History of Soy Sauce, Shoyu, and Tamari - Page 4

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, Californi

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Standardization of the Shoyu Formula (1716-1867) . By about the year 1716 shoyu makers near the capital at Edo had standardized the shoyu formula corresponding to the one used today. It called for the use of equal parts whole soybeans and roasted wheat, a development sometimes said to also mark the point at which shoyu and miso finally emerged as distinct and totally independent foods. They had traditionally been remarkably similar, using even the same microorganisms, including yeasts and bacteria. The only basic differences were that the koji for most miso was made with rice or barley (rather than soybeans and roasted wheat), and that for shoyu a liquid portion was separated by filtration and pressing from the solids.

Making shoyu was a two-step batch fermentation process, involving the essential biochemical activities of molds, bacteria, and yeasts. The key craftsmen in the process were the brewmaster ( toji ; who also often acted as plant foreman), the wheat roaster ( mugi-iri ), the kettle tender ( kamaya ), the koji maker ( muromae ), and the moromi mash stirrer ( moromi kake ). Shoyu plant buildings, because they had to house hundreds of fermentation vats, were among the largest structures in Japan, rivaled only by Buddhist temples and official halls. Instructions for making one batch of shoyu from the early 1700s until about the 1880s might read as follows:

Ingredients : 2,400 kg each whole dry soybeans and whole wheat, 3,600 kg sea salt, and 7,200 kg well water.

1. Prepare the Wheat, Soybeans, and Salt . Clean the wheat in a sieve, mix it with clean sand in an open cast iron pan with a broad, concave bottom and low sides, set on a brick oven over a wood fire. Roast the wheat, stirring frequently, until it is nicely browned and fragrant. Remove sand with a sieve, then run roasted wheat kernels through a hand- or foot-powered stone mill to crack them into 4 or 5 pieces.

Wash soybeans, soak in plenty of water for 12 hours, then place into one or more large cedar vats, each having the bottom perforated and set over a caldron partially filled with water. Heat caldron with a wood fire and steam the covered soybeans for 6-8?? hours at atmospheric pressure, then allow to stand overnight in the steamer. Why??

Process the unrefined salt to remove its impurities ( aku ) and bitter principles ( nigari ). (One common way to do this was to first drain the salt in a porous container to let the nigari leach out, then combine equal volumes of salt and water in large kettles, cook for 2-3 hours, filter off scum and foreign matter using a horse-hair sieve, then repeat the cooking and filtering steps several times.)

2. Make Koji from Soybeans and Wheat . Combine the cooked soybeans and wheat on a large, clean, wooden mixing floor in front of the koji incubation room; mix well using a clean wooden spade or pusher and wearing stilt shoes ( geta ) which allow walking in the koji. Then spread out the mixture about 2.5 cm (1 inch) deep over the floor. Allow it to stand and cool for about 3 hours, mixing it occasionally, while it is also inoculated spontaneously by air-borne spores of Aspergillus oryzae , which permeate the shop. How did they get there?? Are they everywhere?? Then transfer about 18 liters (4.8 gallons) of the mixture into each of many wooden koji trays (each 24 by 12 by 4 inches deep, and well permeated with koji mold spores).

Stack trays one atop the other in the well-insulated koji incubation room (30 by 10 by 7 feet high), whose interior is permeated with koji mold spores. Incubate at 25-30°C (77-86°F) for 72 hours, mixing by hand twice during the process to prevent the koji from overheating. (The koji room is typically kept warm by the heat of fermentation from the previous batch of koji). Finished koji should be yellowish green and fragrant.

3. Ferment the Koji in Brine to Make Moromi Mash . Mix the salt and cold water in a cedar ( sugi ) shoyu fermentation vat to give a 22-23% salt solution (20° Baume, a measure of specific gravity or relative density). The vat is at least 8 feet deep and 7 feet in diameter at the mouth, typically holding 5-10 kiloliters (1,320 to 2,640 gallons). Stir in batches of the koji, thus filling the vat; mix well. Then stir this salt mash ( moromi ) periodically typically once every few days in winter and 2 or 3 times a day in summer, using a 7-foot-long pole having a 4-by-10-inch board attached perpendicularly to one end; this mixes and aerates the contents, stimulating microbial growth. Allow some of the vats to ferment and age for 1 year, some for 2 years, and some for 3 years. Taste test the mash in each vat about 3 times each month; the color should darken to a deep reddish brown, the flavor and aroma should become rich and mellow, and the texture should change from chunky to applesauce-like as the individual beans and grains slowly lose their form and are melted away by the action of the koji enzymes.

4. Press the Mash to Filter Off the Shoyu . When each of the three mashes has finished its aging process and is mature, combine these in a separate mixing vat located near a press. Use approximately 5 parts of 1-year mash (which has the best flavor), 2 parts of 2-year mash (which has the best taste, or combined aroma and flavor), and 1 part of 3-year mash (which has the deepest color, but a weak flavor). Now ladle the mash blend out of the vat through a funnel into each of many coarse-weave cotton filter bags, which were previously dipped into the tannin-rich juice of astringent persimmons to strengthen them. Each bag, being about 7 inches wide and 3 l/2 feet long, will hold about 2 liters of mash (Note: in the mid-1800s these sacks were introduced as a replacement for tubs with porous bottoms.) Lay the bags crosswise in a wooden pressing chamber ( fune , literally "boat"), a strong wooden box about 3 by 6 by 3 feet deep, having a slightly sloping bottom with a bung hole at the lowest end. When the chamber is almost full, put on a sturdy wooden pressing lid and apply pressure to the lid using a lever press consisting of a huge tree trunk (up to 18 inches in diameter and 30 feet long), with many boulders weighing up to 1,000 kg (2,000 lb) suspended by ropes from the end opposite the fulcrum (Fig. ??). Press for ?? days, allowing the shoyu to run from the pressing chamber into a holding tank. When about 70% of the mash (by weight) has been extracted as shoyu and no more shoyu drips out, remove the residue (shoyu cake or presscake) from the bags, mix it with a salt water solution, and allow it to ferment again for ?? months, then extract this number 2 shoyu ( bansui ) as before. Use the remaining dry shoyu cake for fertilizer. (Note: prior to the late 1700s most of the cake was discarded as a waste product; after about 1910 it was increasingly used as livestock feed, which is the main use today.) This unheated shoyu is called nama-shoyu by shoyu makers and kijoyu by cooks. Both terms, written with the same characters, mean "raw shoyu." Cooks often claim that this is shoyu at its peak of flavor.

5. Refine and Blend the Shoyu . In Japan, refining consists of separating the oil and lees from the prime shoyu, heat treating or pasteurizing the shoyu, then clarifying it. In two separate streams, run the first and second shoyu extractions slowly and continuously into specially designed decanting tanks, which cause the natural soy oil (now shoyu oil) to rise to the surface; it is then skimmed off and removed. (Note: by the mid-1800s, largely because of research at Noda, shoyu oil became a widely used illuminant, but it was replaced by kerosene in the 1880s. Thereafter it was used to make cheap soaps, as a machine cutting oil, or to mix with paints to prevent their freezing.)

Now run the shoyu into deep storage vats and allow it to stand for 2 months, while it separates into three layers: the sediment or lees on the bottom, the quality shoyu in the middle, and a thin layer of remaining oil floating on top. Carefully run off the quality shoyu through a bung hole several inches from the vat's bottom, transferring it into an iron kettle for heat treatment/pasteurization ( hi-ire ). Recycle the sediment back into another batch of moromi mash to be re-pressed. Cover?? the shoyu in the kettle and heat to 70°C (158°F); hold at this temperature for about 3 hours to stop the action of the shoyu bacteria and yeasts and most of their enzymes, to darken the color, improve the aroma, and cause coagulable constituents to precipitate out. Heat the number 2 shoyu ( bansui ) at about 85°C (185°F). Now run the heat-treated shoyu into deep vats for a second clarification of 7-10 days, while the heat-coagulated constituents settle out.

Finally blend the shoyu, combining both the first and second extractions, and run the blended shoyu into small cedar kegs, each holding 16.2 liters or 4.3 gallons. Ship these to market.

Three aspects of the process deserve deeper consideration. First, shoyu was traditionally almost always started in the fall or winter, when the new crops of soybeans and wheat had been freshly harvested, and there was free time from farm work. Usually only one large batch of shoyu was made each year. It was said that shoyu started during the coldest months (from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15) had the best flavor and sold for the highest price.

Second, the use of a large proportion of wheat in the basic formula and the roasting of the wheat were the most important innovations in the development of a soy sauce different from that in China. The Chinese used only a small proportion of wheat and did not roast it. The Vietnamese, however, roasted the soybeans in their soy sauce ( tuong ). It is not known whether Japan or Vietnam developed roasting first, and whether one influenced the other. The developments were probably independent. Adding wheat to the soy sauce koji aids mold growth, enzyme production, and air circulation in the koji; it lowers the koji moisture, and minimizes growth of undesirable bacteria. Wheat is a source of sugars, alcohols, organic acids, and flavor compounds (including vanilla compounds that contribute a subtle vanilla flavor), and it is also rich in glutamic acid (Yokotsuka 1964). The high proportion of wheat in Japanese shoyu gives it a relatively high alcohol content (about 2.5%??), or about 17 times as high as that of Chinese soy sauce), but Chinese soy sauce typically contains about 50% more total nitrogen. Roasting the wheat also gives a special aroma to the shoyu.

Third, shoyu has apparently been subjected to heat treatment ( hi-ire , a term we prefer to "pasteurization," which only refers to killing germs) since its early days in Japan. Many Westerners think that pasteurization originated from the work of Pasteur in the 1860s. However in China, in AD 1117, the Pei-shan chiu-ching (Tr??) described the low-temperature "pasteurization" of rice wine seven centuries before Pasteur, and in Japan the first mention of the process appears in the Tamon-in Diary of 1539-1596. However (as Atkinson noted in 1881) the Japanese and Chinese, while discovering the benefits of heating, did not grasp the basic principle of contamination, so they frequently put pasteurized sake into old vats, and did not understand why it turned to vinegar from bacterial contamination. The first specific reference to shoyu heat treatment/pasteurization appeared in the ?? of what year ?? As there were no thermometers in those days, the temperature was judged by touch. The Chinese never traditionally heat treated their soy sauce over a fire as the Japanese did, but their long sunning of the product in open-top pots served somewhat the same function.

It is interesting to note how many common key points are shared by shoyu and sake manufacture: the koji mold, vats, the term for "mash" ( moromi ), pressing technology, pasteurization, the retail container and the name for brewmaster ( toji ). Unlike the mash of alcoholic beverages (sake, beer, whiskey), however, shoyu mash is rich in nitrogen and salt. But little is known of the extent to which shoyu borrowed these common points from the historically earlier sake process, and to what extent they co-evolved. It is important to emphasize that, despite the growing standardization of the shoyu-making process starting in the 1700s, not all shoyu in Japan was made as described above. First, not all shoyu makers used a mixture of one, two, and three-year-old mashes. Records from the 1870s of shoyu makers in Noda show that some of them simply aged the shoyu through two full summers, and occasionally only one full summer; these producers did not mix batches of different ages. In addition, literally hundreds of shoyu recipes existed during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), calling for various proportions of soybeans, wheat, and barley. Before the 20th century, much of the shoyu made in farmhouses had barley substituted for part or all of the wheat. There was also variation in many other details (salt content, fermentation, etc.) which led to a rich variety of shoyu types.

The Rise of Shoyu in Japan (1750-1867) . During the latter half of the Tokugawa period, from about 1750 until 1867, shoyu began to assume a much more important role in the food culture of Japan, due to the spread of shoyu nationwide, the rise of an urban culture (especially in Edo/Tokyo), the rapid growth in popularity of the new koikuchi-type shoyu in the Edo area, and the rise in the number of producers, especially farmhouse and small commercial producers.

Very little has been published about the spread of farmhouse and small-scale shoyu-making during the late Tokugawa period, but apparently there were many small producers. There were at least three basic problems that had to be solved in order for beginners to start making shoyu: they had to learn a basic method and recipe, learn how to make koji and get the starter, and develop a method for pressing out the shoyu. To teach the method, a number of books on shoyu production were circulated and widely used in the countryside after the mid-1700s. One of the earliest of these was the Shoyu Denjuki (Tr??), written in 1785. They often also treated philosophical and agricultural subjects. More important, they led to a gradual growth in the number of shoyu makers, many of whom were essentially household producers. A somewhat later book in the same vein was the Shoyu Shusetsu (Tr??, 1877), whose recipes indicate that there was still wide variation in recipes and widespread use of barley. Fermentation times of 15-20 months were typical, ranging up to as much as 30 months (Ichiyama 1968; Fruin 1983). Some farmers learned to make their own koji. However up until World War II in many Japanese towns there was a koji maker, who produced koji for shoyu, miso, and amazake . People could buy this ready-made koji, then use it to make their own shoyu. There were also people called "shoyu-miso makers" ( shoyu-miso zukuri ) who went from door to door pushing a small cart that contained the tools they needed to make miso or shoyu: a small caldron, an earthen wheat parching pan, a shoyu press, etc. The farmer typically supplied the soybeans and grains, then the skilled craftsmen made the koji and moromi mash.

For some families, however, shoyu-making was a household art and there were secret family methods. Two basic techniques were used to press out the shoyu. The most widely used was apparently the Chinese method of pushing a colander into the moromi mash, allowing the liquid shoyu to collect in it, then ladling off the shoyu into a storage container. The other involved ladling the moromi mash into a sack set on a rack over a tub, then using a simple lever press to press out the liquid. Gradually, in each town and village, at least one relatively wealthy family began to make shoyu on a larger scale; this allowed them to store their wealth in a form other than money, while it gradually became more valuable. Eventually a single family (typically an affluent one) came to assume responsibility for commercial shoyu production in each town or village. As more efficient and expensive pressing equipment was developed, larger companies that could better afford it grew in size.

We know of no statistics on the total quantity of shoyu made in Japan prior to the 1880s nor on the ratio of farmhouse to commercial shoyu. By the early 1900s there were apparently tens of thousands of household shoyu makers throughout Japan. Thereafter the tradition gradually began to die out, especially after World War II. The tradition of homemade miso, by contrast, survived much longer, probably because it was more difficult with shoyu to obtain a subtle, delicate flavor and aroma, and to press the liquid efficiently from the moromi mash. But in China, Korea, and other parts of East Asia, where shoyu is made without pressing and without the use of much wheat, the homemade tradition has persisted up to the present.

From the early 1700s the new capital at Edo/Tokyo became the center of the rapidly growing shoyu industry. In 1723 the population of Tokyo was about 1 million, making it probably the world's largest city, as well as one of the fastest growing. Whereas only 1 or 2% of the Japanese population lived in cities before the 1600s, by 1725 roughly 20% did so. The rapid growth of the shoyu market was closely linked with this rapid rise in urbanization. By the late Tokugawa period shoyu and sake had emerged as Japan's two major food manufacturing industries (Fruin 1983). By the 1720s, in and around Tokyo, there were nine associations of shoyu makers. The association at Noda consisted of 19 producers (Yokotsuka 1965). These new companies were growing rapidly and they could ship their shoyu to the vast new Tokyo market much more quickly and inexpensively than their competitors in far-away Osaka. Using the finest water and grains plus their new formula containing roasted wheat, they were soon offering a product that people in the greater Tokyo/Kanto area preferred to the more expensive imported brands. In 1730 imports of shoyu from the Yuasa/Osaka area were booming, with 162,000 kegs a year coming in. But by the mid-1700s these imports peaked and then began a long decline.

In 1781 a loosely structured shoyu makers guild had been started at Noda with seven members, two of which were members of the Mogi family. In 1782 Saheiji Mogi gave his shoyu the brand name Kikkoman, thus introducing a product which would later put Noda on the map and eventually become the world's most famous brand of soy sauce. By the 1820s a majority of the Noda guild members were Mogis and the guild was probably the largest shoyu-making group in Japan, although it accounted for only an estimated 2-4% of the nation's total production. By 1821 some 1,250,000 kegs of shoyu were being sold commercially in Tokyo; only 2% was being imported from the Yuasa/Osaka area. The supremacy of the new Tokyo-style koikuchi shoyu was finally recognized officially by the Tokugawa shogunate government. In 1810 the shogunate began to order and use Choshi shoyu. In 1829 it began to order and use shoyu made by the Takanashi family in Noda, and in 1838 that made by the Mogi family in Noda. Then, more important, in 1864 the shogunate exempted from government price controls seven brands of the Tokyo-style shoyu, but no imported brands from Yuasa/Osaka. The government's exemption became a sort of unofficial seal of approval, much to the benefit of the four Choshi brands (Higeta, Yamasa, Yamaju, and Jigamasa) and the three Noda brands (Kikkoman, Kihaku, Joju).

By the end of the Tokugawa period shoyu had become one of Japan's basic food staples; per capita consumption was slightly more than 4 liters (over 1 gallon) a year. As it evolved into Japan's favorite all-purpose seasoning, homemakers and chefs were content to use it alone or mixed with other simple seasonings (such as sake, vinegar, sweeteners, etc.) to enhance the vast panorama of the national cuisine. The Japanese Encyclopedia of Food and Drink ( Inshoku Jiten ) praised shoyu saying, "Shoyu surpasses other seasonings in its ability to make each dish unique by evoking the complex and delicate flavors in the food itself" (Motoyama 1958). It was probably for this reason, and because of their love of simple, light, natural flavors, that the Japanese never bothered to develop a wide range of other sauces (such as the rich sauces found in France) or to make extensive use of spices and herbs (as so many East Asian cuisines do). It is also interesting to note that whereas there are many popular types of miso in Japan, each made with different proportions of various ingredients, there is basically only one type of popular shoyu . . . perhaps because everyone likes it so much.

Overview of Origins . Before proceeding into Japan's modern period, it might be interesting to reflect briefly on the origins and genealogies of both shoyu and miso. The traditional and still most widely held opinion among Japanese researchers and fermented-food historians is that both shoyu and miso trace their origins to Chinese jiang. However Dr. Kinichiro Sakaguchi, Professor of Fermentation Science at Tokyo University and a long-time student of the history of fermentation, in his "Searching for the Roots of Shoyu" (1979), argues convincingly that today's shoyu traces its ancestry back through early shoyu, then through the four fermented soyfoods tamari-shoyu, tamari miso, Hatcho miso, and savory soy nuggets ( Hamanatto ), and ultimately back to Chinese soy nuggets ( chi ). Miso, he asserts, traces its ancestry back through early Japanese misos and hishio to jiang. In the shoyu lineage, the koji is always made with either soybeans alone or a mixture of soybeans and cracked or ground wheat, whereas in the miso lineage the koji is usually (except for soybean misos) made from grain. Sakaguchi believes that the fundamental biochemical consequences of this difference in koji substrates are of much greater importance than the more superficial differences of consistency or form that have led researchers up until now to group solid or semisolid fermented soyfoods in the miso lineage and liquid products in the shoyu lineage. Thus it is not obvious that liquid shoyu stems from solid soy nuggets and firm miso stems from mushy jiang. In shoyu, the Aspergillus oryzae molds grow directly on the soybeans (and wheat) during the koji fermentation and their enzymes begin to digest the koji substrates, then continue to digest the soybeans (and wheat) during the subsequent brine fermentation. This in vivo and in vitro extended hydrolysis leads to the formation of complex metabolic compounds, a higher degree of protein hydrolysis and liquefaction, and the production of a richer and stronger flavor in shoyu than in miso. Sakaguchi argues that miso has a 3,000-year history dating from the development of jiang during the Chou dynasty in China, whereas shoyu has a 2,000-year history dating from the development of soy nuggets ( chi ) during the Han dynasty. [What is his evidence??]

It is important to note here that the ancient Chinese language seems to indicate that soy sauce derives from jiang and not from chi , as evidenced by the Chinese word for soy sauce, jiangyou , meaning "the liquid extracted from jiang." Moreover, most Chinese jiang and soy nuggets have both always been made with a soy-based koji. Sakaguchi's analysis is helpful, but lacking on a few points. The jiang has not, as Sakaguchi argues, been made with a grain-based koji. Even in the earliest description of Chinese soybean jiang in the Ch'i-min yao-shu (described in detail in the Miso chapter) the koji is made primarily from soybeans. Thus while retaining the essence of Sakaguchi's argument, we would suggest that it be modified slightly to say that both shoyu and miso trace their ancestry back to both soy nuggets ( shih , which existed prior to 206 BC) and to soybean jiang (which existed prior to AD 500).

Dr. Sakaguchi considers there to be three main reasons that shoyu and miso were not developed in the West: (1) very few Westerners ever learned how to make koji using molds; (2) they had virtually no soybeans until the 20th century; and (3) the basic flavoring components of shoyu and miso, especially natural L-glutamic acid and inosinic acid, were traditionally unknown in the West.


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