Is soy sauce vegan? It's one of those questions that we should know the answer to, but really, how many times have you actually looked at the ingredients that go into a bottle of soy sauce?
Don't worry, though, because we're here to tell you that yes, soy sauce is vegan! It's a totally vegan-friendly product, and it's a sauce that every vegan (and non-vegan) should always have stocked in their kitchen.
We couldn't be more overjoyed at the fact that soy sauce is vegan-friendly because we can't wait to cook up another stir fry. Keep reading, and we'll explain why soy sauce is vegan-friendly, in our ultimate guide to soy sauce.
What is soy sauce, exactly?
To examine the vegan credentials of soy sauce, we need to look at what soy sauce actually is. This popular sauce is, of course, dark in color, thin in texture, and rather salty (almost fishy!) in taste. Despite this fishy taste, rest assured, soy sauce is vegan-friendly.
Soy sauce is definitely savory in flavor, and it's rich taste makes it popular as a marinade for vegan products such as tofu (read this article to find out more about tofu, a soy-based product that's perfect for vegan living!). Soy sauce is a staple in Asian countries, with most brands you find in the shops originating from either Japan or China.
Soy sauce is thought to be at least 2000 years old, and it's become one of the most important sauces in Asian cuisine. Soy sauce is an integral element of stir-fries, as well as an essential dipping sauce for dumplings (try mixing it with a little chili oil)!
Today, there are several different types of soy sauce, and of course, countless different brands. Soy sauce is usually divided into 'light soy' or 'dark soy'. Both varieties are vegan, however. Light soy is lighter in texture and much saltier than dark soy, which is a lot thicker and a lot darker but not quite as overpowering in terms of taste.
What is soy sauce made of?
Can vegans eat soy sauce, then? Yes, they can, because soy sauce is entirely plant-based. There are no animal products in soy sauce, and it should be made using animal-free products and vegan-friendly production techniques.
Always check the labeling, though!
Soy is produced using four primary ingredients. Every ingredient in soy sauce is vegan. To make 'vegan' soy sauce, you need the following:
As you can see, despite its uniquely 'fishy' flavor, soy sauce has zero fish products to its name. This 'fishy' taste comes from the salty nature of soy, and from the production process.
How is soy sauce made?
Soy sauce production methods have changed little at their core since the process was first discovered thousands of years ago.
The basic process requires soybeans to be brewed with wheat, salt, and water. The wheat is often roasted, and traditionally, salt water is used in the brewing process (rather than just salt being added to fresh water).
The process sounds simple enough, but it actually takes months for your soy sauce to go from the brewing stage to the shop floor. After being brewed, the soy sauce needs to be fermented. This is a process that takes at least five months to accomplish, often several months longer!
Is there lactic acid in soy sauce?
But is soy vegan-friendly all the time? Are there potential ingredients that could be contaminated or that could be non-vegan?
Now, this is where things can get a little tricky for vegans. Certain bacteria need to be used in the fermentation process. Without them, you can't have your soy sauce. The primary bacteria needed is lactic acid bacteria. This gives the soy sauce a distinctly acidic taste.
The problem is that we don't always know where this lactic acid bacteria is sourced from. While all the ingredients are listed on a bottle of soy sauce, the production process isn't, let alone the source of the bacteria.
Lactic acid bacteria can be sourced from animals, but it also occurs naturally in plant fermentation. Most major soy sauce brands are going to produce soy the traditional way, however, using naturally occurring lactic acid; so stick to trusted brands, and you'll be all right!
Is Kikkoman soy sauce vegan?
Admittedly, however, one of those major 'vegan' soy sauce brands had a major publicity crisis when it emerged that they had in the past experimented on animals.
Kikkoman is a Japanese soy sauce producer, and their soy sauce is one of the most popular in the world. If you buy a stir fry at your local takeaway, it's likely been cooked in Kikkoman soy sauce.
The controversy surrounding Kikkoman animal testing has made consuming their 'vegan' products an ethical dilemma for vegans (and non-vegans too). The issue came to light thanks to animal rights activists, and Kikkoman (whether by moral choice or because they simply knew their products would no longer sell) halted animal testing in 2015.
As one of the largest 'vegan' soy sauce brands out there, though, it's very difficult to avoid Kikkoman completely. It's an ethical dilemma, too, because none of Kikkoman's soy sauce products have ever contained animal products, they've always been plant-based.
This one's down to you, but it's worth looking at the story in full before writing them off completely, as their outlook and public image have changed dramatically in recent years.
Is soy sauce healthy, or is soy sauce bad for you?
So is soy sauce vegan? Yes. But is vegan soy sauce actually healthy? This is a question that is well and truly up for debate. Yes, it's plant-based, but isn't there an incredibly large amount of sodium to be found in soy sauce?
Unfortunately, yes, soy sauce has a high sodium content. This can lead to increased blood pressure and other health problems. However, the levels of sodium aren't extreme, and as part of a balanced diet, we do need salt to function efficiently.
In moderation, then, soy sauce is certainly not unhealthy, but if you need to limit your sodium intake for health reasons, this is not the sauce for you.
Is tamari sauce vegan?
Soy sauce, as we know it, is actually only one of many different soy-based sauces that are popular across Asia (particularly in China and Japan). As our tastes in the west become more nuanced, different varieties of soy sauce are starting to become known, and starting to become popular in the US.
One of these is tamari sauce, which is dark and salty like soy sauce, but which doesn't contain wheat (making it an excellent gluten-free alternative). Like soy sauce, tamari sauce is also vegan. It's prepared in a similar way, using soybeans, salt, and water. The secret ingredient is a by-product taken from miso paste!
Tamari sauce is perfect for tofu marinades. It has a rich, deep, and almost hearty taste in comparison to the lighter taste of soy sauce. As always, though, double check the ingredients for any non vegan products, just to be safe.
Is soy sauce vegan? Yes!
In conclusion, we'd say that soy sauce is vegan, wouldn't you? Aside from a slight moral and ethical dilemma when it comes to Kikkoman's history of animal testing, the ingredients in traditional soy sauce recipes are all plant-based.
If you're not happy with Kikkoman, then there are a lot of other brands out there that you can buy at the store (it's just not easy to know which soy sauce goes into your restaurant or takeaway food!).
Why not bookmark our guide to soy sauce, so you never have to worry again?