The history of soy sauce dates back to as early as the great Han dynasty. Since there were no refrigerators back then, the people preserved food by mixing it with salt. The microorganisms in salt breakdown healthy substances in food and enhance its natural flavors. Eventually, they figured out that mixing salt and spices to a dish brings out its full flavor. So not only did it make the food last the next day, but it made every dish, delicious. Read on to discover more.
Who Invented Soy Sauce? Soy Sauce From Land of the Sleeping Giant
The history of soy sauce traces us back way, way back. Like, centuries ago. From the land known today as the most populous in the world.
At the time of the Han Dynasty, the process of obtaining salt from the ocean made it an expensive commodity. Artifacts written inside bamboo slips found in Mawangdui say that resourceful Chinese men thought of a salt alternative with soybean paste and fermented fish. To stretch the salt’s preserving power, they mixed it with soybeans. It eventually became the world-famous soy sauce that is enjoyed by everyone.
Whoever invented soy sauce also led to the discovery of fermented fish and soybean combination resulting in fish sauce, another essential liquid condiment. By the beginning of the Song dynasty, soy sauce became known as Jiang you. Whoever said that China was the land of the sleeping giant? Their soy sauce contribution is enough proof that it has been awake all this time!
Spreading to the Land of the Rising Sun
China’s neighboring country, Japan, also played a role in making soy sauce known to the whole world. But before it was made enjoyable as a dip for your good old’ gyoza and seasoning to ramen, it was first introduced in Japan when Chinese Buddhists came into the land during the 7th century.
These Buddhists welcomed vegetarianism into the Japanese culture and imported other soy-based products, thus, the birth of soy sauce in Japan. If it was known as Jiang you in China, Japan’s variant of the famous liquid condiment is called shōyu. Japan invented their taste of soy sauce by putting in equal parts of soybean and wheat. In 1647, a government-directed megacorporation named Dutch East India Company began the exportation of shōyu to be enjoyed by other people in the world.
Eventually to Europe and the Americas
By 1737, what was once the simple process of soybean fermentation is now listed as a commodity. About 75 barrels of shōyu were exported from Japan to the Indonesian island Java. 3 dozen of those barrels were sent to the Netherlands. In The 19th century, shōyu became less and less visible from the European market and became alike with the original variant from China. A key ingredient of the Asians’ process of making soy sauce was koji, which is a fungus used in brewing.
The Europeans did not see the importance of koji in the process and resulted in them being unable to recreate their version of soy sauce. Instead, various cookbooks during the 18th century listed Portobello mushrooms as an alternative. The Swedish made it into their version by seasoning it with mace and allspice. Worcestershire sauce is also believed to have come from attempts in recreating soy sauce. The answer to whoever invented soy sauce digs a deeper history than one could imagine.
It was Wing Nien, a Chinese, who first made what we can call the first-known soy sauce in American Chinese style. He made it in San Francisco, California. And from then on, more manufacturers chimed in the production of soy sauce.
Before the advent of World War II, it is estimated American manufacturers produced about 1 million gallons yearly of soy sauce. For their part, Chinese restaurants imported as much as 2 million gallons of Chinese soy sauce from China every year during this time.
And To Just about Everywhere
Toyo, as they call it in the Philippines, is the Filipino version of soy sauce. When it comes to Philippine cooking, the lion of the jungle is the soy sauce. With a thinner texture and saltier taste than Jiang you and shoyu, this makes it an easy condiment to work with any dish. Aside from being used to season food in the kitchen, toyo is often served in restaurant tables alongside calamansi (the combination being called toyomansi and is a popular flavor) and vinegar as a dip to meat and other protein-based meals.
Filipinos are also fond of using soy sauce as a marinade, often leaving pork and chicken soaked in soy sauce in the fridge overnight. It allows the savory salty flavor to seep into the meat and bring out its tenderness while being preserved to be consumed at a later time. The guy who invented soy sauce must be proud of himself because of all the amazing dishes one could make out of his invention.
Thailand’s fascinating culture makes you want to ditch the day and fly out there. But aside from their beaches and temples, Thai people are also up to the game with their food. Sii-íu, as they call it in Thailand, has three kinds of specific soy sauce to be used in dishes. Sii-íu kǎao is thin and watery and is used like how we normally would in our kitchen. The heavy-colored sii-íu dam is used mainly to darken the color of the dish without getting too salty. Lastly, sii-íu wǎan is used for sauces and dips. Thai cuisine is known for its sweet-and-salty combination and one of the recent food trends in Thailand is soft-serve ice cream topped with soy sauce. If the question is “Who invented Soy Sauce Flavored Soft Serve?”, then this is the answer.
Nowadays, traditional methods of fermenting soybeans have been developed into chemical processes called acid hydrolysis which is quicker and cheaper to make. It is made to be accessible to everyone around the world because of its mass production. The taste of the chemically enhanced soy sauce is slightly less tasty because some elements are stripped down from the soybeans because of the process.
Some companies add modifications like salt and darkening ingredients to better mimic the product from the traditional taste of the soy sauce. But with the right combination of spices and kitchen skills, any dish could taste like heaven. Over time, people have developed soy sauce to their specific liking. Whatever variant of soy sauce we grew up with, it will always point back to the Chinese who invented soy sauce and thought of a better element to food preservation.