Image: Kikkoman India
Think of authentic Chinese food or a restaurant—what's the first thing that comes to your mind? The three sisters that sit on the table—soy sauce, vinegar, and chilli sauce. And, if you are a schezwan fiend like most of the spicy-eating population of the country, you will—of course—order some fried noodles to go with schezwan sauce. It's not just the Chinese or Thai restaurants that are now stocking the three sisters, but also most of the local restaurants and eateries. It is because, we as diners, want the salty and spicy profiles higher in our food. That's where the obsession of having soy sauces even in our pantries arise. No matter how authentic a label one creates for his/her product, the authenticity can only come from places that have a tradition and culture involving cooking with soy sauces.
The perfect amalgamation of saltiness, umami (Japanese for ‘essence of deliciousness’), sour, and sweet all while not overpowering each other makes for the ideal soy sauce. The balance in these flavour components is as important and should be minutely taken care of, as the slightest imbalance can render the sauce inedible. Let us go back to Buddhism—a link that India and Japan share—where the Zen monks developed a cuisine known as ‘Shojin Ryori’ (followed by monks even to date) which is completely vegetarian, seasonal, balanced in flavours, have bursts of colours which makes it pleasing to the eyes ans soybeans are some of the most important and popular ingredients in the cuisine. This led to more curiosity and advancement in soybean-based dishes that eventually led to Japanese soy sauces authentic to their flavour and roots.
Bringing that history and taste to India, Kikkoman has launched its bestselling all-purpose seasoning soy sauce that is naturally brewed and produced using ‘The Honjozo Method’—a traditional Japanese brewing process that uses natural powers of fermentation. Although much longer than the chemical process, this natural brewing process ensures the essence of the soy sauce as well as Japan is intact in its flavours. The exciting aspect is that it goes smoothly with Indian cuisines as well. We speak to Chef Vicky Ratnani, brand ambassador, Kikkoman India and Harry Hakuei Kosato, director and India representative, Kikkoman India about how the sauce will find its way into Indian kitchens and what makes it stand out. Excerpts from the interview...
Q. Soy sauces, though common in use, are not the preferred choice of sauce for home cooking. How do you think Kikkoman Soy Sauce will beat that and make its way into customers' kitchens?
Harry Hakuei Kosato: Soy sauce is often perceived as an ingredient used only in Asian cuisines or a table condiment in Asian restaurants. India is yet to experience a range of soy sauce uses that can be achieved with a versatile soy sauce like Kikkoman. We are currently focusing on bridging the knowledge gap by educating chefs and consumers about the various benefits of using a naturally brewed soy sauce while drawing comparison to locally available soy sauce variants that are chemically processed, filled with preservatives, and contain taste enhancers. We want to communicate the many ways in which our soy sauce is different. Our soy sauce is naturally brewed made with only four ingredients (water, soybeans, wheat, salt) enhancing the flavour profile of any dish by adding a whole new dimension.
One of our goals is to expand into the market by changing the perception about soy sauce in India and showcasing relevant day-to-day usage in a wide range of cuisines—be it Asian, Continental, Indian, French or any other cuisine. We are working with well-known chefs like Chef Vicky Ratnani who is our brand ambassador, to educate people about their own experience of using soy sauce in a variety of ways, thus breaking perceptions, and giving consumers more reasons to use it as a seasoning in everyday cooking to enhance their food experience.
Image: Kikkoman India
Q. With over 300 years in tradition and history to the soy sauce, why do you think now is the time for it to enter the Indian market?
Harry Hakuei Kosato: For a long time, soy sauce has not received its fair share of attention in Indian cooking. The Indian market, both from population numbers and economic growth potential aspects, is a very important market for us. We understand that it is a very challenging market to penetrate, however, our research over the past few years suggests that the potential for acceptance of soy sauce in India is high. In order to reach our customers directly, we set up a local subsidiary, Kikkoman India, and decided it imperative to run marketing and direct sales activities ourselves, to start working on achieving our ambitions.
Our main priority is to become the top choice of soy sauce brand in the country. Our global vision is to make our soy sauce a truly global seasoning by 2030, and India is a stepping stone for Kikkoman to strengthen its presence in Asia.
Q. The soy sauce is naturally brewed. Could you please elaborate how does its brewing process affect the taste, texture, and authenticity of its flavour?
Harry Hakuei Kosato: Our soy sauce is made using the traditional Japanese brewing process known as “The Honjozo Method”. It makes use of the natural powers of fermentation. In this process, ingredients are processed naturally, unlike some locally available brands that produce soy sauce by chemically breaking down the ingredients, thereby affecting the quality, appearance and taste of the product.
Our naturally brewed soy sauce is made with four ingredients—water, soybeans, wheat, and salt. The Kikkoman Aspergillus is mixed with steamed soybeans and roasted crushed wheat, and then moved to a special location equipped with an optimum environment for the growth of the Kikkoman Aspergillus. It is through this three-day process that soy sauce koji, which is the basis of soy sauce production, is made.
After that the mixing process begins. The soy sauce koji is mixed with salt water and transferred to a tank. This brine controls the growth of bacteria during the fermentation process, prevents spoilage, and also imparts the salty taste to soy sauce. This mixture, called Moromi, is fermented and aged in tanks. Moromi is aged for several months inside these tanks, and due to the action of microorganisms, various changes occur, including lactic acid and alcohol fermentation, creating the rich flavor, aroma and colour that is unique to soy sauce. The soy sauce which is later pressed from Moromi undergoes a series of extractions and subjected to enzymatic activity to stabilise the quality before packaging it and releasing into the market.
Image: Kikkoman India
Q. The soy sauce is said to have over 300 aroma components in the soy sauce. Why is it important to have aroma components at this level, and how does it affect the performance of the soy sauce?
Chef Vicky Ratnani: In the culinary world, we strongly believe that aroma helps build perception about the taste of the food and therefore, plays an important role in defining any dish. Kikkoman Soy Sauce has been preferred in over 100 countries mainly due to its 300 aroma components. Its brewing process can be compared to brewing fine wine—it gives the end product a complex and robust smell and flavour profile. Some of the key aroma components that are produced during the fermentation process of the soy sauce include flowers, fruits, whiskey, and coffee. They occur in such minute amounts that they cannot be identified individually; yet together, they create the exceptional and distinctive aroma unique to our soy sauce. I recommend that people, culinary experts, and chef swirl the soy sauce just as you would swirl fine wine, and take in its aroma. Kikkoman has a slightly sweet, rich, a bit earthy, decidedly appetising aroma. The non-brewed soy sauces available in India will have an acrid, chemical aroma in comparison.
Image: Kikkoman India
Q. What Indian dishes does the soy sauce complement? Could you share a recipe or two of any vegetarian dishes that can be quickly whipped with the sauce?
Chef Vicky Ratnani: I have been using the soy sauce for about 18 years now, and my Duck Daikon Shoyu is one of my signature recipes that includes the soy sauce. Apart from Asian cooking, salad dressings and marinades, I have also used it in a variety of Indian foods, including some home-cooked dishes. Some unusual, surprising and my favorite enhanced pairings of the soy sauce are jalebi and kanda bhajiya. It also goes brilliantly well with desserts—cupcakes, chocolates, cakes, frosting, pudding, tiramisu—the list is never-ending.
If you’re not convinced, pour a drop of the soy sauce on your vanilla ice cream to experience a whole new flavour profile. It’s bound to convert you.
Image: Kikkoman India
I have cooked king mushrooms with the sauce, and I call it King Oyster Mushroom. All one needs to do is start preparing a sauce first!
200 ml of orange juice
100 ml vegetable stock
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chilly, minced
1/2 teaspoon jaggery powder
2 tablespoons Kikkoman Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon spring onions
White pepper, to taste
- Start by heating a tablespoon of oil in a pan, and add cumin seeds. Llet them crackle for a while.
- Add orange juice, lemon juice, vegetable stock, garam masala, minced chilly, turmeric, minced ginger, jaggery powder, and white pepper together in the pan.
- Add the soy sauce, and add more if the sauce requires more seasoning.
Now, onto the final product:
Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a separate pan. When its starts smoking up, sear the mushrooms until well caramelised, pour in the prepared sauce, and toss the mushrooms until the glaze is well combined. Garnish with a spring onions.
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