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What Is Shoyu Sauce?

You may have seen shoyu sauce mentioned in a recipe or on a menu at a Japanese or Hawaiian restaurant–perhaps even another type of restaurant. But what is shoyu sauce, and how did it end up on those menus? Here is all you are going to want to know.

So, what is shoyu sauce? Shoyu sauce is simply the term used for Japanese soy sauce! As the Japanese use both soybeans and wheat that they ferment when making soy sauce, it’s a tad less salty and sweeter than the Chinese version (where only soybeans are used). Shoyu sauce is incredibly versatile as it works as a substitute for plain salt in a multitude of different Japanese dishes.

So with this in mind. Let’s learn more about how to use Shoyu sauce, its flavor profile, various recipes, and similar sauces.

What Is Shoyu Sauce Made Of?

Shoyu sauce is made of five ingredients–water, soybeans, wheat (usually wheat berries), salt, Aspergillus mold, or koji (cooked soybeans and/or rice that have been inoculated with a fermentation culture, i.e., Aspergillus oryzae).

Soy sauce has been around for about 2,000 years and is, to this day, made pretty much the same way as it was in the day.  

You mix together soybeans and roasted wheat and inoculate the mix with Aspergillus mold, or koji. 

Then you wait for three to four days before mixing that mixture with salt and water. 

From there, it needs to ferment for quite some time.

Traditionally, soy sauce was fermented for over 18 months! 

Once the soy sauce is ready, you strain and bottle the sauce. Et voilà–you have soy sauce. 

Japanese soy sauce is different from Chinese soy sauce in that wheat is used to produce it. 

This slightly changes the flavor profile, though it’s still very similar in taste to the Chinese version, just a tad milder and sweeter.

There are two forms of shoyu sauce–usukuchi and koikuchi (light and dark). 

Don’t confuse shoyu sauce with tamari sauce–tamari sauce is a by-product of making miso and contains no wheat. 

This, in turn, means that the end product contains no alcohol, as alcohol is a by-product of fermented wheat. 

In fact, Kikkoman recommends you use their Tamari Gluten-free Soy Sauce if you want zero alcohol. 

If you’re buying a bottle of shoyu sauce, ensure it contains nothing more than soybeans, wheat, water, and salt, as well as the aforementioned by-product of alcohol. 

If it has added flavorings, it’s not “real” shoyu sauce, and chances are it contains chemical additives and colorants. 

Recipe Option One for Shoyu Sauce 

  • 1 kg of soybeans
  • 200g of all-purpose flour
  • 8-10g of Koji Starter (Aspergillus)
  • 1kg of salt
  • 2 liters of water.

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Two for Shoyu Sauce

  • 1200g of dry soybeans (the white or beige type)
  • 1200g of wheat berries. Soft wheat gives a better flavor than hard wheat.
  • 7.5g of Aspergillus Oryzae starter, meant for shoyu.

For the Brine

  • 825g of sea salt
  • 3.8 liters of water

For full instructions, look here

Unless you are a die-hard foodie or someone who enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, chances are that you’re not going to make your own shoyu sauce but rather go to the nearest supermarket and buy some.

If you, you’ll want to know what brands to try.

In Japan, the three most popular brands are Kikkoman, Yamasa, and Marukin, in that order.

And Kikkoman can be found pretty much anywhere in the world! 

You’ll be happy to know that there are usually low-sodium shoyu sauces available in well-stocked supermarkets and Asian and Japanese stores. 

Recipe for Tsume 

  • ½ cup of mirin (sweet cooking wine)
  • ¼ cup of sake (rice wine)
  • ¼ cup of shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 2 tbsp of sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 Akatogarashi (Japanese dried red chile peppers)

Note: This is a slightly sweet shoyu-based sauce that is used to baste broiled eel. You can use it for other fish too. If you feel like experimenting, try adding some grated ginger.

For full instructions, look here

Recipe for Shoyu Dipping Sauce 

  • 2 tbsp of salt-reduced soy sauce (shoyu)
  • 1 tsp of sesame oil
  • 1 tsp of rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of mirin
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice

For full instructions, look here

Recipe for Shoyu Chicken

  • 1 cup of soy sauce 
  • 1 cup of brown sugar 
  • 1 cup of water 
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced 
  • 1 onion, chopped 
  • 1 tbsp of grated fresh ginger root 
  • 1 tbsp of ground black pepper 
  • 1 tbsp of dried oregano 
  • 1 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 tsp of ground cayenne pepper (Optional)
  • 1 tsp of ground paprika (Optional)
  • 5 pounds of skinless chicken thighs

Note: This is a popular Hawaiian dish.

For full instructions, look here

Recipe for Shoyu Ramen

  • 1 tsp of sesame oil
  • 1 tsp of minced fresh ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 cup of store-bought or homemade kombu dashi soup stock
  • 3 tbsp of soy sauce (shoyu)
  • 1 tbsp of sake
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 2 (3-ounce) packages of dried chukamen noodles
  • Negi, or spring onion, chopped, for optional garnish
  • Nori, dried seaweed, for optional garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For full instructions, look here

Recipe for Shoyu Dip with Sesame Crunch 

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp of shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 2 tsp of Lemon Olive Oil (recipe follows)
  • 1 ½ tsp of finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
  • 3 tsp of toasted sesame oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • ½ tsp of kosher salt
  • 2 pounds of assorted vegetables, cut into 3-inch spears, for serving (see note)
  • For the Lemon Olive Oil:
  • 2 lemons, thoroughly scrubbed in hot water
  • 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

For full instructions, look here

Recipe for Shoyu Sugar Steak

  • 3 pounds of boneless chuck roast or steaks of choice, cut about 1-inch (25 mm) thick
  • Garlic salt
  • ½ cup of raw brown rice or barley*
  • 1 cup mirin
  • ½ cup of sake
  • 1 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
  • ½ cup loosely packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
  • 6 cloves of garlic crushed and peeled
  • 6 scallions cut into thirds and crushed
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger sliced and crushed
  • Oil for the grill
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For full instructions, look here

What Does Shoyu Sauce Taste Like?

If you’ve tasted any kind of soy sauce, you have a fair idea of what shoyu sauce tastes like–it’s salty but best described as being umami-rich. However, unlike Chinese soy sauce, which is made from salt and fermented soybeans alone, Shoyu has wheat in it, which makes it a bit less salty and sweeter. 

Shoyu sauce is a dark brown sauce that tastes salty and somewhat sweet, or the in-between that’s labeled as umami. 

If you’ve had Chinese soy sauce, it’s very similar in taste but less bitter, less salty, and sweeter. Some say it’s closer in taste to tamari sauce. 

Kikkoman claims that over 300 different flavor profiles can be detected in shoyu sauce, such as fruits, vanilla, coffee, and whisky. 

Unless you’re a professional soy connoisseur, you may, however, have some issue picking up on all those different flavor profiles…

What Do You Eat Shoyu Sauce With?

Shoyu sauce is used in ramen, stir-fries, marinades, and dips. It’s used the same way Chinese soy sauce is used. 

As you probably know, soy sauce is a very versatile sauce. Its saltiness can add a nice touch to just about any Asian meal you make. 

As shoyu is Japanese soy sauce, you can use it in Japanese recipes that call for soy sauce. 

You’ll also find that shoyu is extremely popular in Hawaii and used in marinades for various different meats, including the above-mentioned chicken BBQ recipe. 

You can also use shoyu on its own as a dip for dishes such as sushi and spring rolls. It’s also used in dressings, such as the dressing you’d make for Ahi Tuna Salad (also originating in Hawaii). 

For this type of dressing, you combine shoyu with ginger, honey, sesame oil, and rice vinegar (though, of course, everyone has their own secret recipe).

What Is Similar To Shoyu Sauce? 

Chinese soy sauce is the most similar in taste to Shoyu, which is Japanese soy sauce. 

Apart from Chinese soy sauce, you’ll find that tamari sauce is fairly similar in taste to shoyu sauce, only sweeter. 

Finally

Shoyu sauce, or Japanese soy sauce, is an extremely versatile sauce used in many traditional Japanese recipes, such as shoyu ramen. 

You’ll also find it used in marinades, dressings, and as a dipping sauce. 

You can experiment at home with a plethora of different recipes calling for shoyu! 

You can also make your own (if you’re brave) or pop down to the nearest well-stocked store to buy some, the most popular brand being Kikkoman.

Want to learn more about Japanese sauces? Then my other guides may be of interest: