Soy sauce is the most used ingredient in Korean cooking.
Soy sauce is the primary seasoning in most Korean dishes - it's used more than salt!
So if you plan to cook Korean food regularly, its worthwhile to invest into a bottle of Korean Soy Sauce!
And yes, there is a noticeable difference from Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese Soy Sauces.
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’s naturally brewed via a 6-month fermentation process.
The Longer Explanation.
There are two leading brands in Korea that produce Soy Sauce at a massive scale - Sempio (샘표) & Chung Jung One (청정원).
Both are good - can't go wrong with either one.
But let's dive deeper...
Korean Soy Sauces (pronounced ‘Ganjang” in Korean) can be generally categorized into two major categories:
1. Yanjo-Ganjang (양조간장): Yangjo soy-sauce is naturally brewed. It's made by fermenting raw soybeans with natural yeast for at least 6 months. It's a higher-grade soy sauce, but also more expensive.
2. Jin-Ganjang (진간장): Jin soy-sauce is made by mixing Yanjo soy sauce with artificially-produced Acid Hydrolized Soy Sauce. It's a lower-grade soy sauce, but cheaper.
To an untrained palate, it would be hard to tell the difference between Yangjo & Jin Gangjang.
It comes down to health and price. Yangjo is 100% naturally brewed. While Jin-Ganjang is mixed with chemically produced Soy Sauce.
Next, there are different grades of Yango & Jin Soy Sauce.
Quality is assessed by the amount of Total Nitrogen (T.N.) that is in the soy sauce.
Soybeans release more protein (in the form of nitrogen) as they ferment for longer periods of time.
The TN ranges from 1-1.8%. (A higher T.N. indicates higher quality.) 1% is average, 1.3% premium, and 1.5 - 1.8% is super premium.
Here are the TN values of Sempio's two best selling brands of Yanjo-Gangjang:
- Sempio Yanjo-Ganjang 701 --> 1.7% TN (Super Premium)
- Sempio Yanjo-Ganjang 501 --> 1.5% TN (Super Premium)
With a 1.7% TN value, Sempio 701 is the highest quality soy-sauce you can buy in Korea.
(Even though the upper TN range goes up to 1.8%, there are no commercially available soy sauce that has a 1.8% TN value.)
But Sempio 701 is more expensive than others.
That's why many homecooks go for the slightly-cheaper Sempio 501!
As a result, Sempio 501 has become the #1 best-selling soy sauce in Korea.
*Note: You can compare other Korean soy sauces to Sempio's. Korea Food Ministry requires all soy sauce products to list T.N. value on the labels (see below).
However, it seems that Korean soy sauces that are exported out of Korea (with English labels) don't state their T.N. value.
I'm not sure why that is… 🤷♂️
If you need help comparing brands, leave a comment below.
I hope this article gave you a quick run-down about Korean Soy Sauce. Now, you go to the Korean mart and shop like a BOSS.
Before we go: Please note that Koreans use a different type of soy sauce when seasoning soups and stews - called Soup Soup Sauce.
Daniel out! 🕺