Thursday, August 20, 2009

or: You Put that on your Sushi?

If you’ve spent any time in Japan and so have tasted genuine traditionally brewed shoyu (soy sauce), there is no returning to the mockery that is LaChoy. Shoyu (and especially its earlier form, tamari) becomes an item and a subject dear to your heart.

For millennia, the Japanese have been making this sauce the traditional way, using the natural process of fermenting a blend of soybeans, water and koji for several months in specially made wooden vats to achieve the flavor peak-- the slow chow summit.

To make a wide story narrow: who has the time for that slow stuff anymore? Some entrefarceur came along and slapped together trainloads of hydrolyzed soy (or other!) protein, a few cargo containers of flavor enhancers and some tanktruckfuls of artificial coloring to make overnight what unknowing consumers in other countries call "soy sauce" (at which the Japanese laugh up their kimono sleeves, much as the French chuckle into their berets at Newark Camembert). Thus began the Shoyu Wars, which have been raging spicily for some time now. And things are not getting simpler.

Few have heard of an organization called the International Hydrolyzed Protein Council, which supplies the elemental falsehood (at least it’s the remnant of a protein) that goes into “soy sauce,” a non-brewed fingersnap containing caramel color, corn syrup, salt and hydrolyzed soy (or "other" (unnameable!)) protein. This brownish, salty, uncertain liquid is to genuine shoyu / tamari as kerosene is to Chardonnay. A difference reflecting the fact that some societies have time-honored traditions to maintain and are still sticklers for quality and considered action - native yearners for the real thing - whereas some societies (perhaps ultimately even Japan itself) don’t seem to have the time.

In any case, the IHPC has justified its position by observing that its soy swill sauce has been selling for decades now, and no consumers have complained. Perhaps there has been no complaint because they know no better, or maybe they are no longer living - who really knows - but the consumers anyway deserve the brush-off for buying such stuff with no questions asked, in the fastfood manner.

Not surprisingly, the Japanese want genuine soy sauce, made in the traditional way, to be the international standard, which is what anyone in his or her right mind would want, but the Right Mind category seems to exclude the folks who make the faux sauce and the folks at the IHPC, who supply the chemo that covers up the octane. They want the standard to read something like: “Soy sauce shall be defined as anything that has 'soy sauce' written on it." Big bucks there.

And a slap in the face to tradition, quality, care, nutrition, integrity and all that other useless baggage that just slows us down as we careen headlong through the Fast Century.


Bob said...

And so it seems to go in the corporate markets here in Texas as across the U.S., too. Orange Roughy from Vietnam, tomato approximations from Mexico and near-peaches from California.

At least until, weak demand notwithstanding, oil hits $150 a barrel. Then, it will be good to have a garden.

R. Brady said...

Let's hope it can be turned around, so our descendants can enjoy what we enjoyed... I highly recommend the garden as a gateway...

Martin J Frid said...

Great post. I wrote about this topic over at the US blog called as I was trying to explain what fermentation is, and why it matters. I got a comment back from one of the editors, saying in essence:

"I'm not really seeing the relevance in the soy sauce post. There's not
really any timely or news-y hook to it; it's just sort of random musings on
a condiment. I think the most successful posts will have some kind of timely
relevance to them."

We have a long way to go.

R. Brady said...

Thanks, Martin. And may we keep on keepin' on.

Anonymous said...

While the actions of the IHPC are an affront to Shoyu lovers everywhere, they are nothing compared to the despicable efforts by large food processors in the US to similarly destroy the "organic" food label standard. If they have their way the stringent controls in the US will be replaced by something like the JAS semi-organic category while foods will be nonetheless labeled as "organic".