Soy sauce--that staple of Chinese take-out and wok cooking--is known to many as simply a salt in liquid form, something that adds flavor to many dishes. Soy sauce is so much more, however, and not all soy sauces are created equal.

Originating in China over 2,500 years ago, soy sauce comes in a wide range of colors and flavors, from reddish-brown, which is usually more delicate and floral, to dark brown, with a more pungent, stronger flavor. Its uses range from a dipping sauce to stir-fry cooking to glazes for meat, fish and poultry.

Soy sauce is basically a fermented liquid made from soybeans (the strong, pungent flavor) and wheat, which adds sweetness. Japanese soy sauce tends to be made with more wheat, thus is considered sweeter and lighter in flavor than its Chinese counterpart. Chinese soy sauce has been described as having an “earthier” flavor, probably due to its lower proportion of wheat. The traditional Chinese fermentation process also uses natural sunlight, whereas the Japanese-style is typically fermented indoors. Chinese soy sauce tends to hold more flavor during heating, imparting the end dish with a richer flavor.

Traditional soy sauces are made by mixing soybeans and grains with cultures, such as Aspergillus oryzae and other related microorganisms and/or yeast. The basic taste, and indeed for what soy sauce is best known, is its distinct umami flavor. The free glutamates that occur naturally in soy sauce give it this quality, making it the perfect accompaniment to so many recipes.

Soy sauces are often employed strategically in traditional Chinese cooking, to add both flavor and color to dishes. There are two main varieties of Chinese soy sauce. Light (or fresh) soy sauce is a thin, viscous sauce that is light brown in color. It is the main sauce used for seasoning, since it is saltier, lighter in color and adds a distinct flavor. Light soy sauce is made from the first pressing of the soybeans (tóuchOu). Like extra virgin olive oil, tóuchOu is sold at a premium, because the flavor is considered superior.

Dark (or old) soy sauce is, as expected, dark in color and thicker than the light version. It is aged longer and usually has added molasses, which contributes to its consistency and appearance. Because of its darker color, it is sometimes used after cooking to impart color to a dish, but its main use is during the cooking process, since its flavor develops during heating.

With the current interest in salt reduction, much interest has been focused on umami flavors as excellent salt replacers.

Lee Kum Kee (USA) Inc., an international corporation with two plants in the U.S., produces a Lite Soy Sauce that fits this bill to perfection, made from premium soybeans and wheat flour. “Our Lite Soy Sauce contains 50% less sodium than our regular Premium Soy Sauce. It is naturally brewed according to traditional methods, which gives it a rich, soy flavor and aroma,” states the company. (See recipe sidebar.)

Lee Kum Kee has a wide variety of soy sauces, with flavors and profiles to meet every need. Their product line starts with Premium Soy Sauce, which is made from premium soy beans and wheat flour, brewed traditionally with a rich soy flavor. Other varieties of soy sauce are available in larger foodservice and industrial sizes, such as Chef’s Select (Japanese-style) and Mushroom Flavored Dark Soy. Retail offerings run the gamut, from Chili (made with the essence of green chilis) to Citrus Soy
—Barbara T. Nessinger, Associate Editor

For more information:
Lee Kum Kee (USA) Inc. • City of Industry, Calif.
Melinda Leekin • 626-709-1888 •

Baked Pork Loin with Low-sodium Soy Sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lb pork loin, cut into 2x4in-pieces
.5 tsp coarse black pepper
2 tsp cornstarch

1. (Soy mixture) In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except pork loin, cornstarch and water. Mix well.
2. In a 6x8in baking pan, layer the pork.
3. Drizzle soy mixture and marinate pork for 2hrs.
4. Bake at 400° for 30mins. Remove pork from the sauce; cool for 5mins, then slice into ¼-in thick pieces.
5. Transfer sauce mixture in a small sauce pan and bring mixture to a boil. Stir in cornstarch and water and cook until sauce thickens.
6. Drizzle sauce over sliced pork.

Serving size: 4

Preparation time: 25mins

Cooking time: 40mins