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THE POWER OF SHUN(September 2019)

SHUN STYLE

Broadening Food Horizons with Shoyu

利き醤油

Shoyu is a traditional Japanese condiment that is known around the world as soy sauce. It is a staple seasoning for Japanese food, and many families often use the same shoyu brand for many years. However, not many people know a lot about shoyu. For this time, we explored the wonderful world of shoyu, which is more colorful than we know.

A shoyu specialty shop created by a salesman, featuring sample-sized products

We visited Mantaro Takahashi, who runs the specialty shop Shokunin Shoyu, to learn about the world of shoyu. The Shokunin Shoyu Maebashi Main Shop features near 100 types of shoyu that were carefully selected by Takahashi himself from over 400 shoyu breweries around Japan. One characteristic of this shop is that all products are sold in small 100 ml bottles.

Takahashi used to be a salesman for a precision equipment manufacturer before entering the world of shoyu in 2006.

“I started this business because I wanted my job to be connected to a traditional industry. I noticed that shoyu was a necessity to the Japanese people, but only a few would ‘selectively purchase’ their shoyu of choice. Traditional industries often create high-quality goods, but lack the means to promote it. I wanted to use my experience in sales to introduce shoyu from all over Japan,” says Takahashi.

As a general rule, Shokunin Shoyu only offers sample-sized 100 ml bottles of soy sauce. Takahashi wants customers to sample these shoyu from various breweries, and discover their favorites. Once customers find what shoyu brand they like, they offer feedback and purchase larger bottles directly from breweries. This perspective shows how devoted Takahashi is toward selling shoyu from breweries.

職人醤油

  • 高橋万太郎
  • 職人醤油前橋本店

The surprisingly unknown basics of shoyu

知っているようで知らない 醤油の基礎知識

<Six shoyu categories of Shokunin Shoyu>

Although the Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS) divides shoyu into five categories, Shokunin Shoyu has its own “sweet shoyu” category, from the “standard shoyu” category to create six categories to choose from. We asked about the characteristics of each category.

1) Clear shoyu

This type of shoyu has a pale amber color, which does not get in the way of the colors of food ingredients. It is recommended for use in beans and rice, soups and chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), as no soy sauce color is added to dishes.

The main ingredient is husked wheat with a little bit of roasted soybeans. The fermentation and aging periods are shorter than other shoyu, which creates its pale color.

白醤油

2) Light-colored shoyu

Light-colored shoyu is popular in Western Japan. It is recommended for dishes that feature the color of the ingredients, and also for soup stock.

The ingredients feature an equal amount of wheat and soybeans. The fermentation/aging period for light shoyu is four to eight months, shorter than standard shoyu, and the salt content is higher.

淡口醤油

3) Sweet shoyu

Regional sweet-flavored shoyu are staples in the Kyushu and the Hokuriku regions. Sweet shoyu is deeply rooted in these areas, with those along the coastline having a sweeter flavor.

This type contains soybeans, wheat, and amino acid solution and sweetener for flavor. It is recommended for dishes such as grilled rice balls, rice with raw egg, and sashimi of white-fleshed fish.

甘口醤油

4) Standard shoyu

This all-purpose shoyu makes up of approximately 80% of all shoyu on the market in Japan. Fresh dark shoyu has a beautiful reddish-brown color, and this type is manufactured all over the country.

The ingredients feature an equal amount of wheat and soybeans. Unrefined soy sauce is mixed for three months to two years and aged.

濃口醤油

5) Refermented shoyu

The three prefectures of Aichi, Mie and Gifu tend to consume large amounts of this type of shoyu. This shoyu is rich with a thick texture, created by concentrating flavor using less water for brewing. It creates an appetizing luster for meat and fish teriyaki dishes.

The main ingredient is soybeans. Soybeans are crushed to create miso balls which are made into malt. Tamari shoyu is not mixed, but slowly aged.

再仕込醤油

6) Tamari shoyu

The three prefectures of Aichi, Mie and Gifu tend to consume large amounts of this type of shoyu. This shoyu is rich with a thick texture, created by concentrating flavor using less water for brewing. It creates an appetizing luster for meat and fish teriyaki dishes.

The main ingredient is soybeans. Soybeans are crushed to create miso balls which are made into malt. Tamari shoyu is not mixed, but slowly aged.

溜醤油

The future of shoyu with Japanese food

For the ten-plus years since 2006, Takahashi has toured shoyu breweries all over Japan. During that time, approximately 300 breweries closed their business. Currently, it is said that around 1,200 breweries are still operating in Japan.

“Many people tend to believe that handmade shoyu from small breweries is better than shoyu mass-produced in factories. I believed this at first too! However, the more one gets to know shoyu, the more one sees the pros and cons in each situation. Mass-produced shoyu possesses a more stable quality that does not fluctuate very much. Meanwhile, the quality of shoyu in small breweries tends to fluctuate by the year—which could be either a curse or blessing—and a brewery’s stance toward its products is directly reflected in the shoyu it produces. However, this is what makes shoyu so interesting. Breweries who manufacture in wooden barrels also have a defined characteristic, so I hope customers will enjoy the various flavors there is to offer,” says Takahashi.

The shoyu created at shoyu breweries has a wide variety that is deeply rooted in each region’s food culture. In addition to the standard shoyu that is brewed all over Japan, the sweet-flavored, light and sashimi types of shoyu are popular in Kyushu, and light-colored shoyu is in high demand within Western Japan. Households in the Tokai region use clear or tamari shoyu according to needs.

Before distribution networks developed to the current system, families often purchased shoyu from their local brewery, creating a stronger shoyu presence in dishes than in the present day. However, in recent years, it is believed that more and more families tend to only stock all-purpose standard shoyu.

At a shoyu sampling events held by Takahashi, some participants find their shoyu preference overturned, and the same person may find that they prefer the complete opposite type of shoyu for red-fleshed sashimi or silky tofu. Why not try combinations of food and shoyu outside of the usual standard type, to broaden your culinary horizons!

“Shoyu is now widely known as ‘soy sauce’ among non-Japanese as well. However, the depth shoyu offers is still not common knowledge. I need to communicate the appeal of various uses and characteristics of each shoyu here in Japan as well, to shed light on others that are not only ‘all-purpose’ products,” says Takahashi. His gentle but powerful words are a ray of hope that lights up the future of the slowly dwindling shoyu industry.

冷奴

醤油比べ

卵かけご飯

Writer : YOKO AOYAGI / Photographer : SATOSHI TACHIBANA

Shokunin Shoyu Maebashi Main Shop

Location 5-4-8 Nishikatakai-machi, Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture
Hours 10:00 - 18:00
Closed Monday
URL https://www.s-shoyu.com/maebashi
  • 職人醤油

Shokunin Shoyu Matsuya Ginza Shop

Location B2, Matsuya Ginza, 3-6-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Prefecture
Hours 10:00 - 20:00
URL https://www.s-shoyu.com/matsuya