soy sauce & the sorcery of alternative Asian dips & glazes

Do you have a deep longing for a new and unfamiliar Asian sauce in which to dip your sushi, glaze your gyoza or slosh over your stir-fry? Then you’ve come to right place. We have gladly dived into the research and listed a few favourites below. But first, a brief and supremely saucy history of the ultimate Asian sauce; soy.

Soy sauce – often referred to in England as ‘soya sauce’ and in America simply as ‘soy’ – is a liquid condiment, jet-black in colour and with a strong umami flavour. This splendidly salty sauce – used in salad dressings, stir-fries and in glazes and marinades – is probably the most famous Asian sauce around and, though we wouldn’t dare say it for fear of insulting tomato ketchup, probably the most famous sauce in the world.

The production of soy sauce – made by combining fermented soybean paste with roasted grain and brine – is thought to have begun in earnest about 2,200 years ago during the Western Han dynasty of ancient China. Its superb, saline sweetness spread like wildfire through the kitchens of East and Southeast Asia and, before long, even old Henry J. Heinz couldn’t keep up [1]! And now – love or hate the exceptionally tangy nectar – the bankers on Wall Street are saying that the global soy sauce market will be worth an undeniably flavoursome $56.67 billion dollars by 2027. Needless to say, nobody need worry about Mr. Horikiri [2].

But even super soy – with its millennial head start, having tantalised every terrestrial tastebud around and built itself a multi-billion-dollar purse – can’t be the only kid on the Asian saucing, dipping, glazing block. No, no, dear reader, there are lots of new kids on this block. And so, as promised, here are four of the sweet, sour, sexy, saucy, trailblazing disruptors closing in on saucy soy today [3].

  1. Hoisin
    We’ll begin in familiar territory. Hoisin sauce is a delicious, salty-sweet, ruddy-looking liquid, also made from fermented soybeans, but with added sugar, garlic and, in some cases, red chillies, most commonly used in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking as a dipping sauce for dumplings and spareribs, as well as a glaze for meat dishes.

The flavour it adds: Sweet, salty, tangy, and deep
Spice Level: Mild
Types of dishes its suitable for: Great for dipping all manner of meats or spring rolls, Perfect in a duck pancake, great for glazing meat or burgers.
Storage: Keep fresh hoisin in the fridge, and the shop bought stuff should go in the fridge after opening . Please always check the label.

  1. Sriracha
    Many millions have become extremely fond of this spicy hot sauce in recent years, with it showing up in culinary circles far beyond its own: there’s sriracha hummus now, mayo, even sriracha-flavoured avocado toast. Spare us! This sauce is wonderfully hot, but unlike chilli sauce, its first cousin, the ingenious addition of brown sugar gives it a remarkable third dimension. But beware, sriracha can be habit-forming.

The flavour it adds: Spicy, garlicy, sweet
Spice Level: Spicy
Types of dishes its suitable for: Great to drizzle on rice & noodles, perfect for dipping, or combine with mayonnaise for a delicious spicy mayo
Storage: Should be fine in the cupboard. Please always check the label.

  1. Teriyaki
    Whilst soy sauce might be the great-grandaddy of Asian sauces, teriyaki is the rightful heir. Like barbecue sauce in the west, teriyaki is one of the most popular marinades in Asian cuisine. This extremely viscous, dark, honeyed treacle greatly enhances the flavour of fish, meat, and vegetables.

The flavour it adds: Sweet, salty, umami
Spice Level: mild
Types of dishes its suitable for: Great to glaze meat & fish, especially chicken wings, perfect for marinating, great drizzled on top of rice bowls.
Storage: Should be fine in the cupboard. Please always check the label.

  1. Ponzu
    Traditionally made with yuzu, a citrus fruit native to Asia, ponzu is perfect to add flair to your stir-fries, soups, and stews. Like a more delicate, slightly sweeter soy sauce, it is the ideal ornament to any oriental evening.

The flavour it adds: Salty, Citrus, umami
Spice Level: mild
Types of dishes its suitable for: Great for dipping gyoza or poring over rice. Goes very well with fish.
Storage: Should be fine in the cupboard. Please always check the label.

As much as we would like to list [and try] every Asian sauce in the world, we simply don’t have the time. A few honourable mentions that may even warrant their own blog are oyster sauce, gochujang, and fish sauce. If this blog has been at all useful, please let us know and we’ll gladly do more like it!

  1. There is no historical record whatsoever suggesting that Henry Heinz, or anyone in the employ of the H. J. Heinz Company (now The Kraft Heinz Company) ever felt at all threatened by the global demand for soy sauce.
  2. CEO, Kikkoman Corporation since 25th June 2013.
  3. None of the alternative sauces proposed in the article are new. Indeed, some of them are more ancient than soy sauce.