Japanese ingredients for your healthy life

The history of Shoyu

From nothing to something

Nowadays, shoyu, or soy sauce, is a product that has made its way into the pantry of many a home, the hands of many a chef and certainly an ingredient onto many a plate. It is perhaps the most well known Japanese food ingredient and one that most people from outside Japan see as intrinsic to the flavour of Japanese food. it hasnft always been this well known as as widely used of course, there was a time when it wasnft known to the western world. Letfs have look at the early times and how things changed for this fantastic seasoning that has formed a key part of Japanese food and foods around the world.


Before having a look at the history, letfs have a little look at what shoyu actually is. Shoyu refers to a brownish-black ingredient which is a koji (malt) made from soybeans and wheat, and the koji (malt) has been made from fermenting and maturing salt water. It is an indispensable ingredient for Japanese cooking, and by using Shoyu, depth and profoundness of taste is added There are five different types of Shoyu including eKoi kuchi (strong taste)f and eUsu kuchi (weak taste)f.


The five different types are: Koi kuchi Shoyu, Usu kuchi Shoyu, Tamari Shoyu, Sai Shikomi Shoyu and Shiro Shoyu.


Typical types of Shoyu which you would generally come across in supermarkets are the two types of Shoyu: eKoi kuchif and eUsu kuchif. There is also eSashimi Shoyuf which is slightly different. This type of Shoyu is used when eating sashimi (raw fish fillets), and the flavour is smoother and rounder.

Early days

Letfs go back and find out a little more about this eShoyuf which you commonly see in sauce sections in supermarkets these days. Although Shoyu has an ancient history, you would be surprised to find that its history is recorded rather clearly. Its roots go back all the way to ancient China. It is said that what was called eHishiof (a paste similar to miso made from koji malt and salt water) which was used in ancient China was imported into Japan. It was manufactured as a fermented seasoning in Japan which is believed to be the beginning of Shoyu. People had already discovered by this time that the flavour of some foods could be enhanced by fermentation and maturation when pickled to be stored. This technique is now being used globally. We can probably say that pickles are one of the typical foods made using this technique. It is also known that these types of foods are tasty as well as high in nutrients.


Now, the origin of Shoyu in Japan is actually in Kansai in a district called Yuasa in the Kishuu area. There is a record that a manufacturer called eTamai Hishiof started the Shoyu business in Yuasa around 1580. Eight years later in 1588, it is said that approximately 18,000 litres of Tamari Shoyu were sent to Osaka from Yuasa. We should be thankful to the person who recorded this piece of information as it is very interesting to us now in 2014. On the other hand, Shoyu was not yet manufactured in the Kanto area at the time. Therefore, Shoyu was called eKudari Shoyuf as it was sent up from Kansai. It was considered to be a precious and rare ingredient.

A thriving food

By the Edo Era, the production of Shoyu was thriving and it was a very important ingredient. The various types of Shoyu such as eKoi kuchif and eUsu kuchif had become diverse but local soy sauce depended on the production area as to what was made. By then, production was also carried out in Kanto, and because wheat and soybeans were abundant in vast fields and it was surrounded by rivers such as the Edo river, the current Chiba prefecture became one of the biggest production centres in the Kanto area.


Shoyu had become very popular by this time, but it had already extended its activities overseas in the same Edo era. It is astonishing how fast the advancement was! It is needless to say how valuable it was. This is probably why Shoyu is globally appreciated as a Japanese seasoning in stores even to this day. Shoyu has also stirred the boom of Japanese food. Japan in those days was in the period of isolation except for Holland and China being the only countries they were allowed to trade with. This was the beginning of the internationalisation of the Japanese Shoyu. We can visualise how it was carefully poured into ceramic bottles, packed onto ships and shipped out to the world being swayed side to side on the ships. It is also told that the Shoyu was boiled once before being packed into the bottles to prevent spoilage during transport. These ceramic bottles are called eConpra bottlesf, and many still exist to this day.


This Shoyu with a rich history is extremely handy and useful as an ingredient. Do you have one of these in your pantry at home? Please purchase one on your next shop if you donft have one. Many recipes will come up if you search under esoy sauce, recipesf. Please enjoy the most widespread Japanese seasoning, eShoyuf.


With shoyu, or soy sauce in English now being so widely used in the world, once can only imagine that its use as an ingredient will continue to widen in the world in the future. Indeed, foods from many Asian nations are now easily purchasable in supermarkets and restaurants around the world. With such prevalence now and the fast growing ability for cross communication and sharing of cultures in the world, more and more foods must continue to be noticed in the international community. With this being the case, soy sauce may find itself in supermarkets where it is not today as more and more cultures are given the chance to try it. If you havenft tried it, please head down to your local supermarket and buy some of this centuries old product that has impressed all that have tried it. Give it a go and enjoy the taste of Japan.