One Minute History: Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a mainstay in many Asian cuisines. It is flavourful and full of umami, used to season anything from meats, vegetables to even rice. This versatile seasoning can stand alone as a condiment, or be used as a cooking ingredient. Regardless of whether it is light, dark or thick, it’s undeniable that soy sauce plays an important role in many of our favourite dishes. Like sushi for example!

Did you know that the origins of soy sauce date back to as early as the 3rd century? 

The predecessor of soy sauce was a savoury paste known as 酱 (jiàng) in ancient China, made from fermenting meat, fish or grain. As salt was scarce and expensive back in the day, the paste was mainly used to preserve foods and improve flavour. In the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), 酱 was made from soybeans instead. Soybeans were much easier to cultivate and can be used to make a variety of other foods, such as tofu! 

Soybeans were salted or immersed in a mixture of salt and rice wine or water to make 豆酱 (dòu jiàng), with the prefix dòu meaning soybeans. Enzymes break down the proteins into amino acids, thereby giving the paste that rich umami* taste. 

*Meaning “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese, its taste is often described as the meaty, savoury deliciousness that deepens flavour.

During the 7th century, Buddhist monks brought the fermented soybean paste to the neighbouring countries. It became known as 된장 (doenjang) in Korea and 味噌 (miso) in Japan. It wasn’t until the 13th century though, that the soy sauce we know today was discovered.


Miso was a staple in the Japanese diet during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). Sometime during the 13th century, a Zen monk from the town of Yuasa, Japan, noticed a liquid collecting in the barrels of miso paste. He discovered that the byproduct had a flavourful taste and made an excellent cooking or dipping sauce. That, was the birth of Japanese soy sauce, shoyu.

Shoyu-brewing in Yuasa, Japan

Source: Japan National Tourism Organization

It is said that in the 17th century, the world’s first commercial soy sauce brewery was opened by Shige Maki, wife of a slain samurai warrior. She had escaped the siege of Osaka Castle by fleeing to the village of Noda with her son. There, she learned the soy brewing process and eventually opened Kikkoman, the soy sauce brand that you probably have in your fridge right now. Although the authenticity of the story has been questioned over the years, Shige Maki might just be the first woman entrepreneur if true. Girl power!

Source: GIPHY

By the 18th century, soy sauce had spread all the way to the West. Though undisclosed, a secret component of the famous Worcestershire sauce, which was developed in England in the 1800s, is believed to be soy sauce. In Australia, the first soy sauce was sold in Sydney back in 1804! 

Light and Dark Soy Sauce from Nanyang Sauce

Today, there is a variety of soy sauce available in the market. From light soy sauce, more commonly known to Westerners, to the sweeter dark soy sauce that is thickened with molasses. Soy sauce has become such a big part of East Asian cuisines, and is even the third most popular condiment in the United States, after ketchup and mayonnaise. 

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. Find out more here.

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