Do you have a recipe that calls for soy, but you’re unsure if you’d enjoy the flavor? The thing is, lots of people gush about the great taste of soy.
However, who has bothered to stop describing what soy tastes like to first-timers?
Very few, or indeed, perhaps none at all, which is why newbies to soy will find this article helpful.
What does soy taste like?
As a raw bean, soy has a slight, unremarkable taste, much like a standard white bean. As a sauce, soy tastes mildly salty with a little hint of sweetness which comes from the natural sugars in soybean.
Not all soy tastes the same
Soybeans are available in two types. Soy comes as dried beans and edamame.
Edamame is a distinct kind of soybean harvested while still very young. It is prepared (usually cooked by boiling or steaming) and consumed with salt.
Edamame is always removed from its pod before being consumed.
Most people find edamame to be delicious and sweet. It has a taste that some say is “grassy”, which is probably the result of edamame being harvested when it is so young.
Soybeans that have been dried are cooked in the same way as any other kind of bean.
Their hulls usually come loose and add a somewhat unpleasant texture; therefore, plain soybean is favored when the hulls of the bean have been scraped off.
Soybean flavor is nice, but it’s hardly unique. It is quite similar to the taste of the regular white bean.
Raw, plain soybeans have an incredibly strong “beany” flavor, but cooked soybeans are far mellower.
Soymilk is produced from crushing and properly processing dried soybeans.
Depending on the manufacturing process, either the soybean itself, or the resulting milk is cooked to eliminate soybeans’ naturally powerful “beany” flavor. The final milk has some sweet bean taste but is not overpowering in any way.
Tofu, which is made of soymilk, has the same taste as milk. Apart from being sweet and beany, it can also taste slightly nutty.
Unfortunately, tofu can turn chalky when it isn’t fresh.
The overall picture
Whether edamame, plain soybean, soymilk, or tofu, in all these preparations, soy is extremely bland. It does usually manage to convey a sense of freshness and cleanliness.
Soy shouldn’t have an excessively strong flavor. It is a good indicator that a soy product is not at its peak if it does.
There is a certain class of soybean preparations that use fermented soybeans. These products–soy sauces–offer an entirely different range of savory flavors and various textures.
“Soy sauce and the umami flavor”
Soy sauce is often said to have a “pungent umami flavor“. First-timers generally find soy sauce salty, vaguely “meaty”, with an odd aftertaste that is at once sweet yet mildly bitter.
Soy sauce can be accurately described as a liquid condiment, for that is precisely what it is.
The sauce is made from fermented soybeans, fermented wheat, and a very particular mold.
This mold is why soy sauce can become very dark, ending up almost black.
Soy is among the closest natural imitations of the flavor of meat.
This characteristic gives soy its umami (meaning delicious in Japanese) taste.
The umami taste in soy sauce comes from the general flavor and taste that fermented soybeans provide.
Non-brewed and brewed soy sauce
In general terms, soy sauce is made up of wheat, soybeans, salt, and water. It is classified into two categories.
The fermented or brewed version of soy sauce can take months to make.
Similar to bottled wine, the older the sauce, the more delicious and precious it is said to be, with the most sought-after soy sauces being at least two years old.
Non-brewed soy sauces can be made in a matter of days and are made from hydrolyzed soy protein and flavorings like caramel or corn syrup.
Unfortunately, non-brewed soy sauces are the widest-available products because the demand for soy sauce is so high, and the preparation time of brewed soy is so lengthy.
Non-brewed soy sauce tends to be saltier than brewed soy sauce until the point is reached where all the diner can taste is soy and salt.
This is a huge pity, especially if you’re trying to cook authentic Asian dishes and want that real soy sauce flavor boost.
Chinese vs. Japanese soy
Another variation that can be found when it comes to soy sauces is geographical style.
There are many different soy sauce styles based on culinary traditions.
The two best well-known varieties available in US supermarkets can be described as Chinese and Japanese.
Whereas Chinese soy sauces typically don’t use wheat, Japanese soy sauces make use of roasted wheat.
Chinese soy sauces can have added sugars in them, but Japanese ones don’t.
This difference in the ingredients means the Japanese soy sauces typically have a more rounded, lighter flavor, which is close to sweet.
Chinese soy sauces are generally thicker, darker, and saltier than their Japanese counterparts. Any sweetness you find in a Chinese soy sauce comes from added sugar rather than the process of aging.
Which soy sauce to use, and when
Which soy sauce you choose to use will depend on your cooking style.
Chinese soy sauce works best with street food, fried rice, or fast-food dishes.
These sauces have a lot of flavor (for a soy sauce) and can be deeply satisfying.
There are many Chinese soy sauces that are made with added flavors, such as mushrooms and ginger or sesame.
Japanese soy sauce is less rambunctious and is, therefore, an ideal choice for lighter meals that are focused on freshness and simplicity, so it works for dishes like sushi.
In general, the Japanese prefer a simpler cuisine with a lot less emphasis on salt and spices, yet, Japanese food also tastes great.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Does Soy Taste Like
What type of soy should I use to enhance the taste of my cooking?
As most commonly used, light soy sauce is typically employed in cooking chicken or fish or as part of a dip. Dark soy sauce has a more intrusive flavor. It’s excellent in marinades or in the preparation of dark meat.
Does leaving the husk on soybeans spoil their taste?
It’s okay to eat soybeans with the husk on. However, the flavor and texture are better without those husks. That said, from a health point of view, most of the fiber in soybeans is in the husk.
Afterword: What does soy taste like?
Soy is among the most ancient foods that are known to the culinary world, with the first evidence of its usage going back to around 200 years ago.
Usually made into a sauce as a condiment, each sauce comes with its own distinct taste, consistency, and saltiness.
Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)
Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking. I have been cooking for the past 20 years and am happy to share my best recipes and cooking-related knowledge with you.