Soy sauce is a key ingredient of Chinese and South East Asian cuisine, both as an ingredient for sauces and marinades, and as a simple condiment to be added at the table. Produced by fermenting soy beans with moulds (koji) and mixing with salt, water and roasted grains, the basic sauce has been with us for about two and a half thousand years. If rice is the staple foodstuff of a third of the world’s population, soy sauce is one of the most essential flavourings for that rice. It is also very yummy, with a rich, earthy flavour that can add depth to the blandest meal.
There are a huge number of soy sauce varieties, from the Chinese light soy sauce that most Western consumers are familiar with, to Japanese ‘tamari’ and Indonesian ‘kecap manis’. But there are a few generalised negative effects of this versatile condiment of which you should be aware.
Healthwise, a serving of soy sauce can contain up to 50% of your Recommended Daily Allowance of salt.The product can be up to 19% sodium! A high-salt diet can lead to high blood pressure and all sorts of other problems, and is best avoided where possible. MSG is also a staple product of many cheaper soy sauces.
Also, you should be aware that if you’re buying a commercial soy sauce in the US, there’s a possibility that it doesn’t actually contain soy, but fermented wheat instead. Anyone with a gluten intolerance should look very carefully at the label for any soy sauce that they’re buying.
In addition, soy sauces made from hydrolyzed soy protein, rather than through natural fermentation, can contain high levels of 3-MCPD, a chemical which has the potential to cause cancer.
Clearly therefore, it makes sound sense to purchase from the higher end of the soy sauce market, in order to obtain a sauce which is actually made from soybeans and contains less in the way of carcinogenic compounds and flavour enhancers. Always read the label very carefully.
After all, the Japanese are keen consumers of soy sauce, and they have the highest life expectancy of any nation on Earth. With ten times the anti-oxidants of red wine, good quality soy sauce could well have immense benefits that far outweigh these health concerns which are confined to the very cheap end of the market.
The ubiquity of soya itself, in up to 60% of our processed foods is more of a concern. Good quality soy sauce is made with a long fermentation process which can take up to six months. The cheapest soy sauce is made in two days. Draw your own conclusions.