Japanese ingredients for your healthy life

The history of Mentsuyu

A heritage food

Mentsuyu is a sauce used for Japanese dishes and is especially important for many noodle dishes. The Japanese word gmentsuyuh when broken down speaks volumes about the purpose of the sauce. Men means noodles and tsuyu means sauce so this really is a sauce for noodles. Pretty much any noodles can be eaten with mentsuyu but it is especially good for dipping soba (buckwheat noodle), udon noodles and tempura too!! Also, it can be used to make some nice stock for making nimono (a common and well liked simmered dish in Japanese cuisine), oden (a Japanese winter dish consisting of several ingredients such as daikon, boiled eggs, seaweed and processed fishcakes..etc.), soba and udon noodles. Letfs look at where mentsuyu has come from and what itfs history is in Japan.


Throughout the ages mentsuyu has been used in different ways. Mentsuyu is believed to have already been in existence in Japan during the Muromachi era (1338 - 1573). Back then, they used to have something known as taremiso which was a kind of drained miso water (it is a boiled mix of miso and water) and this was used to eat food with. They used to use this taremiso for cooking back then on a daily basis. Of course they started adding some katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and soy sauce to make the tare taste flavoursome and enjoyable! It was first called tare which means a sauce but over time it changed to tsuyu which is a kind of stock.


In Edo era, mentsuyu was basically established as the key stock for soba noodles. The way it was made was to boil the taremiso, soy sauce and mirin out and use it for either dipping noodles into or as a hot soup with soba noodles. Because you use dashi (a class of soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisines), mentsuyu can have so many varieties. Here is some dashi information:


Dashi is a traditional Japanese stock with many health benefits which are used to form the base of many japanese dishes, especially soups and nimono. There are various types of dashi that are used with various health benefits and each one suits different styles of foods and tastes such as niboshi (made from sardines), shiitake (made from dried shiitake mushrooms), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) to name but a few. These stocks have many health benefits and are delicious and an essential part of the Japanese diet, theyfre not too difficult to make on your own and can also be easily purchased from shops selling Japanese foods.


Mentsuyu started as a taremiso. Taremiso is a long process so it takes a lot of time and effort. So what happened was they started using soy sauce more often in the Edo era just because it was around and used a lot more in their general living. Then the use of taremiso gradually faded away things changed, in Meiji era which followed the edo era, they started adding some sugar because of the female market. Japanese women started eating soba noodles more in the Meiji era supposedly so of course mentsuyufs taste was changed to suit women too and for that reason it was made a little sweeter! This is the time when mentsuyu was born as a product just like it is now.


Well, it sounds like misotare was gone by the time mentsuyu became established because it wasnft easy to make but actually it still exists, even today! Where is it? Itfs used in Ramen (Japanese noodle soup dish). Ramen has a few taste types and one of them is miso ramen. Misotare is used in ramen, well it makes sense because ramen is all about the stock flavour, which means you need to use something good what takes a long time to simmer. So if you would like to try taremiso as an important part of the mentsuyu history, itfs better go and get miso ramen:) There are ramen shops in every big city in quite a few countries. Itfs great to have it for lunch, dinner and after drinking!


The ingredients of mentsuyu are now well established. In times gone by, different ingredients may have been added in depending on the time and location in Japan but in essence the key ingredients and how to make it have remained consistent. Kaeshi consists of mirin (which is a sweetened rice wine), sugar and soy sauce. Making it is relatively simple and would have been made reasonably simply by housewives in times gone by. In preparation, the ingredients mirin, sugar and soy sauce are prepared on the side and kept ready to add into the pot. Next, a pan or pot is heated, and mirin is added and brought to the boil, once it has started to boil, the heat is turned down so that it is just simmering, then it is allowed to simmer for a few minutes, which allows for the alcohol to evaporate away. Following this, the sugar is added and mixed into the mirin until the sugar has melted into it. This is stirred while the sugar is melting to allow for a consistent sauce, and also to ensure that the sugar doesnft burn. Once the sugar is stirred in sufficiently and it the mixture has started to bubble away again it is then taken off the heat. Thatfs it, itfs as easy as that. This is put to the side and allowed to completely cool down before putting into an airtight container and stored away. We would keep this in a refrigerator nowadays but in times gone by this may have just been kept at room temperature. Because all the base ingredients in kaeshi last a long time so does mentsuyu and for this reason, it lasts a long time.


Mentsuyu has a long and important history as a very important ingredient to a whole range of dishes and no doubt this will continue into the future. Itfs long lasting properties and taste that goes well with traditional japanese foods mean that it compliments most foods and is cost effective to make. Mentsuyu is an important part of Japanese heritage and long may it last!