Most people are familiar with soy sauce, a widely-used Asian condiment. Yet, some may question its use. What is it made of? Do I use soy sauce or salt? What is special about it? What purpose can it serve? 

Method of Creation:

Beginning with the first question, soy sauce is a liquid derived from the fermentation of soy beans. The traditional method of soy sauce brewing takes multiple steps, below which is Kikkoman's method:

1. Soybeans are collected and softened through soaking and steaming.

2. Wheat is roasted and crushed, then added into the soybeans.

3. A fungus is mixed in with the soybean/wheat mixture, then stored into a chamber for the propagation of koji mold. 

4. Now called "shoyu koji," the shoyu koji is mixed into a salt brine, where it is allowed to ferment. 

5. After fermentation, the resulting mash known as "moroni" will be pressed through multiple layers of filtration, resulting in the well-loved liquid known as soy sauce. 

beer, soy sauce, sauce
Sydney Rosenstein

If we consider soy sauce merely as a source of saltiness, then needless to say, it is not comparable to salt. Nonetheless, the uniqueness of soy sauce lies in the fifth flavor, known as umami. First discovered in Japanese cuisine, umami is a type of taste, along side sweet, sour, salty, and bitter; however, instead of a distinctly recognizable taste, it takes another function: enhancement of other flavors.

Since soy sauce is infused with many of the particles that create umami, specifically glutamate, it's function extends far beyond a liquid salt substitute: the ability to amplify both seasoning and the natural flavor of an ingredient. In light of this, however, it can still remain a substitute for salt. 


Besides its differences from table salt in flavor, soy sauce also has many health benefits. Not only does it have nearly six times less sodium per 100 g as compared to salt, according to the USDA, it also consists of many other nutrients. Beyond the different nutrients that soy sauce has already, the sauce can potentially decrease sodium intake because of umami's ability to enhance the other flavors.  

Jonan Kiang

Depending on your purpose, soy sauce might not be always the best choice for a recipe. When cooking something with a strong flavor, it could be better to use soy sauce to amplify the flavors. #SpoonTip, check out this recipe if you want a bold flavor in your dish.

On the other hand, when something of a light flavor is to be cooked, salt is more superior for the just the tinge of saltiness. Check out this recipe if you want to remain on the light side.  

An example of this give and take of flavor would be cooking broccoli. When one wants to make a main dish out of broccoli, the usage of soy sauce and the subsequent caramelization and flavor-absorbing nature of broccoli would result in a very strong dish, when seasoned properly. If the broccoli was meant for a more for a palate-cleansing dish, one would simply lightly salt the broccoli before boiling it, thereby avoiding the overbearing flavor.

Thus do you use Soy Sauce or Salt? Health-wise, use Soy Sauce. Flavor-wise, depends on what you are cooking.