is not in China is making a big mistake,” warns Stone. “There is no question that there are herbs there that we don't know very much about.” On a recent business trip to China, Stone recounts how none of the botanists or food experts that accompanied him at dinner one night could explain or translate the name of a certain plant material that he had been served. The arugula-like dish was so common to his dinner mates that they did not find it unique at all. From this experience, he gauged that the only way American food formulators could benefit from Asian spices, seasonings and dishes was to experience it themselves. He has found it helpful to explore commonplace restaurants on his trips overseas.

Becker agrees, admitting that he went to a great extent to source ingredients for his sauces. “We wanted to set our products apart and create the authentic and quality flavor profiles that I felt were in demand,” he explains.

“If you can find unique raw materials, ingredients or flavoring systems from one culture and apply them in another, why not add it if the end result is a finished product that the consumer finds [appetizing],” says Stone. “If you are trying to set yourself apart from your competition, then it makes sense to [travel and explore].”

Sidebar: Oriental Over There

Above and beyond soy sauce, chefs are turning to many different seasonings.

Mirin, sweetened cooking sake, is a popular Asian sauce made from fermented rice. “The Japanese are very fond of sugar,” says Becker. “Sugar is also a very powerful flavor enhancer--just like shoyu.” While tamari will discolor foods, mirin is golden and does not affect color.

Ponzu is a tart dipping sauce made from shoyu and either yuzu or sudachi, two Japanese citrus fruits. “Ponzu is too sour for the typical American palate,” explains Becker. Nevertheless, the thick, glaze-like sauce has a very unique profile and also can be used in non-Asian salad dressings, dips, salsas, pasta and sushi. Ponzu can be sweetened with barley malt but, commercially, sugar is used and yuzu and sudachi may be substituted with lemon or lime. “It is multi-dimensional with sweet, salty and sour connotations,” says Esko.

Kecap Manis, an Indonesian sweet soy sauce, also is coming into vogue right now. It is a syrup made of soy sauce and palm sugar.

Wasabi, a green Japanese horseradish, can be used to spice up a variety of dishes. “It doesn't taste hot immediately, but its intensity builds and then quickly dissipates,” says Esko. It is said to have antibacterial properties and aids in digestion, she notes. In Japan, real wasabi is considered a natural treasure, but most commercial formulations do not contain any wasabi but a mixture of ground horseradish and mustard powders. It often is diluted with corn starch and chemical colorings.

Umeboshi plums and paste are made from small un-ripened plums pickled with salt and the dark red leaves of the shiso or beefsteak plant also known as perilla, which give pickled umeboshi plums their natural red color. “There is nothing else like shiso,” says Becker. It is used in very small quantities because it has such a distinct, profound flavor. It is related to the mint family. Among other things, the extremely salty and sour Umeboshi concoction has been added to beverages, sauces, dips and dressings. There are two types of shiso, green and red. The green leaves are slightly minty, sour and bitter, and are used mainly in making sushi or serving sushi upon.

Sidebar #2: Showcase: Soy Sauce and Savory Flavors

Looking to give your microwave chicken entree a fresh, oven-roasted flavor? Want a veggie burger that tastes like a grilled all-beef patty? DM Choice[r] savory flavors achieve the precise nuance you desire. From beef to seafood, poultry to pork, David Michael offers a wide variety of flavors that will provide a fresh approach to processed, frozen and microwaved foods. David Michael & Co., Customer Satisfaction, 215-632-3100,,

Gold Coast Ingredients offers a full line of Asian-type flavors. Both natural and artificial flavors come in powder and liquid forms. Many varieties are available, including Shiso, Kimchee, Chai Tea, Hoisin Sauce, Honey Lemongrass, Green Tea, Pad Thai, Soy Sauce, Taro, Teriyaki, Thai Tea and Ube. These products are ideal for sauces, beverages and entrees. Gold Coast Ingredients, Tomo Tsuchiya, 800-352-8673,,

A free-flowing product made from actual fermented soy sauce, Humko Soy Sauce Powder 30915 provides maximum flavor, color and aroma without the mess, waste and handling problems associated with liquid soy sauce. Soy sauce combines elements of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. In foods, it adds dimension and interest to the flavor and aroma profile. These profiles enhance meat applications, seasonings, dressings, sauces and even chocolate. Humko, Division of ACH Food Companies Inc., Kimberly Dixon, 800-344-8656, ext. 0

Whether you are formulating a vitamin-fortified or soy-based beverage, yogurt or nutritional bar, Virginia Dare is your source for natural flavors and innovative ideas. Masking the off-notes, selecting the specific flavor and identifying the proper usage levels are challenges the company can help with. The new line of Prosweet[r] Flavor Improvers and Masking Agents was developed specifically for the functional food market. Discuss current projects with their technical service specialists. Virginia Dare, 718-788-1776,

See why all of the most popular BBQ sauces, marinades and meat rubs contain naturally brewed soy sauce. When a fine chef prepares a meat dish, the chef wants the very best presentation, the best aroma and the best flavor. Yamasa's four-century-old brew process is a big reason so many chefs prefer Yamasa Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce. Whether it's a sauce, a marinade or a rub, the soy sauce helps to make the experience special. Yamasa, Masahiro Abe, 310-944-3883,

Blendex Custom Blending works closely with customers to develop custom food products, using only the best ingredients to provide peak performance at a reasonable cost. The company is recognized as one of America's highest-quality formulating, blending and packaging processors of food products. The food safety programs TQM, FDA and AIB, combined with kosher and HACCP certification, ensure product quality and peace of mind. Blendex Custom Blending, Ron Carr, 800-BLENDEX,

International Dehydrated Foods Inc. offers a wide selection of products to bring savory flavor to all your applications. For label identity and essential tastes necessary for flavor systems, start with IDF[r] Meat Powders. For a rich, roasted flavor or a smooth, savory finish, IDF Broth Powders offer an agglomerated texture that is particularly suited for soups, bases, marinades and injection solutions. IDF Fat and Broth Powders provide that savory flavor and creamy mouthfeel in sauces, soups, gravies and more. IDF, 417-881-7820,,

The flavors of Asian cuisine are complex and require many layers to taste like an authentic dish. Chr. Hansen's savory flavors can help duplicate those flavors economically. There are meat, poultry and seafood flavors, as well as vegetable, seed and nut flavors needed to make delicious Chinese, Thai, Japanese or Vietnamese dishes. Varieties mimic almost any cooking style, such as fried, sauteed, roasted or stewed, and can be customized. Chr. Hansen Inc., Karen Wood-Brasel, 800-558-0802, karen.wood-brasel@,

Myron's Fine Foods Inc.'s retail and foodservice sauces and marinades include Yakitori, Teriyaki, Ponzu, Tsukeyaki, Szechuan, and a complex Eurasian Fusion for game, pork and beef. The company also packs Roasted Sesame Oil, Aged Shoyu and Rice Wine Vinegar for foodservice. Chef Myron's products are Star-K kosher, pareve certified and made with natural ingredients including sake, fresh ginger and garlic, lemon and lime juice. They are low-sodium and contain no preservatives or MSG. Myron's Fine Foods Inc., 978-544-2820,

Eden Foods has maintained a standard for organic and natural foods since 1968. This family-owned, natural foods company has a dedicated network of U.S. family farms nurturing more than 40,000 acres of organic farmland. No irradiation, no preservatives, no chemical additives, no food colorings, no refined sugars, no genetically engineered ingredients. Products include Edensoy[r], Organic Whole Grain Pastas, Organic Beans, Organic Fruit Juices and more. Eden Foods, 800-248-0320,,

Soy sauce is a fermented flavor used in dishes throughout the world. Nikken has the experience and resources to spray dry a naturally brewed product with consistently flavorful taste and quality. And, the company offers powdered soy sauce in many different versions. Come to your senses. Come to Nikken. Orders may be placed online at Nikken Foods Company, Herb Bench, 636-532-1019

Hormel Specialty Products offers a complete line of Building Blocks[r] broth flavors. This line provides the savory flavor notes necessary to bring out the true potential in soups, gravies and meats. Its flavored stocks cover all the major proteins: beer, chicken, pork and turkey, as well as vegetable and char-grilled flavors. Hormel is ready to put its expertise to work for you. Hormel Specialty Products, Mike Buttshaw, 800-956-0399,

Use TABASCO[r] brand Industrial Ingredients to put Ka-poww! in grilled meats, poultry, and vegetables. In marinades, the original red pepper sauce not only adds spice but also draws out unique flavor notes otherwise unappreciated. The Processor's Blend gives the unmistakable flavor of TABASCO to rubs and other dry or semi-dry applications. There are 11 varieties of industrial ingredients, including Jalapeño Sauce, Jalapeño Dry Flavoring and the newest, Chipotle Sauce. Samples available. TABASCO Industrial Ingredients, 337-373-6105,

WILD Flavors Inc. offers flavors typically associated with Asian cuisine such as ginger, garlic and sesame. Flavors to address increasingly popular Thai cuisine are also available: coconut, lime, curry and allergen-free peanut. For convenience, WILD Flavors Inc. offers complete Asian-type flavor systems combining flavors, spices and colors. Asian marinades for meats also are available. WILD Flavors, Donna Hansee, 859-342-3526,

Spice it up with garlic puree from The Garlic Company. The puree consists of freshly peeled garlic, either coarsely or finely ground into a thick paste, which can be provided fresh, frozen or shelf-stable. Varied pack sizes. Processed garlic also available chopped, sliced, diced and juice. The Garlic Company, 661-393-4212, ext. 114,

With a rich, 2,000-year history, soy sauce is one of the oldest natural flavor enhancers in the modern world. From salad dressings to marinades, soups, sauces, gravies, stocks, BBQ sauces and more, Wan Ja Shan's “soy sauce is not just for Oriental foods.” With more than 250 identifiable flavor components, soy sauce rounds out, develops and enhances the flavors of other ingredients in your product. Wan Ja Shan, Thomas Gush, 800-45-SAUCE,

This enzyme-modified butter powder is bursting with butter flavor, and adds mouthfeel and richness to products without adding fat. Commercial Creamery Company's natural butter flavor, Butter Burst 8132, also works well to mask flavors. The starting use level is 1%. Applications include baked goods, dressings, dips, sauces, soups, seasonings, potatoes, confections, etc. Samples available. Commercial Creamery Company, 800-541-0850,

Degussa Food Ingredients' Flavors business line has over 35 years of experience in the creation and application of savory flavors. The company's creative research chefs combine three disciplines: culinary arts, product development and food technology. Degussa excels in the development of spice flavors, dairy, vegetable and/or meat type flavors for savory applications. Those in need of savory flavors should contact Degussa's flavors division, Maxens[tm]. Degussa Food Ingredients, Kim Carson, 513-771-4682,,

Culinary scientists at Takasago Corp. Int'l. in the U.S. and its global affiliates use proprietary technology and creative artistry to develop trend-setting meat, seafood and savory flavors that are kosher, vegetarian, halal, non-GMO and all-natural. Most are in liquid and powder forms for use in soups, sauces, gravies, bouillon and seasoning mixes. Traditional Asian flavors like oyster sauce, premium soy sauce, Hoisin, Hunan, Szechwan, red bean, Thai, taro root, Wasabi, Char Sui and other ethnic flavors are also available. Takasago Corp. Int'l., Maria Triantafilos, 201-767-9001,

Building on demand for hot Asian flavors, Kikkoman has developed four new savory “Future Food” concepts including a sushi chip, tofu dish, omelet seasoning and a Japanese-inspired rice burger--all enhanced with Kikkoman Soy Sauce. Naturally brewed, the soy sauce is ideal in today's prepared foods, mixes, soups, sauces, dips and seasonings. Kikkoman International Inc., Industrial Dept., 415-956-7750,

PURAC[r] Powder enhances savory flavors. A dry form of PURAC's natural lactic acid is the perfect flavor enhancer for Asian and soy dishes, as well as tomato, cheese, onion, pepper, spice, beef and chicken. PURAC Powder also can be used in reduced-sodium applications. Reducing the sodium reduces the flavor enhancement. These sort of applications benefit from the addition of 0.05-0.3% lactic acid, which partially compensates for the flavor-enhancing role the salt was performing. Samples available. PURAC, 888-899-8014

Need your Oriental products to have kosher status? Eatem Foods has introduced Organic Vegetable Base--new to the Kosher Base line. It's perfect for boosting the vegetable notes in stir fry items, organic rice dishes, egg rolls and spring rolls. This value-added base, made for both the organic market and the kosher foods industry, offers convenience, authentic flavor and clean labels. Certified by QAI and Star-K. Eatem Foods, Jim Gervato, 800-683-2836, ext. 120,

Comax Flavors is pleased to announce the development of a Char Siu Flavor, which is originally from China. The powdered version will add an exotic Asian twist to sauces. It is a perfect blend of ginger, garlic, onion, honey and other spices. It is available in Natural or N&A. Technical support is available from the company to ensure the highest possible flavor performance in any application. Comax Flavors, 800-992-0629,