Soy sauce is a popular ingredient in South and Southeast Asian cuisine. The sauce was originally made in China and then it spread to other countries. Today, it is widely used in western cuisine also. So, chances are high that if you go out to dine in a restaurant or get a packaged dinner, it will contain some soy sauce. In this context, it is necessary to know whether the sauce can have any detrimental effects on your health. Special concern is focused about two ingredients – both of which are present in liberal amounts in the sauce. These are wheat and sodium.
Wheat in soy sauce
Soy sauce is traditionally prepared by the fermentation of soy beans by certain fungi called Aspergillus oryzae. Before fermentation, the beans are mixed with grains, specifically wheat. As a result, most soy sauce contains large amounts of wheat. This may cause health problems for people who have gluten intolerance.
Gluten is a special type of protein found in wheat. It is that substance which causes the dough to rise and makes the bread chewy. But many people cannot tolerate gluten. It causes irritation and reaction in the digestive tract. Nausea, diarrhea and incontinence are common symptoms of gluten intolerance. In a small percentage of population, gluten intolerance may take a severe form. This is known as celiac disease. There is no known cure for celiac disease and the only way to stay healthy is to abstain from eating gluten throughout your life.
If you have gluten intolerance then it is best to avoid soy sauce. There are different types of soy sauce depending on their wheat content. One type of soy sauce which is mostly made in Japan is called Tamari. This variety is almost completely free of wheat. Instead it uses other grains which are free of gluten. If you have to buy a soy sauce, be sure to buy a Tamari style sauce.
If a food contains less than 20 ppm of gluten, it can be labeled as gluten free. So, check the labels of the soy sauce that you are about to buy. Most gluten free soy sauce contains less than 5 ppm gluten.
Some of the most well known gluten free soy sauce is as follows:
- San-J soy sauce
- Kikkoman soy sauce
- Eden organic soy sauce
- Wan Ja Shan soy sauce
- Little soya soy sauce
It is better to consult your physician before you opt to consume the soy sauce.
Sodium in soy sauce
During the process of fermentation, the mixture is immersed in brine – a solution of sodium. This impregnates the sauce with sodium and gives it its distinctive salty taste. According to recent analysis, 1 tbsp of soy sauce contains 1000 mg of sodium. This is half the recommended daily intake of sodium. So, it needs to be decided whether you can eat so much sodium without harming your body.
Sodium is traditionally associated with high blood pressure. So, if you suffer from high blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions, it is not advisable for you to eat soy sauce.
The alternative is to buy low sodium soy sauce. Kikkoman supplies a well known low sodium soy sauce. You can also brew your own low salt substitute. Mix together 2 tbsp sodium free beef bouillon, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp molasses, one eighth tsp ground ginger, a dash of garlic powder and black pepper powder and three fourth cup of water and boil the mixture till it is reduced to half a cup. This is obviously salt free and not soy sauce, but it will give you a close flavor.
If you do not have high blood pressure, then probably the sodium in soy sauce will not be a problem for you. But make sure to get the naturally fermented variety of soy sauce. The process of natural fermentation breaks down soy proteins into peptides which inhibit the activity of an enzyme called ACE. This enzyme constricts the blood vessels. So, when its level is depressed, the blood vessels remain dilated and blood flow is facilitated. However, this action of soy sauce is still being studied.
In conclusion it may be said that if you are suffering from a medical condition, you should take your doctor’s advice before choosing to buy soy sauce or its brands.