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Artisanal soy sauce

I’ve been tasting several soy sauces lately.  The difference between grocery store bought balsamic vinegar or olive oil compared to artisanal ones are enormous, so enormous that this would be for another day, another long post.  I don’t remember what my mom used when she was in Korea other than the fact that she had several different types of soy sauce, but ever since we moved to the States, she’s been using Yamasa instead of more accessible Kikkoman.  A couple of Japanese restaurants I worked at during my poor years preferred Kikkoman over Yamasa for some unknown reason…

Yamasa, the other standard

Yamasa, the other standard

The standard.  Kind of.

Kikkoman, the actual standard

…because these two are pretty damn similar.  Very salty.  Low sodium ones always suck a little more than regular ones.  This cannot possibly be the only options, right?  I mean, this is like choosing Bertoli versus Colavita.  There are subtle differences, yes, but really?  No.  I tasted some more:

San-J Tamari

San-J Tamari

This is what you can get in the international section of a neighbor grocery store that doesn’t suck (as opposed to Meijer or Walmart).  Kikkoman and Yamasa, at least their standard versions, are both Shoyu from Japan, meaning it include wheat besides soy beans, salt and water.  Shoyu is the most commonly available, at least here in the states.  But I thought, hey, that one time Mom made soy sauce from scratch, she didn’t use any wheat.  San-J’s Tamari boosts that it uses very very little wheat.  So I bought it and tasted it.  Eh.  It’s okay.  Maybe a little less saltier and more flavorful than Kikkoman or Yamasa, but it’s not noticable enough to pay big bucks.  Skip this one.

Blue grass bourbon barrel aged soy sauce

Blue grass bourbon barrel aged soy sauce

Bourbon Bluegrass soy sauce uses “only whole Kentucky grown Non-GMO soybeans, wheat and the purest limestone filtered Kentucky spring water…ferment and age the soy bean mash in bourbon barrels” according to their site.  I ordered a small after reading a New York Times article on it.  Its price is comparable with the others (okay, it’s a couple dollars more) but the flavor is so much better.  When you try to taste Kikkoman, Yamasa or even San-J soy sauce, what you will taste mostly is salt.  Bluegrass soy sauce on the other hand is smooth, lighter, savory, a little sweet and smokey.  Very nice if you’re making simple dipping sauce or adding a splash of it in stir fry or soup.  I’m sure it makes amazing marinade as well, I just couldn’t do it myself since I tend to use cups of soy sauce and I only had like 3 oz on hand.  I like this one.

Kishibori soy sauce

Kishibori soy sauce

Kishibori soy sauce has one fancy looking package.  It’s wrapped in thick linen paper with pretty golden ribbon and inside is all-Japanese bottle complete with illustrations of half naked men.  It’s savory, not salty, with unami as the Japanese and pretentious foodies would say (yeah, I’m aware I’m saying it now), and it has long finish that’s never fishy.  It’s a bit stronger and not as sweet or smokey as Bluegrass and I actually liked that about it.

So flavor wise Kishibori is the winner and Bluegrass is the close runner up.  However, considering that Kishibori costs $8 for 3oz at Dean and Deluca store and that Bluegrass is American made, I may just go with Bluegrass.  Just like great and high-cost artisanal olive oil, I’d use these for dipping, drizzling and adding small splash of it here and there (like sauteed vegetable) rather than marinating 10 portions of Korean barbeque meat.  For that purpose, Yamasa will do.

(Side note: when you find yourself in a fancy Asian food store and you cannot understand anything on a label, pick that bottle of sauce or that bag of noodles with illustrations of half naked men on the label and generally higher price.  It’s a good bet that you found a tastier version.  No, it’s not psychological on my part as these illustrated half naked men are not particulary tasty looking.  You don’t believe me?  Go to your nearest Dean and Deluca and look at their selection.  Whatever small stock they have of fancy Japanese products will have illustrations of more half naked men than you care to see on a food packaging.)


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