what is white shoyu?
That is a tough question to answer. If you search online, you’ll learn it is a “rare ingredient” with “remarkable flavor”, but not much background about what it actually is.
You may come across white soy sauce at certain sushi joints, as its subtle flavor pairs well with fish (as opposed to dark soy sauce, which could be more overwhelming than complementary).
In terms of ramen, I recently learned another specific use for it: adding soy sauce flavor without adding soy sauce color. For example, to emulate a creamy tonkotsu broth without tinging the color too much. This is the exact purpose of its use in this vegan tonkotsu broth recipe.
But… is it worth buying?
I decided to do some experimentation with different soy sauces to compare them to white shoyu. I wanted to determine the following:
– How different is white shoyu color-wise?
– How different is the flavor?
And for those without access to white shoyu…
– Is an adequate substitute attainable?
comparing soy sauces
In this experiment, I used 4 different “soy sauces”: white shoyu, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, and tamari.
What’s the difference?
Notice the ingredients. Most importantly, the order of ingredients.
From left to right you will see a diminishing amount of wheat used. White shoyu and dark soy sauce use wheat as primary ingredients, the light soy sauce uses more soybean than wheat, and tamari uses no wheat at all (hence its gluten-free applications).
Besides containing different ingredient ratios from the start (wheat vs. soy), high wheat content also lends a different flavor after fermentation. During fermentation, the wheat starches break down to sugar, and the sugar turns to alcohol. The white shoyu actually lists this fermented alcohol in its ingredients.
Despite these differences in ingredients, when tasted alone, it is somewhat difficult to discern what type of soy sauce you’re tasting (at least out of dark, light, or tamari). However, when tasted side by side, the differences are apparent.
Of course, the white soy sauce sticks out like a sore thumb–both in appearance and flavor. It is considerably lighter in color, considerably less salty, and has a delicate fermented flavor. It certainly is unique compared to other shoyu, but what if you don’t have it on hand? Is it possible to make a substitute using another soy sauce variety?
can we make a white shoyu substitute?
My first step was to sort out which of the 3 popular soy sauce options tasted most like the white shoyu.
I tasted each soy sauce over and over. While none of them could capture the subtle flavors perfectly, the dark soy sauce had the closest underlying flavor. I suppose it’s unsurprising considering the similarity in ingredients (primarily wheat) compared to the light soy sauce or tamari (primarily or completely soy-based, respectively).
While there might be some subtle complexities in the white shoyu missing from the dark soy sauce, I was fairly certain we could come close by just diluting the dark soy sauce.
I tested a few ratios until I settled on a 1:2 ratio: 1 part dark soy sauce, 2 parts water. At this ratio, the flavor and salt level came pretty dang close to the white shoyu. That being said… it wasn’t a perfect match. Also, the color remained on the darker side. If you dilute it more it could reach the same color, but it would dilute the flavor too much.
so, should I go out and buy some white shoyu?
That depends. White shoyu is a truly unique ingredient, for truly niche uses. The color to flavor ratio simply can’t be replicated, but it may not be needed in every recipe that calls for it.
If you’re concerned about the color of your dish being darkened by traditional soy sauce, white shoyu will be your best option. If you don’t care about subtle flavor or color differences, the 1:2 ratio of dark soy sauce to water will work in a pinch.
While I won’t use white shoyu in every recipe, it has a place in certain special recipes. And it’s good it isn’t so crucial, because this stuff is pricey! But boy, is it pretty. I’m still surprised so much flavor is packed in there with so little color.
If you’re looking to purchase white shoyu, I purchased mine here through Amazon. The price on Amazon is comparable to what you would pay in stores if you can find it (I’ve seen it for $16 in a specialty market).
What recipes have you used (or plan to use) white shoyu in? Let me know in the comments below!