Soy sauce is one of the most commonly used ingredients in Chinese cuisine. It is typically made from soybeans and wheat through the fermentation process. With a history of over 1000 years, it is widely used in most Asian countries.
These days, the soy sauce in use has a slightly different texture, flavor, and color because of varied production units. It raises the concern about whether or not soy sauce is bad for your health. This article will talk about the health risks of soy sauce if any.
How to make soy sauce?
Soy sauce is a savory fermented liquid from soybeans, wheat, and yeast. Its traditional name in China is “chiang”. Despite being thousands of years old, it made its way to the European cuisine in the 16th century when Japan started to trade with Dutch. It is now available in different consistencies, manufacturer and flavors.
The traditional way to make soy sauce is by soaking the soybeans in water and roasting along with wheat. The mixture is fermented with mold and it takes a few days for the fermentation to complete. Added with spices, the mixture takes months to get the perfect texture and flavor.
The commercial production of soy sauce is different and quicker. The soybeans and wheat are heated and mixed with acid. This product lacks traditional fermentation. Hence the taste is different.
Different varieties in soy sauce
Soy sauce is available in different types. For example, some of them are as follows.
Dark soy sauce
This is the strongest type of soy sauce with a dark color and rich aroma. The native restaurants prefer to use this instead of commercially made soy sauce in Japan.
Light soy sauce
This light soy sauce has a different proportion of soybeans and wheat in its production. It has more soybeans and less wheat. That is why it has a lighter shade and fragrance than dark sauce.
It is a blend of 90% soybeans with 10% or even less wheat. It has a very light aroma but a dark color.
It is the reverse of tamari with a major portion of wheat and a little number of soybeans in it. It has a very light color and fragrance.
This is a heavier version of soy sauce and usually eaten as a dip.
The nutritional value of soy sauce
Each tablespoon of traditional soy sauce, roughly making 15ml contains the following.
- Carbs- 1g
- Protein- 1g
- Sodium- 9.2mg
- Fat- 0g
- Net calories- 0
This breakdown of the nutritional count shows that it has a high amount of salt (sodium) in it. Also, it appears to be a source of protein and carbohydrates but this is of negligible significance. The compounds that show up during fermentation may be responsible for the health risks.
Dangers of eating soy sauce
The addition of soy sauce in food recipes is often criticized for the possible health risks associated with it. People often question its high salt concentration, presence of compounds that may cause cancer and the possible reactions with other compounds.
Following is a list of why soy sauce may not be good for your health.
It contains a high amount of sodium in it
Sodium or more commonly famous as table salt is an essentially required ingredient. But taking it in extremely high amount may cause health problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, stomach problems, etc.
The doctors’ advice to cut the sodium count to live a healthy life. So it means soy sauce is not suitable for anyone who is potentially at risk of blood pressure and heart problems.
For others, despite the high sodium quantity, there are ways to enjoy soy sauces by limiting processed food. Eating fresh food is better and safer, however, one can combine both once in a while.
It may contain high amounts of MSG
MSG or monosodium glutamate is a chemical compound that enhances the flavor. Manufacturers add it to the foods for improving the taste. As the name describes, it is a derivative of glutamic acid, which is an amino acid.
This glutamic acid is produced during the process of fermentation and it is believed that the flavor of soy sauce comes from this glutamic acid. In chemical manufacturing, glutamic acid is added individually for flavor enhancement.
This ingredient, MSG has a controversial status. It is often associated with Chinese restaurant syndrome, though outdated but it is believed to have a connection with a high amount of MSG. The recent studies do not support it but people still consider MSG as a threat to their health.
It may contain cancer-causing compounds
During the process of making soy sauce, a specific group of substances called chloropropanols is produced. One of these substances, called 3-MCPD is toxic by nature and it damages the visceral organs and affects fertility. It may also cause cancer tumors.
For these reasons, there is a limit set to use a small amount of 3-MCPD in soy sauce production by the European Union. But in the USA, this limit is slightly high. This varied standard is different in different regions.
Considering this, it is better to choose naturally fermented soy sauce instead of chemically made. The natural sauce has almost no such compounds in it and is safer for human health.
It may contain amines in it
Amines are naturally a part of plant and animal bodies. That is why some of the foods from plant and animal sources may also have them. For example, amines are common to find in meat, cheese, and condiments.
In soy sauce, amines such as histamine and tyramine are abundant. A high amount of these amines may cause sweating, headache, dizziness, rashes, blood pressure problems and other related problems.
Other amines than these two don’t cause any problem.
However, it is still better to be careful because some people in general, may be amine sensitive. It is better to avoid amines if anyone doubts any undesirable effect.
It is made of wheat and has gluten in it
Another reason why soy sauce may not be good for some people is that it is made of wheat and gluten. People that are allergic to gluten or have celiac disease cannot consume anything with soy sauce in it.
The modern research shows that soy and wheat allergens, both are destroyed in soy sauce making the process. But if someone is not sure if this soy sauce is allergen free, it is better not to use it.
For those who don’t know, the Japanese version of soy sauce called tamari has a minimum amount of wheat and is gluten-free. However, some types of tamari may have a little amount of wheat in it. it is better to check the label before buying one.
Health benefits of soy sauce
The information above suggests that soy sauce is not technically bad for health. But it is only unsuitable for some people that are sensitive to it. The studies on the components of soy sauces tell that it has certain health benefits for humans too. Some of which are as follows.
- It helps to reduce seasonal allergies.
- It aids in digestion by increasing the stomach juice.
- It acts as a prebiotic and improves the gut health.
- It is a rich source of antioxidants and promotes overall human health.
- It improves immunity.
- It may have anti cancer properties but this is still under experimental studies.
The final word
Soy sauce is a flavor-enhancing ingredient mainly a part of Asian cuisine. It is naturally produced by fermentation of soybeans and wheat but most of the soy sauce available in the market is commercially produced.
Based on its type and composition it may cause some undesirable effects in sensitive people. Using the naturally fermented soy sauce has minimum risk. However for the safe side, it is better to limit the usage.
Soy sauce also has various health benefits but many of them are still under research before declaring a final word. Overall it is safe to use soy sauce by using it moderately and combining it with healthy life choices.