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White Soy Sauce

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2009

How does white soy sauce differ from regular soy sauce, and can it be used in its place?

Regular soy sauce is typically made from equal amounts of soybeans and wheat, while white soy sauce (which is actually golden) is produced with more wheat than soybeans. To see if the two could be used interchangeably, we purchased our top-ranked soy sauces (Lee Kum Kee Tabletop Soy Sauce for cooked applications and Ohsawa Nama Shoyu Organic Unpasteurized Soy Sauce if used as a condiment) and compared them to white tamari ($6.20 for 300 ml) from the White Soy Sauce Food Company in California. Served over rice, they each had fans among tasters. Some preferred the “sweeter” and more “subtle” flavor of the white sauce and noticed similarities to rice wine, while others favored “richer” regular soy. In a stir-fry (where soy sauce is one ingredient among many) the balance shifted to white soy, while in chicken teriyaki (where soy dominates) tasters overwhelmingly chose the “deep, caramel” flavor of the regular stuff. We contacted the White Soy Sauce Food Company and learned that while regular soy is made by roasting wheat and steaming soybeans prior to fermentation, in white soy it’s the reverse: The wheat is steamed and the soybeans are roasted. Then, during fermentation, the starch in the wheat turns to sugar, which explains white soy’s sweetness and alcoholic edge.

The bottom line: While we don’t recommend using white soy interchangeably with regular soy, it’s definitely worth trying as a condiment (a dipping sauce for sushi, for example) and in dishes where soy isn’t the primary flavor. It also comes in handy if you want to add soy sauce to a dish without changing its color.