Soy sauce is the most used ingredient in Korean cooking. We use it more than salt! In fact, we generally use soy sauce as the base seasoning for Korean dishes. Then top-off with a few shakes of salt… only if it still tastes bland.
Thus, it is worthwhile to invest into a bottle of Korean Soy Sauce. And yes, there is a noticeable difference from Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or other Southeastern Asian soy sauces. The only exception is Japanese soy sauce. In my opinion, the leading Korean and Japanese Soy sauce taste quite similar.
Okay, so which Korean soy sauce should I buy? There are so many… I’m getting nauseous Daniel 🤮
TL;DR: Choose Sempio’s 501 product. It’s the best selling soy-sauce in Korea. It is naturally brewed through a 6-month fermentation process.
The Longer Explanation.
The Korean food space is dominated by a few conglomerates. Likewise, the soy-sauce space is ruled by Sempio (샘표) and Chung Jung One (청정원). Both are good – can’t go wrong with either.
But Sempio produces Korea’s best-selling soy sauce – Sempio 501. So I usually go with the Sempio brand.
Next, you will see two primary types of Korean Soy Sauces (pronounced ‘Ganjang’ in Korea):
- Yanjo-Ganjang (양조간장): Yangjo soy-sauce is naturally brewed. It is made by fermenting raw soybeans with natural yeast for roughly 6 months. Best quality but expensive.
- Jin-Ganjang (진간장): Jin soy-sauce is made by mixing natural Yanjo-Ganjang with artificially-produced Acid Hydrolized Soy Sauce. Lower quality but more affordable.
The funny thing is that both taste similar (if not identical) to each other. It just comes down to health. One is naturally brewed, so more expensive. Homecooks like to use it. While the latter is preferred by restaurants – as it is cheaper with the same taste.
Ok, so now we have covered Sempio and Yanjo-Ganjang Soy Sauce…
But, there are still multiple products…
- Sempio Yanjo-Ganjang 701
- Sempio Yanjo-Ganjang 501
These numbers signify the quality of the soy-sauce. And quality is determined by the amount of Total Nitrogen (T.N.) in the soy sauce. You see, soybeans release more protein (in the form of nitrogen) as they ferment for longer periods of time. A higher T.N. indicates higher quality. The T.N. ranges from 1.0 to 1.7. Anything above 1.5 is premium.
- Sempio Yanjo-Ganjang 701 –> 1.7% TN (Premium)
- Sempio Yanjo-Ganjang 501 –> 1.5% TN (Premium)
Thus, Sempio 701 is one of the highest quality soy-sauce you can buy in Korea. But again, it is expensive. So most homecooks opt for the slightly cheaper Sempio 501! As a result, Sempio 501 is the #1 best-selling soy sauce in Korea.
Note: You can compare other Korean brands and/or products to Sempio. Korea requires all soy sauce products to state their T.N. value on the labels (see below). Although, it seems that Korean soy sauces that are sold abroad with English labels don’t state the T.N. value. Why?!
No worries. If you need help, just leave a comment below.
I hope this article gave you a run-down about Korean Soy Sauce. Now, you can enter the Korean mart with more confidence and put it into your shopping cart like a BOSS.
Note: Koreans use a different type of soy sauce when seasoning soups/stews – called Soup Soup Sauce. More details here.
Daniel out! 🕺