Highlighted Japanese IngredientMiso / Soy Sauce

Japan’s quintessential fermented foods

In general, miso and shoyu, or Japanese soy sauce, are said to trace their origin to soybean paste (“jiang”) used in ancient China. Both are Japan’s staple condiments, and fermented foods made with soybeans that have been essential condiments of Japanese cuisine for many years.

Various countries in Asia utilize fermented foods as condiments. For example, South Korea has a type of soybean paste called doenjang, which is more intense than Japan’s moderate and subtle miso. Doubanjiang (chili bean paste) and tianmianjiang (sweet bean paste) used in Chinese and other cuisines are also fermented foods like miso.

In addition, Thailand has nam pla and Vietnam has nuoc mam–fish sauces made from small fish such as anchovy that has been pickled with plenty of salt and matured. In comparison, Japanese shoyu made with soybeans has a smooth flavor.

Regional variations of miso

Miso is made by steam-boiling soybeans, adding koji (fermentation starter), salt, and water, fermenting, and maturing. Rice koji makes rice miso. Barley koji makes barley miso. Soybean koji makes soybean miso.

About 80% of the miso made in Japan today is rice miso. Its regional variations have different colors and flavors, such as Sendai miso, Edo-ama miso, Echigo miso, and Shinshu miso. Barley miso is produced in Kyushu and areas of the Chugoku and Shikoku regions; soybean miso is produced primarily in Aichi, Mie, and Gifu Prefectures. For many Japanese people, miso soup is a taste of home cooking. In recent years, more people are using different types of miso that best suit their ingredients and cooking method.

Varieties and characteristics of shoyu

Shoyu is made with soybeans, wheat, salt, and koji. Soybeans are a source of umami, and wheat is a source of aroma and sweetness. The activities of various microorganisms impart the liquid the unique color, aroma, and flavor of shoyu, and the liquid gradually matures during the production process. This matured state is called “shoyu moromi” (unrefined shoyu), and pressing shoyu moromi creates the final shoyu product.

There are five major types of shoyu. The most commonly used type in Japan is “koikuchi shoyu.” It has a smooth and rich umami and is a versatile shoyu that can be used for both cooking and as a condiment for sashimi. “Usukuchi shoyu” has a lighter color than koikuchi shoyu and is good for enhancing the natural colors of the ingredients. It is the shoyu of choice in the Kansai region. “Tamarishoyu” is more viscous and has a full body. “Sai-shikomi shoyu” made with shoyu that has once been pressed has a dark color, flavor, and aroma and is used for foods such as sashimi and sushi. “Shiro shoyu,” which is even lighter than usukuchi shoyu, features a simple flavor, strong sweetness, and savory aroma, and is used for dishes such as chawanmushi (steamed egg custard).

Health boosting ingredients of miso and shoyu

Miso and shoyu contain more glutamic acid, an umami ingredient, than their ingredient, soybeans, which are also rich in glutamic acid.

Studies have shown that glutamic acid helps prevent obesity. It has also been found to act on areas of the brain that control eating habits and the autonomous nervous system, affecting the secretion of digestive fluids as well as gastrointestinal motility.

Besides these, miso and shoyu contain many other health boosting ingredients. Both contain soy isoflavones derived from their soybean content. Soy isoflavones act like the female hormone estrogen in the body and are believed to keep skin beautiful.

Furthermore, melanoidin, a brown pigment product of the manufacturing processes of miso and shoyu, is known to help increase the body’s antioxidant activity, suppress carcinogen, propagate lactic acid bacteria, and control rises in blood pressure.

Rigorous standards for organic miso and shoyu

Attaching the Organic JAS label certified by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries requires that 95% or more of the weight of ingredients, excluding salt and water, are organic agricultural products and organic agricultural processed foods. Organic agricultural products are limited to those cultivated in places that have not used agricultural chemicals and chemical fertilizers for two or more years before sowing and planting seeds. Furthermore, non-genetically modified products must be utilized. The manufacturing process is under strict control to ensure that other products are not mixed in.

Only when these criteria are met can the “organic miso” and “organic shoyu” labels be displayed.

Growth in export volume

Washoku, traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese, has gained a global reputation in recent years. Against this background, miso and shoyu are highly valued for their condiment potential. This is evident from the increases in their export volume and prices.

With regard to miso, approximately 2,800 tons (approximately 670 million yen) were exported in 1990, approximately 5,800 tons (approximately 1.16 billion yen) in 2000, and approximately 10,000 tons (approximately 2.0 billion yen) in 2010. In 2017, the export level increased to approximately 16,000 tons (approximately 3.33 billion yen).

As for shoyu, approximately 10 million liters (approximately 1.95 billion yen) were exported in 1990, approximately 10.5 million liters (approximately 2.32 billion yen) in 2000, and approximately 17.70 million liters (approximately 4.0 billion yen) in 2010. In 2017, the export level increased to approximately 33.6 million liters (approximately 7.15 billion yen). For both miso and shoyu, export volumes increased gradually, with a pronounced growth recorded between 2010 and 2017.

Products that have acquired halal certification for the Muslim market as well as gluten-free products that do not utilize wheat have been released. Miso and shoyu, which have been essential Japanese seasonings, are expected to increasingly bring out the best of other cuisines at restaurants and homes of countries and regions around the globe.

List of related links

List of exporters of Japanese Miso / Soy sauce
JAFEX (Japan Agricultural & Foodstuff Exports)