The history of soy sauce dates back to as early as the 3rd century. This versatile condiment is a mainstay in many Asian cuisines, and is highly popular in the United States as well! But with all soy sauce looking a dark hue of brown, differentiating each kind can be a little confusing at times...
Soy sauce is primarily made up of four ingredients: soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. Good and authentic soy sauce takes months to cook, age and process. There are many different kinds of soy sauce, but the three most common are light, dark, and thick soy sauce. All three are based on the same recipe, but processed differently to vary flavour and consistency. Here is a guide on when to use which!
Light Soy Sauce
Referred to as 生抽 (shēng chōu) in Chinese, light soy sauce is most commonly used in recipes. It is distinctly salty, and has a thin, runny consistency. Its reddish-brown colour will not stain the ingredients, making it a good dipping sauce or dressing. Other times, light soy sauce is used to add flavour and umami to a dish. A little goes a long way though, as light soy sauce can be very strong and salty.
For example, light soy sauce is used for the classic Chinese breakfast dish, congee. This silky smooth rice porridge is often cooked plain but served with a bunch of toppings. Century egg, fried shallot, spring onion, chicken strips and of course, light soy sauce, are some of the common toppings you can add!
Dark Soy Sauce
Dark soy sauce is known as 老抽 (lǎo chōu) in Chinese and has a slightly thicker texture than light soy sauce. It is aged longer and often mixed with molasses or caramel, with a bit of cornstarch. Despite having a darker colour, dark soy sauce is actually less salty! Instead, it has a slight sweetness and works well in stew-typed dishes, like red-braised pork, giving it a nice caramel colour.
In Singapore, dark soy sauce is a must-have in the quintessential Singaporean breakfast, kaya toast with half-boiled eggs! Add a dollop of dark soy sauce and a pinch or two of white pepper and you’ve got yourself some tasty old-school half-boiled eggs.
Thick (Sweet) Soy Sauce
The last in the list is thick soy sauce, more commonly used in stir-fry or as a dipping sauce. Thick soy sauce is made with sugar, more wheat in the fermentation process, and sometimes, a starch thickener. Sweet rather than salty, its taste differs from that of light or dark soy sauce completely.
Heard of Hainanese chicken rice? Aside from the chili sauce, thick soy sauce and a ginger sauce also accompany the dish. Other Singaporean dishes like char kway teow and black carrot cake use thick soy sauce as well, developing a dark brown colour while still tasting sweet!
Taste the traditional soy sauce made in Singapore!
Nanyang sauce has been making soy sauce the traditional way since 1959. Soybeans are brewed under the sun for nine months in seasoned terracotta dragon vats, to produce a reddish-brown umami-rich sauce loved by restaurants and home chefs alike.
Embark on a journey through the history of Nanyang sauce and learn about the artisan craft of soy sauce fermentation here.
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