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Decoding "Light Soy Sauce" (Sang Chau): What Sets it Apart?

The title might sound like it's questioning your knowledge (and you probably know, especially if you're from Guangdong), but "Light Soy Sauce" or "Sang Chau" is a staple found in nearly every home, restaurant, and eatery. In Hong Kong and Cantonese cuisine, it's an irreplaceable seasoning.

So, What is Light Soy Sauce (Sang Chau)?

Light Soy Sauce, or "Sang Chau" in Cantonese, is a key player in Asian cooking, particularly in Chinese and Cantonese culinary traditions. It's a translucent, amber liquid that adds a balanced flavor to numerous dishes.

Cantonese-style soy sauce, known as "豉油" (ci yau) in Cantonese, boasts an exceptionally simple ingredients. Typically, it comprises soybeans, wheat (flour), water, and salt. The production process is largely similar to other soy sauce process in other regions, but it differs significantly from the beloved Japanese soy sauce that many adore. The key distinction lies in the subsequent fermentation period of the soy sauce.

Photo Credit: HK01

For Cantonese-style soy sauce, the fermentation period (in traditional soy sauce factories) usually spans three to four months, with a maximum of six months. In contrast, Japanese soy sauce (in traditional soy sauce factories) typically requires a minimum of one year for fermentation, and it can even extend to three or four years. Some soy sauce factories even age their soy sauce for an astonishing 30 years.

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Comparatively, the fermentation period for Cantonese-style soy sauce is shorter than that of Japanese soy sauce. However, don't be too quick to jump to conclusions! A shorter fermentation period for Cantonese-style soy sauce doesn't equate to inferior quality.

Speaking plainly, when we refer to "生抽" (Sang Chau), we're aiming for a "lighter" profile. This makes it exceptionally suitable for Cantonese cuisine. On the other hand, Japanese soy sauce, while undeniably flavorful, may lead to a somewhat overpowering taste when used in cooking. Have you ever tried stir-frying with rich Japanese soy sauce and felt like its flavor outshone the subtleties of other ingredients?

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Cantonese-style soy sauce, or "豉油" (ci yau), is characterized by its lighter body, amber hue, and well-balanced flavor. It's an ideal companion for stir-fries, marinating meats, and enhancing dishes without overshadowing their main elements.

Of course, that doesn't mean it can't elevate seafood. Crab, for instance, welcomes its presence without a doubt.

However, it's worth mentioning that not all soy sauces are created equal. Some prominent brands' soy sauces can be exceedingly salty, leaving an almost overpowering saltiness and an aftertaste that doesn't sit well. This has led many to associate soy sauce with an extreme level of saltiness. I, too, fell into this misconception for many years.

It wasn't until I ventured into crafting traditional soy sauce myself that I realized the vast world within the realm of soy sauce.

On the contrary, have you ever experienced the moment when you're about to enjoy sushi or sashimi, only to realize you're out of Japanese soy sauce? So you grab some Light Soy Sauce instead for dipping the sashimi? Did you find it overly salty and not quite right?

This is precisely why Japanese soy sauce shines. Its brilliance lies in the art of time-infused brewing, coaxing out nuanced flavors that delicately enhance the essence of the ingredients. When you pair Japanese soy sauce with fresh sashimi, suddenly, a burst of flavor takes over. It's this intricacy that makes Japanese soy sauce a perfect companion for dishes like sushi, where freshness and subtlety are of utmost importance.

A side note: When I was younger, I didn't know much. I thought Dark Soy Sauce was just a more intense version of Light Soy Sauce, and I even used it as if it were the same. But in the end, everything turned dark and murky.

Dark Soy Sauce typically contains added "caramel color" and cornstarch, giving it a deep hue and a thicker consistency. However, it's not primarily used for seasoning; it's meant for color enhancement. Be cautious when using it.

Next time, I'll delve into the processing methods of Dark Soy Sauce or even how Japanese soy sauce is processed.

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