Soy sauce is known for its salty and savory flavor that’s best categorized as umami, which is one of the five basic tastes that our taste buds can pick up on.
If you’re eating out at an Asian or Asian fusion restaurant, then chances are that there’ll be a big bottle on your table. If you’re reading this right now, then you’re probably wondering, “Is soy sauce vegan?”
Yes! As it turns out, soy sauce is 100% vegan. It’s made by introducing a culture to a mixture of water-soaked soybeans and crushed, roasted wheat. No animal by-products are used in its creation. So go ahead and put a dash on your tofu!
I’ve been asked this question time and time again, so I figured that it was time I finally gave you guys an in-depth answer on the topic.
Below, I’ll explain how soy sauce is made, why it’s vegan, the difference between traditional Japanese and Western soy sauce, and address why it had a slightly “fishy” flavor.
Let’s take a look!
I’ve been on a vegan diet for just over seven years. In the time since I first went vegan, I’ve heard countless critical remarks, stereotypical judgments, and flat-out lies about veganism.
The amount of misinformation on vegan diets is astounding (and is part of what led me to create Vegan Calm, in the first place).
One of the most common stereotypes that I’ve heard about vegan diets is that they’re “bland” or “tasteless.” Whoever created this myth obviously wasn’t a true vegan. They probably tried one piece of plain tofu, hated it, and then judged the entire vegan lifestyle off of one bad meal.
But hey – that’s typical human behavior.
I didn’t become vegan because I cared about what others thought of me; I became vegan to help make a small difference and stop contributing to animal cruelty.
Honestly, since I’ve gone vegan, I’ve started using far more seasoning, sauces, and spices than I ever used before my vegan journey.
Of course, you have to be careful about some sauces (such as ketchup), but there are tons of vegan-friendly sauces and seasonings on the market these days.
Soy sauce is easily one of my favorite vegan-friendly staples.
I always keep a bottle in my cabinet and put it on everything from tofu to rice, vegetables, and even pasta!
Soy sauce is the perfect example of an umami taste profile – a Japanese term that translates roughly to “essence of deliciousness.” It’s one of the five primary tastes that our taste buds can pick up on, including:
- Savory (otherwise known as umami)
When most people think of the term “savory,” they tend to visualize non-vegan dishes such as steak, chicken, or hibachi stir fry. The main reason that readers ask me whether or not soy sauce is vegan is that they claim it has a savory and slightly “fishy” flavor profile.
Many people assume that this savory flavor must come from fish or some type of animal by-product.
While savory flavors are most commonly associated with meat, they don’t have to be! People who taste savory flavors are typically responding to glutamates and nucleotides; two compounds that are typically present in cooked meat and fermented beverages.
The latter describes soy sauce, as it involves a natural, vegan-friendly fermentation process before being pasteurized, bottled, and sold to the masses.
Since the same taste buds are being activated, it’s understandable why many vegan dieters tend to question if there are meat by-products in soy sauce.
As a vegan, you’ll quickly learn that a mere glance at an ingredients list isn’t always enough to tell whether or not a product is vegan or not. Take maple syrup, for example.
Although the ingredients list may only list “pure maple syrup,” animal fat by-products are sometimes used in the production of the syrup as defoaming agents.
Given the deception of mainstream food brands, it’s only right that you should wonder about how soy sauce is made to make sure that it’s 100% vegan. So, here’s a quick, step-by-step description of how soy sauce is made:
- Raw soybeans are steamed or boiled and freshly-harvested wheat is roasted and crushed. These are the two main ingredients.
- Next, the two ingredients are mixed and introduced to a natural mold compound to facilitate fermentation.
- This dry mash is referred to as koji and is then spread out in a thin layer and allowed to dry for a few days.
- After it’s dry, the dry koji mash is mixed up with salt, water, and a “starter” (consisting of yeast and lactic acid bacterium) to create a wet mash called moromi.
- The moromi mash is placed in large airtight vats and is allowed to ferment. Mainstream soy sauce is typically fermented for a few months, while high-end artisan soy sauce may be fermented for several years to produce a stronger, richer, and more complex flavor.
- Once the moromi has been fermented, the mash is then pressed out of its storage vat, filtered, and then pasteurized before bottling to ensure that it’s safe to consume.
- Finally, the pasteurized soy sauce mixture is bottled, labeled, and shipped around the world so that it ends up in your kitchen cabinet!
Pretty cool, right? In Japan, soy sauce is treated with the utmost care and respect that’s comparable to the way that liquor distillers treat their alcohol products.
If you’d like to see the full process of how soy sauce is made from start to finish, check out this short film by National Geographic:
For those of you who’ve had the opportunity to travel to Japan and try authentic soy sauce straight from the source, you’ve no doubt noticed that it’s a little bit different than the average run-of-the-mill soy sauce in America.
The main difference that I noticed during my travels was that Japanese soy sauce was a little bit thicker than the bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce that I have in my home.
As I learned from my guide, this is due to lower wheat content in the mash and less water content. The resulting mixture is referred to as tamari.
Some authentic Japanese dishes favor the thicker, soy-dominant tamari soy sauce, which is why it’s more widely available in Japan. Rest assured, this thicker soy sauce is just as vegan as the lighter, less viscous soy sauce you’ll find in your local supermarket.
Although it’s not very common in the United States, you may run across some flavored soy sauces. Unfortunately, many of these flavored soy sauces are not vegan-friendly and may use animal by-products for the flavoring.
If you’re a vegan who wants to keep it simple, I usually suggest sticking with traditional unflavored soy sauce or the low-sodium alternative.
For quick reference, here’s a brief list of the most popular types of soy sauce and their vegan status:
|Vegan-Friendly Soy Sauce||Non-Vegan Soy Sauce|
|Light Soy Sauce (found in most Western grocery stores)||Soy Paste or Soy Jam (non-vegan due to white sugar and molasses content)|
|Tamari (thick, dark Japanese soy sauce)||Shrimp-Flavored Soy Sauce (dried baby shrimp are used for flavoring)|
|Mushroom-Flavored Soy Sauce|
|Indonesian Kecap Manis (contains added spices and vegan-friendly palm sugar)|
If you’re looking for something to add an extra kick to your tofu, vegan ramen, or veggie stir fry, then you can’t go wrong with soy sauce.
While you should definitely stay away from the shrimp-flavored variety, regular old-fashioned light soy sauce is 100% vegan and allows you to stimulate your savory taste buds without the guilt of eating meat.
For more tips on finding and eating great-tasting vegan food, be sure to check out my other posts on Vegan Calm’s food blog!