Soy sauce is a Chinese condiment that has been prevalent in the cuisine for nearly 2,200 years. It is said that its first uses are dated back to the Western Han dynasty, but this sauce has since become a kitchen staple throughout the world.
However, it is now a sauce that is used across the globe. Soy sauce is one of the most popular condiments when it comes to Asian cuisine.
You can use soy sauce as a dip, or throw this sauce over any noodle or Asian dish for a salty, bitter but delicious burst of flavor.
Whilst this condiment can be the perfect addition to your meal, those who lead a vegan diet and lifestyle can often be left wondering: is soy sauce vegan?
We are here to look at how the condiment is made, what ingredients it typically contains, and if soy sauce is actually vegan.
Is Soy Sauce Vegan?
The simple answer to this question is yes, soy sauce is actually vegan. Most brands of soy sauce are made by brewing together wheat, soybeans, salt and water, and are fermented over several months.
However, with any foods, you should be wary that they may have been made in a non vegan friendly manner, or with some non vegan ingredients.
Read on to see our favorite vegan soy sauces!
How is Soy Sauce Made?
Traditionally, soy sauce was made entirely by hand over a long period of time until the peak, tasty flavor was reached. Nowadays, the process is much quicker, but the results are still delicious.
As discussed above, there are five key ingredients in soy sauce. The first ingredient is soy beans. These are fermented to give the sauce its distinctive flavor. Soy sauce is additionally made with wheat, which gives it its recognisable scent, and adds a little sweetness to the sauce.
To make soy sauce, salt and water are mixed together to make a sort of brine which will start the fermentation process of the soybeans. The salt content also works to keep bacteria away whilst the soybeans are fermented.
Finally, it may sound gross but there are also fungal cultures in the soy sauce making process!
To make soy sauce, the soybeans are typically soaked and cooked in boiling hot water, whilst the wheat is roasted in preparation. These soybeans and the wheat are mixed together to make a grain mix, and koji (fungus spore) is added to the mixture.
Then, the mix of grain, and the propagated koji is combined with a brine for wet fermentation processes to begin. This is the point in the process where the colour, taste and smell is developed, as the grain proteins start to break down.
This process can take a long time for the strongest, boldest flavors to develop, whereas other commercial soy sauce companies will push through quickly.
The grain mix is then pressed so that there are no particles, and just a liquid remains. This then goes through a process of pasteurisation to remove any mold and yeast, before being filtered again for the last time.
Finally, the soy sauce is packaged and bottled, ready to be sold!
Types of Soy Sauce
When soy sauce was initially made, there were only a few different types to choose from. These soy sauces were typically either dark, light or regular.
Nowadays, there is a wide variety of soy sauces on the market, including various Japanese versions such as usukuchi or tamari.
Differences between light, dark and regular soy sauce
You may have noticed a multitude of different soy sauces at your local supermarket and wondered what they all mean. Basically, the darker the soy sauce goes, the stronger the flavor gets.
This means that light soy sauce is taken from the earlier stages in the manufacturing process, and is therefore much lighter in colour and in flavour. Light soy sauce tends to have a delicate, light flavour.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have dark soy sauce, which is much stronger, and has a mature flavour. This is because dark soy sauce is left in the production process to develop much more, and is left to mature in strength, taste and scent. In addition, dark soy sauce has a hint of sweetness due to the addition of caramel flavours.
Regular soy sauce is simply a middle ground between the two different types of soy sauce. Regular is a mixture of both dark and light soy, which makes it one of the best kitchen staples and all rounders if used in your Asian cuisine.
There is also Japanese soy sauce available, such as the tamari sauce. This is probably the soy sauce that is most closely related to traditional Chinese soy sauce. However, tamari style soy sauce is much lower in wheat and so is a very popular choice for those who live gluten free.
On the other hand, usukuchi is another favored Japanese soy sauce, but it is very light, yet has a lot of flavor. This soy sauce is salty and sweet at the same time, and bursting with flavour!
Is Soy Sauce Good For You?
Soy sauce has been used in traditional Asian recipes for centuries, but is it really good for you? The main issue we have with soy sauce is that it has a high salt content. Even a small dose of soy sauce can have a lot of salt in it, so it is best to use this condiment sparingly, and in moderation.
Additionally, there have been some debates around whether soy sauce actually contains carcinogens. However, studies have shown that although the hydrolysis of soy protein could lead to carcinogens forming in the sauce, this does not happen in the versions of the condiment that are fermented.
In addition to this, some studies suggest that dark soy sauces have antioxidants similar to vitamins E and C in abundance, which would have a great, and positive effect on cardiovascular diseases, which can be helpful in terms of our health and wellbeing.
As we say with anything, moderation is key, and the same goes for consuming soy sauce.
Which Soy Sauces Are Vegan?
The best way to see which soy sauces are vegan is to check the ingredients list on the back of the packaging.
Typically, if the soy sauce is made traditionally, and is of a high quality, then it will only have a few of the basic ingredients in it. These traditional soy sauces will most likely be vegan friendly, and suitable for a vegan diet.
There are a few ingredients that you will have to watch out for, as these may not be strictly vegan and unsuitable for a vegan diet and lifestyle.
However, extra ingredients such as citric acid, caramel color, lactic acid or potassium sorbate will be 100% suitable for vegans and vegetarians. You should watch for E numbers and flavor enhancers as these can sometimes be tested on animals.
To ensure that you can eat soy sauce guilt and worry free, we have created a list of the best soy sauces, all of which are 100% completely vegan!
To sum up, most of the soy sauces available on the market are actually suitable for a vegan diet.
However, as with most things you will want to consult the allergen and ingredient information, in case of any hidden ingredients, E numbers or non-vegan processes in your foods.
To find suitable soy sauces for your favorite Asian dishes, it is best to stick to those with minimal ingredient lists.
As soy sauce is mainly made with just wheat, fermented soybeans, salt and water, try to find soy sauces that limit the extra added ingredients and flavorings as those may not strictly be 100% vegan.
That being said, there are many vegan soy sauce options available, so that you can enjoy this salty, bitter yet sweet condiment on your foods!