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What is Usukuchi Shoyu?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Usukuchi shoyu is a variety of soy sauce which has a pale golden color and a mild flavor. In Japan, usukuchi is particularly popular in the Kansai region; it is also used in recipes from other parts of Japan. This more mild soy sauce is useful for delicate sauces, especially those which are designed to be pale in color, and some people enjoy it because the rich layered flavors of darker soy sauces are a bit too intense for them. Many Asian markets stock usukuchi shoyu, and it can also be found in the Asian foods aisle at your local grocer if you live in a reasonably large area.

Like other forms of soy sauce, known in Japan as shoyu, usukuchi shoyu is made by fermenting soy beans with salt. In addition to soy beans, usukuchi also calls for lightly toasted wheat, which helps keep the flavor mild, and mirin, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice. Usukuchi shoyu is typically fermented for a relatively brief period of time, which prevents it from developing an overwhelming flavor.

Although usukuchi is less strongly fermented, it does tend to be more salty than other types of soy sauce. This trait can make usukuchi shoyu a bit challenging for cooks; as a general rule, cooks should add soy sauce to their food, allow the food to rest, and then see how salty it tastes. Salty flavors can develop or mellow after the soy sauce has been mixed with the food for a few minutes, and it is better to be patient than bitterly salty.

You may sometimes see usukuchi labeled as “light” soy sauce. In Western terms, “light” typically conveys the idea of a more healthy product, but in Asia, the “light” is simply a reference to the color, not to the fat content. Good usukucki shoyu varies in tone, but it tends to be pale yellow to amber in color. There may also be a small amount of sediment at the bottom of the bottle, which is not a cause for concern.

Like other soy sauces, usukuchi keeps best when kept out of bright light and temperature extremes. Some people like to refrigerate their shoyu, and while this is not strictly necessary, it can be a good way to keep it shelf stable. When using shoyu in cooking, pour a small amount into a dish and pour it from the dish into the pan; you do not want steam entering the soy sauce bottle as you sprinkle it over cooking food, as this can contaminate it.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Jul 04, 2012

@MikeMason-- That's really informative.

I would also like to add that different brands of usukuchi shoyu have different flavors based on the country it was made in. For example, Ohsawa and Yamasa, which are Japanese, taste different than Kimlan soy sauce from Taiwan.

Those who cook Asian food on a regular basis can usually tell them apart. And cooks who enjoy Japanese food say that it's best to use Japanese usukuchi shoyu when cooking Japanese food.

By stoneMason — On Jul 03, 2012

@burcidi-- Both koikuchi shoyu (dark soy sauce) and usukuchi shoyu (light soy sauce) are all-purpose soy sauces. So you can use them in cooking or as condiment sauces.

However, if you use soy sauce in cooking to lighten the flavors of seafood or meat in the dish, it is better to use koikuchi shoyu than usukuchi shoyu. Since usukuchi shoyu is less sophisticated and less fruity in taste, it is not as good in masking the heavy flavor of meat and seafood in dishes.

Usukuchi shoyu is not just light in color, but it is also light in flavor. This is because the salt inside doesn't allow it to ferment as much as koikuchi shoyu. Just like an alcoholic that is not as fermented, soy sauce that is not as fermented is lighter and less sophisticated in flavor.

I recommend usukuchi shoyu for people who don't really enjoy the flavor of soy sauce in their food, but they have to use it as the recipe calls for it. It's also good if you don't want the food to be colored dark by koikuchi shoyu.

By burcidi — On Jul 03, 2012

I clearly know nothing about soy sauce because I picked up usukuschi shoyu instead of regular soy sauce thinking it was healthier. I fell for the "light" labeling. I'm surprisingly pleased though. I added it last night to my stir-fry and it tasted great. It is definitely less intense than regular soy sauce and I like that.

I'm glad that I hadn't added any salt to the dish before I added usukuchi shoyu soy sauce because it really is salty. Definitely take that into account while cooking as the article suggested. Don't put any salt until after adding usukuchi.

I suspect that I can use usukuchu shoyu as a dip for sushi, steamed buns and egg rolls too right? Do the Japanese generally use this soy sauce in cooking or do they use it as a condiment sauce too?

I actually think that it would be a good condiment sauce with the salt content, although the flavor might be too "light" for some people if they are used to regular soy sauce.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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