Soy sauce gives that satisfying finish to Chinese cuisine

Soy sauce reminds us of Chinese cuisine. The dark, pungent liquid condiment originated in China nearly 2500 years ago. The rise of Buddhism in Japan and China in the 6th century AD popularised soy sauce as a vegetarian alternative to sauces made from meat preserved in salt. The taste of soy sauce, which depends on monosodium glutamate (MSG), has been called "umami", a sixth basic taste according to some Japanese researchers in addition to sweet, salt, sour, pungent and bitter. Some scientists call MSG a flavour enhancer.

An art

Soy sauce making is an art, and homemade soy sauce can take months to make. First, soaked and cooked soybeans are coated with ground wheat and left to be run over with a filamentous mould called Aspergillus oryzae. The Japanese call this mouldy material koji. Matured koji is mashed, added to salted water and brewed in an airtight container for up to 18 months to yield a dark sauce. Chinese soy sauce is thicker, sweeter and blacker due to the molasses added during brewing. About 100 gm of soy sauce contains 60 calories, provides around 13 per cent of the day's iron requirement, and 2 per cent of calcium requirement. Clearly, no one should eat soy sauce for its nutritive value. Soy sauce is also rich in sodium-containing nearly 5.7 gm of sodium per 100 gm. This is nearly 3 times the daily limit on sodium intake. The umami flavour is something soy sauce addicts swear by, and this additional flavour may lower the requirement of salt in the dishes. However, the flavour-enhancing effect of MSG allows cooks and companies to get away with taking real ingredients out of food. .Soy sauce got a bad press in the 1980s and early 1990s because of the widespread concerns about the safety of monosodium glutamate. The "Chinese restaurant syndrome" referred to a condition that resembled an allergic reaction to monosodium glutamate. However, barring the high sodium content, it is generally accepted by food researchers that MSG is a safe additive. Those with a prior allergy to MSG must avoid it, hence labelling foods that contain this additive is very important.RAJIV M.