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October 31, 2020

Is Soy Sauce Vegan?
The Best Healthy Substitutes (100% Plant-Based)

Rafid Nassir
Published by Rafid Nassir
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED

It happened in a restaurant.

A customer asked the waiter, “Excuse me, is soy sauce vegan?” I flinched and said to my date something in the lines of: “When is soy sauce not vegan?”

Up until that point I was convinced that this famous sauce is of vegan nature by definition. But it seems it’s very easy to get confused. So is soy sauce vegan? Let’s find out.

Where Did Soy Sauce Originate From?

man making soy sauce

Soy sauce originated in ancient China.

Our favourite condiment is over two millennia old and fermented soybeans are responsible for this delicacy.

Before soy and soy sauce became popular in the West around the middle of the 20th century, it was an expensive commodity throughout the far East and Southeast Asia.

Can you imagine that? A soy sauce being treated like a culinary treasure!? No surprise there because back then, in Europe, a ship full of rare spices was enough to pay off the whole expedition on the far side of the world.

Today, soy sauce continues to be our favorite weapon of choice in the kitchen and continues to gain in popularity.

It all started with Yuzabaro Mogi of Kikkoman soy sauce company [1]. He made soy sauce a global phenomena, despite the ever-growing and based fear of excessive salt/sodium in our diet.

Fortunately, substitution for soy sauce is an option and one can substitute soy sauce with other similar, vegan friendly condiments.

Types Of Soy Sauce

Up until recently, we only had a few types of Chinese soy sauce - light, regular and dark.

The first one is taken from the early stages of the production process and boasts light color with subtle flavor. On the other hand, dark soy sauce has stronger taste and smell due to longer chemical development.

Addition of caramel makes it a bit sweet, which as we all know works wonders in combination with spicy, hot food. Normal, or regular soy sauce is a delicate blend of the two. It’s ingredients ratio is perfect for all around use in many recipes.

And then, enter Japan. With the introduction of Japanese soy sauces such as tamari, koikuchi and usukuchi our choice of soy sauces soared dramatically.

Closest to the traditional Chinese soy sauce is tamari. It has one advantage though, which is the small amount of grain used in production (in some cases without wheat). So if you are looking to drop down your gluten intake, or go gluten free, tamari soy sauce might just be the right sauce for you.

Koikuchi is a very popular soy sauce in Japan, holding a major slice of the market. This is the type of soy sauce you will most likely find in your supermarket and it can enrich a range of dishes. Whenever you need to stir fry or marinade food, this is the go-to soy sauce.

On the light side of the spectrum lies usukuchi. Sweet, salty and flavorful, it is perhaps best used in small amounts as a vegetable season. But if you are into sweet delicious teriyaki, you might want to try usukuchi. Its rice wine aroma is otherworldly rich.

Check out this video to learn how to make 100% healthy soy sauce substitute:

youtube

How Is It Made?

soy sauce and soy beans

It is actually fairly easy to make vegan soy sauce. Or, to be precise: just soy sauce.

All you need is soybeans, wheat, salt, water, bacteria and fungi. The latter two are not ingredients per se, but you do need them in the production process for that special, yummy taste.

First, soybeans are soaked and cooked in boiling water. According to Chinese, the wheat is roasted, then crushed and mixed with soybeans in equal quantities. You later add koji and the brewing of soy sauce can start.

A wet fermentation process starts with the addition of brine to the mix. In order to satisfy the demand, most companies push the soy sauce through this part of the process as quickly as possible.

Quality soy sauce made by true culinary artists can be left to ferment for up to 3 years.

Heavy pressing is then applied to separate remaining particles from the liquid. The last stage before packaging is pasteurization, which is essential in removing any active molds or yeast from the liquid. The soy sauce is first heated and then filtered for the last time.

What People Get Wrong

Misconception 1: Soy Sauce Contains Fish.

This is straight up ridiculous. Today, fish sauce is a product of its own. This urban myth draws its roots from the Zhou dynasty, known for using fish along with soybeans.

Today, that is a long abandoned practice. In modern times, soy sauce is a common vegan seasoning, free of animal products.

Misconception 2: Soy Sauce Has Animal Products In It.

It all started when PETA exposed Kikkoman a few years back. The company carried out routine animal testing just to substantiate health claims related to its products. This led many to believe that all say sauce is “tainted” by animal torture, which is simply not true.

Fortunately, Kikkoman responded to this PR disaster and has now ended all experiments involving animals. Allegedly, 100.000 people wrote them an angry email so they did the only thing they could - go bankrupt or stop animal testing.

If your aim is to lead a vegan and animal-friendly lifestyle, then you have no worries. Soy sauce is vegan-friendly, plant-based food. It is the companies making it that we should pay close attention to. Read the labels carefully because some companies use artificial coloring and sweeteners.

Misconception 3: Lactic Acid.

Naturally, whenever vegans hear the word “lactic” they assume the product formula isn’t vegan-friendly. Yes, it does sound uncomfortably close to “lactose” but in reality this is not the case. Again, it’s 100% vegan.

The truth is, lactic acid is a type of bacteria necessary for the fermentation process. To say it is “not vegan” is like saying that yeast is not safe for vegan use. Lactic acid is gained from carbohydrates, such as cornstarch, meaning it isn’t derived from dairy or milk.

Is Soy Sauce Vegan?

soy sauce and beans

So, is soy sauce vegan? In short, yes, of course it is.

Essentially, soy sauce consists of soybeans, water and sometimes wheat. No matter if you plan on going vegan or not, you should have absolutely no worries.

From Kikkoman tamari to homemade soy sauce, going vegan has never been so sweet and delicious. Same goes for its many substitutes.

If salt is a problem, or some allergy, or maybe you just don’t dig the taste, you may want to try a soy sauce substitute, such as coconut aminos sauce. There is also Ohsawa White Nama soy sauce or Bragg Liquid aminos, also made from soy.

Then again, even if soy paired with salt are not an option, you can always opt for a soyless soy sauce.

In all honesty, it is very hard not to find your perfect soy sauce to suit your vegan diet. All you need to do is search the web a little. Or simply ask your friendly waiter in a restaurant seemingly silly question “is soy sauce vegan?”, like we did.

References:

  1. https://www.economist.com/business/2009/04/08/sauce-of-success

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Rafid Nassir is a health and fitness fanatic, with the main aim of maximising muscle mass and minimising body fat, with as little time investment as possible.
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