What product developers know about soy sauce is limited by what they think they know about Asian cuisine. Many food formulators believe soy sauce has no practical use outside of Asian fare. However, there are many types of soy sauce, and although those sauces are as diverse as the countries from which they hail, they can be customized to complement foods from any continent.

The Asian region has developed soy sauces to harmonize with local foods. For instance, Indonesian soy sauces such as kecap asin and kecap manis primarily are used with seafood. Koikuchi, usukuchi and tamari are Japanese soy sauces that match well with dishes like sushi, but taste different than Chinese sauces. Chinese soy sauces include light (in color), dark, mushroom, sweet, chili and seasoned soy sauces.

Chinese soy sauces go back thousands of years, but oyster-flavored sauce was invented accidentally in 1888 by Lee Kam Sheung, founder of Lee Kum Kee (Hong Kong). Lee Kum Kee is one of the oldest sauce companies in China, and the 2003 winner of the China Top Brand Special Honor for Soy Sauce. The flagship product, oyster-flavored sauce, is a thick brown sauce made from oyster extracts. “Oyster-flavored sauce is used in a countless number of Chinese dishes,” says Matt Governanti, a business development and public relations executive at Lee Kum Kee (USA) Inc.

Unlike some soy sauce companies that use hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), Lee Kum Kee soy sauce is created by the traditional solar fermentation technique in which rays from the sun help to ferment vats of the sauce. By naturally brewing the soy sauces, Lee Kum Kee offers a more natural choice, and avoids the metallic flavors that can be released by some manufacturing processes.

Like Day and Night

Both light and dark soy sauces are fermented with wheat flour, soybeans, salt and water; caramel, chiefly used for coloring, generally is added to dark soy sauce. “Dark soy sauce is different from light soy sauce in aroma, flavor and usage,” explains Governanti. “Using dark soy sauce will add a nice, golden brown color to stir-fried rice. It can also be used to braise meats and vegetables.”

Light soy sauce is used as a flavoring agent. “A lot of restaurants use soy sauce as a marinade or as a base for soups,” says Governanti. “It can be used as a flavor enhancer in just about anything you can think of.” The soy extract imparts a strong savory/salty flavor. Soy and oyster sauces can be used for more than traditional Asian fare. Modern fusion applications, such as adding soy or oyster sauce to Italian-style tomato sauces to enhance the flavor, are becoming more popular. “Adding a little bit of oyster sauce to an Alfredo sauce will bring out the seafood flavors in a dish containing shrimp and scallops,” notes Governanti.

Sweet soy sauce has a soft, sweet flavor. It mostly is used as a dipping sauce with stir-fried noodles and dim sum, but matches well with rice and casseroles. Chili soy sauce manifests a hot, rich soy and chili flavor used for marinating, stir-frying and dipping. With a smooth, light, sweet flavor, seasoned soy sauce is a classic Chinese sauce used for steaming fish and seafood.

A few years ago, Lee Kum Kee released Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce, a vegetarian alternative to oyster sauce made from mushroom and soybean extracts. Also, in June 2003, Lee Kum Kee introduced Thai Sweet Chili Sauce, a garlicky, sweet condiment used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls and crispy wantons. It also can be added to fire up salad dressings, barbecue or fried chicken.

For more information:

Lee Kum Kee, Matt Governanti, 626-709-1888