The age-old story behind authentic Japanese soy sauce

From centuries of Japanese tradition comes Akari.
A soy sauce for the modern chef.

In a gleaming factory near the Japanese coast east of Tokyo, tanks of soybeans and wheat quietly ferment. The air rich with the aroma of cooked grain and legumes. Gently and slowly the ingredients are being turned into delicious soy sauce – a Japanese tradition for over 400 years.

It was the Chinese who introduced the process of fermenting raw materials into dark, delectable sauce. Known as jiang, these sauces were originally made with meat, fish and legumes. When the method arrived in Japan in the early 1600s it was quickly applied to the fermentation of grain and soy. One of the earliest sauce makers was Gihei Hamaguchi, who began producing soy sauce in Choshi in the Chiba prefecture in 1645. With its humid coastal climate – cool summers and warm winters – Chochi was the perfect place to brew the sauce. It continues to be so more than 375 years later as the company he founded, Yamasa, continues to brew one of Japan’s most highly regarded soy sauces. Yamasa is the creator of the Akari brand of soy sauce – a rich, black to dark red sauce that is made in the time-honoured tradition.

It starts off with a blend of steamed soy and roasted wheat that is mixed with salted water to make a brew called moromi. To this, aspergillus or koji mould is added. This is the same mould that is used to make saké. However, the strain of koji mould employed to make Akari soy sauce is a closely guarded secret. The way it reacts with the proteins in the soy and wheat is unique. During fermentation, enzymes from the koji mould break down the proteins in the beans and grain into amino acids. Some of these amino acids are glutamic acid. This is a powerfully tasty amino acid that is not only delicious, but it also makes everything that it is added to incredibly moreish. It occurs naturally, in both fermented and raw foods, and is found in parmesan cheese, tomatoes, asparagus and even mushrooms. The sensation of the glutamic acid on the tongue is wonderful and this is known to the Japanese as ‘umami’.

The moromi is pressed to release the soy sauce that is then sent for pasteurisation. This not only makes the product shelf-stable, but it also adds to the final touch of the process. When heated, amino acids go through another transformation. They darken in colour and can combine with naturally occurring sugars to create deeper flavours and complex aromas. Many chefs and cooks will recognise this as the Maillard reaction. The end result is a beautiful deep-red to black sauce with a deep and rich flavour, a lovely seasoned mouthfeel and complex aroma combined with many different compounds, creating the scents of rose to caramel to coffee to apple.
Akari soy sauce blog sushi

What is really interesting about soy sauce is its ability to make good food taste even better. It is a little-known fact is that there is a nucleotide in seafood, called inosinic acid, which reacts with the amino acid glutamic acid in soy sauce to make the food taste doubly delicious. This is called the synergistic effect. Basically, when the two come together in the mouth they excite the taste buds and tell the brain that the food is amazingly delicious. So soy sauce, when brushed over fish before grilling or steaming, makes it taste even better. Mix it with melted butter and brush over scallops in the shell before serving. It also makes a great seasoning – add it to minced steak instead of salt to season burgers for another layer of flavour. Mix it with mirin, sugar and crushed garlic to make teriyaki sauce to brush over chicken or beef before grilling.

The beauty of Akari soy sauce (157901, 182118) is the versatility of the range. Using the same age-old techniques, a special wheat-free, gluten-free soy sauce (tamari) has been made that offers the true flavour of soy sauce (164039). There is also a reduced salt product that tastes just as good but is made with 43% less salt (157902) than the original Akari soy sauce. Whatever the case, when you use Akari you are tasting traditional Japanese food culture – a flavour that extends back centuries but is perfect for the modern kitchen.

What's next?

Find out more about Akari

Find out more from a local branch