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Kikkoman Corporation: Soy Sauce

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The Aroma of Soy Sauce: Making Mouths Water All Over the World

Soy sauce is a condiment of unparalleled versatility. It can be used with almost any ingredient, in any dish, in any cuisine, to impart depth and umami, and to enhance the flavors of the other ingredients. Soy sauce has a great balance of the five basic tastes—umami, sweet, sour, salt, bitter—and the complex scent comprises more than 300 aroma components, giving the sauce even greater depth.

Kikkoman Corporation is a leading producer of Japanese soy sauce, and sells its product both in Japan and throughout the rest of the world. It holds a 30% of the domestic market and a 50% share of the international market for Japanese soy sauce; these figures clearly indicate just how much of a powerhouse it is in terms of soy sauce sales.

For Japanese people, soy sauce is an integral part of every meal, always on the dinner table. And now, wherever else we go, we will be able to enjoy the same delicious soy sauce, thanks to the pioneering overseas sales and marketing policies of Kikkoman Corporation, as well of course as the development of the domestic soy sauce industry.


Five Elements for Deliciousness: What Makes Soy Sauce?

Soy sauce contains a large number of different elements, but they are not simply mixed together; over the course of a long period of fermentation, each element becomes blended and balanced with the other, creating soy sauce’s distinctively delicious flavors and aroma. Soy sauce is characterized by its balance of the five basic tastes—umami, sweet, salt, sour, bitter—which can all be distinctly discerned.

Yet soy sauce is totally different to Western condiments, which use various ingredients, herbs and spices to create a similar balance of the five tastes. Soy sauce is the essence of simplicity, but it results in great complexity of aroma and flavor. The five basic tastes, the balance of which create the distinct deliciousness of soy sauce, are outlined below.

Umami
The umami in soy sauce results from the breakdown of the protein contained within soy beans and wheat by the enzymes contained in koji-kin (Aspergillus oryzae). The protein breaks down into around 20 different types of amino acids, which impart the umami taste. Of these, the glutamine (which is derived from the soy beans) plays an important role in generating the umami taste.

Salt
The salt content of soy sauce is around 16–17% for dark soy sauce, making soy sauce around 5–6 saltier than sea water. The other elements, however, serve to mask this saltiness, creating depth so that the sauce is not perceived as over-salty by the eater.

Sweet
The starch in wheat is converted into glucose during the fermentation process, and this imparts sweetness to soy sauce. Soy sauce also contains galactose and xylose, and the overall sugar content of soy sauce is around 2–5%. This sweet taste serves to soften the overall taste of soy sauce, bringing it roundness and fullness; it’s just perceptible on the tip of the tongue.

Sour
Lactic acid bacteria convert some of the glucose into other substances, generating the sour taste. Around 1% of soy sauce comprises various organic acids, such as lactic acid, acetic acid, and succinic acid, and these organic acids—generated by the breakdown of glucose—help to mask the salty taste of soy sauce and also to bring out the flavors of other ingredients.

Bitter
Soy sauce also contains various amino acids, such as isoleucine, which impart the bitter taste. Although bitterness is not immediately perceptible, it serves as a hidden flavor enhancer, working with the salt and sour tastes to create a distinct depth of flavor known as ‘koku’ in Japanese. It also works to ‘pull together’ the flavors of the sauce.

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(Kikkoman Corporation.)