Finding Healthy Soy Sauce: The Good, Bad, and Very Ugly

by Kaayla T. Daniel PhD, The Naughty Nutritionist July 8, 2013

How to choose a quality soy sauce.By Kaayla T. Daniel PhD, The Naughty Nutritionist

Soy sauce, also commonly known as shoyu, is the best known flavor enhancer in Asian cooking. Made the old-fashioned way — through a careful fermentation process that can take as long as 18 months — it’s a healthy and nourishing product.

The best quality, truly healthy soy sauce is not only fermented in a traditional manner but also unpasteurized to retain beneficial enzymes and nutritional cofactors.

Tamari is a variant that is made only with soybeans (without any wheat). As far as I know, all the brands of tamari and most brands of shoyu sold in health food stores have been pasteurized. Though not optimal, these are far superior to the commercial soy sauces sold in supermarkets and used by the restaurant industry.

The Scary Truth About How Commercial Soy Sauce is Made

The most common soy sauces sold in supermarkets and served at the majority of restaurants are made in two days or less. Here’s how they do it.

If you really love your Chinese takeaway, you might want to sit down for this.

Soybean meal and often corn starches are rapidly reduced to their component amino acids using a high-tech process known as “rapid hydrolysis” or “acid hydrolysis,” which involves heating defatted soy proteins with eighteen percent hydrochloric acid for 8 to 12 hours, then neutralizing the brew with sodium carbonate. The result is a dark brown liquid — a chemical soy sauce.

When mixed with some genuine fermented soy sauce to improve its flavor and odor, it is called a “semi chemical” soy sauce. Sugars, caramel colorings and other flavorings are added before further refinement, pasteurization and bottling.

The rapid hydrolysis method uses the enzyme glutamase as a reactor. This creates large amounts of an unnatural form of glutamic acid that closely resembles that found in MSG. In contrast, production of genuine old-fashioned soy sauce uses the enzyme glutaminase to form naturally occurring glutamic acid.

Other undesirables that appear during chemical hydrolysis are levulinic and formic acids, instead of beneficial lactic acid, and the gas produces dimethyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide and furfurol from the amino acid methionine. The hydrolysis process also results in total destruction of the beneficial and essential amino acid tryptophan.

Modern soy sauces may also contain dangerous levels of chemicals known as chloropropanols, which are produced when soy sauce production is sped up using acid hydrolyation methods. In Great Britain, back in 2001, nearly 25 percent of commercial soy sauces were found to contain dangerous levels of these chemicals, and the products were recalled.

The Australia New Zealand Food Authority also recalled commercial soy sauces for this reason. No recalls occurred in the United States, but because most modern companies use some form of this method and exercise less than-perfect quality control, the safety of commercial soy sauces cannot be assured.

Researchers have also found furanones in commercial soy sauce. These are mutagenic to bacteria and cause DNA damage in lab tests. Salsolinol, a neurotoxin linked to DNA damage and chromosomal aberrations, Parkinson’s disease and cancer, has been identified in soy sauce.

Ethyl carbamate — also linked to cancer– is found in commercial samples of soy sauce, miso and some alcoholic beverages. The maximum concentrations observed were 73 mcg per kg in soy sauce compared to the tiny amount of 7.9 mcg per kg found in miso.

Don’t Use Commercial Soy Sauce if on MAOI Drugs

Soy sauce also contains a high content of the amino acid tyramine, a potent precursor of mutagens produced by nitrites. The tyramine content makes this product unsuitable for people taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) drugs, which are commonly prescribed for depression, migraines and high blood pressure.

The best known tyramine rich foods are aged cheeses, red wines, smoked and pickled herring and beer. Eating any of these foods — including tyramine rich soy sauce — while taking MAOI drugs can bring on an episode of high blood pressure accompanied by severe headache, palpitations and nausea.

Healthy Soy Sauce – Possible Only If You Get the Good Stuff

So for truly healthy soy sauce, get the genuine old fashioned fermented raw stuff.

Less optimal but still fine for most people are small amounts of health food store brand, pasteurized tamari and shoyu.

Avoid Soy Sauce Substitutes Like Liquid Aminos

Think a liquid aminos soy sauce substitute would be healthier?

Think again!

Liquid aminos are an unfermented liquid soy product invented by health food pioneer Paul Bragg and is a soy sauce alternative preferred by many health aficionados. Its main claim to fame has been a lower sodium content than tamari or shoyu. Given that salt has been unjustly maligned as unhealthy, this may not even be desirable.

In any case, lower sodium does not mean low, and the company responsible for manufacturing liquid aminos was warned in 1996 by the FDA that it’s “no salt” label was misleading and it’s “healthy” claim was unwarranted given its high sodium levels.

The company was also told to cease and desist using its “No MSG” claim. As a hydrolyzed protein, liquid aminos contain plenty of MSG produced as a residue of the hydrolyzing process. It also contains aspartic acid, another brain damaging excitotoxin, which is a component of aspartame as well.

The takeaway: No bragging rights for liquid aminos!

About the Author

dr kaayla danielKaayla T. Daniel, PhD, is the author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food endorsed by leading health experts, including Drs Joseph Mercola, Larry Dossey, Kilmer S. McCully, Russell Blaylock and Doris J. Rapp.

She is Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, on the Board of Directors of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, and received the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Integrity in Science Award in 2005.  Kaayla has been a guest on The Dr.Oz Show, PBS Healing Quest, NPR’s People’s Pharmacy, and many other shows.

Kaayla  is known as The Naughty Nutritionist because of her ability to outrageously and humorously debunk nutritional myths. You can find her on Facebook at facebook.com/DrKaaylaDaniel and subscribe to her edu-taining blog at drkaayladaniel.com.

Picture Credit

 

Comments (86)

  1. Pingback: Salmon and Baby Bok Choy with Sesame Drizzle (GAPS and Paleo Friendly) | Reclaiming YesterdayReclaiming Yesterday

  2. Tyramine is a natural chemical in food that develops more and more as time passes so if you are sensitive to it then you showed avoid fermented and aged foods, leaving leftovers for too long, meat that isn’t fresh from the farm or store. Cook your food and eat it right away. I found out that I am sensitive to this by taking a blood test called LEAP that sees what different foods and chemicals you are sensitive to and avoiding it has helped a ton with my headaches and migraines.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: [Fan Club] LCHF Lifestyle - Part 3 - Page 194 - www.hardwarezone.com.sg

  4. Stanley West via Facebook February 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Soy Sauce is a staple in our kitchen. in the last few months I changed from using country crock butter to real butter. even want to attempt making butter the way my late grandmother showed me. I’ll be shopping for the ohsawa raw soy sauce. It’s even Kosher!

    Reply
  5. Coconut Aminos from “Coconut Secret” is just aged “sap” and then some salt added. I use it with sushi and it’s fantastic.

    Reply
  6. There is one thing commercial soy sauce is good for and that is burns. Being a klutz in the kitchen, I’m always burning my hand, arm or fingers. My mother told me to rub soy sauce on the burn, and like magic it takes away the burning and it never blisters. I’ll keep it around for that purpose only, but buy the good stuff for consumption! Thanks for the information!

    Reply
  7. I asked Sarah a few yrs ago about this since my husband is Vietnamese, we have easily switched over to the Oshawa and love it. Little hard to find here in MN, but can always order it at the links provided. Thanks for the great referral, we have been using it ever since :) The only bummer is when our neighbor comes to borrow it (often) because they don’t realize they just borrowed $10 worth!!! Love thy neighbor! They like it though and it opens up an opportunity to share about real food.

    Reply
  8. This is very informative. I usually buy commercialized soy sauce since I don’t know anything about the dangerous chemical content with those products. Now, I will buy pasteurized tamari and shoyu.

    Reply
  9. Larry – the Shoyu soy sauce from Eden Food’s per their website states wheat in the ingredient list, yet also says it is gluten-free. Do you know how this is possible? I would love to find a traditional-brewed soy sauce that is gluten free. I gave up the “best” stuff years ago when I went GF. Thanks.

    Reply
    • From things I’ve studied & observed, if it’s adequately fermented, any gluten it contains shouldn’t be a problem for MOST people with gluten problems.

      Reply
  10. so which brand is better or is good soy sauce.

    Can you let us know so we are eating the right stuff.

    That would be great. I have no clue as to how to choose the right one yet?

    Reply
  11. Thanks for another great message. Good discussion, too. Please, though, be sure to check your grammar. Your phrase, “that it’s “no salt” label was misleading and it’s “healthy” claim was unwarranted given its high sodium levels,” utilizes the word “its” as a possessive three times, and it should not have an apostrophe in any of these instances. You got it right once in this sentence, but twice you had it wrong. “It’s” has one meaning, and one meaning only: it is a contraction for “it is.”

    Reply
  12. Heidi Morrison via Facebook July 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    So the liquid aminos I’m using are not good for you at all??!! Who do we believe or listen to anymore???

    Reply
  13. Why doesn’t the article mention that furanones have had some questionable results in lab testing, but they’ve also shown to have antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties as well. The article (which the author seems to have quoted verbatim) reads as follows:

    “The furanones which occur in foods are also mutagenic to bacteria and cause DNA damage in laboratory tests. However, these compounds are, in practice, *very effective anti-carcinogenic agents* in the diets of animals which are being treated with known cancer-inducing compounds such as benzo[alpha]pyrene or azoxymethane. Two of the food-derived furanones have antioxidant activity comparable to that of ascorbic acid.”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10466251

    I’m disappointed in this article on HEE. There are large gaps in the data — how can we simply accept that soy sauce is harmful because potential toxins have “been identified” in it when such things are said about coffee, sugar, carrots, and ginseng, among others? Shall we stop eating carrots, too? The author gives no scale of how much of these things are dangerous, nor test results proving people have had health concerns as a consequence of eating soy sauce in regular serving sizes.

    This is abuse of the authority we’ve allocated HEE, as far as I’m concerned.

    Reply
  14. I keep telling myself to be patient. It was unbelievably fast and easy to make my own from nothing but organic (non GMO) soybeans, Celtic Sea Salt and purified water. But, alas, that was last November and I have MANY months more to wait before I get to try it. (sigh)

    Reply
  15. Cheryl LaSarre Gaddis via Facebook July 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I was just looking at the bottle I have. I’ll have to check out Eden Foods’ brand. Thanks.

    Reply
  16. Larry Underwood via Facebook July 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Christine, not true. It is gluten free (gluten is the problem with hybridized wheat) and verified non-GMO. It is certainly ‘good’ and good for you.

    Reply
  17. Karen Stefanski-pascale via Facebook July 9, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    thank you I was just investigating this last night as I was making sesame chicken….

    Reply
  18. For those whose issue is gluten intolerance, please don’t think all tamari is gluten free/wheat free. Tamari USED to be wheat free, as the very word “tamari” means soy sauce without wheat. Now it is labeled “tamari” but it often is not wheat free. So, do not think all tamari is gluten free! Buy tamari labeled GF. In my experience, MOST tamari available in store shelves in the USA is made with wheat now.

    Reply
  19. Cheryl LaSarre Gaddis via Facebook July 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I only use Shoyu sauce. Organic, unpasteurized soy sauce. Ingredients: organically grown soybeans, mountain spring water, organically grown whole wheat, sea salt. Loaded with probiotic-bacteria and living enzymes, naturally low in sodium, Certified Kosher. It’s delicious. Tamari sauce is good for those who want to avoid gluten.

    Reply
  20. well i’ll be a monkey’s uncle……was smugly thinking while reading this, “hmph, WE use braggs aminos…..then i come to the place where i find it’s not what i was led to believe it to be…..waaaah!

    good thing amazon.com and i have a close personal relationship HAHA

    thank you for the good, the bad and the ugly info you always edify me with ;0)

    Reply
  21. Thanks, I saw coconut aminos in a local store for the first time recently and have not had time to look into them further. I try to avoid all soy products, due to the overwhelming evidence of all of the health problems associated with it, BUT I do enjoy the taste of soy sauce.

    Reply
  22. Do you have some brand recommendations? I see Ohsawa is an unpasteurized brand – are there any others? Any pasteurized (yet still not bad) brands? How can one tell which sauce is naturally fermented and which is chemically fermented?

    Reply
  23. I’ve been buying Trader Joe’s soy sauce due to it’s simple ingredient list: water, soybean, wheat, salt and vinegar. Label claims it is made in Japan using natural brewing and fermentation, spread over 6 months to 2 years. Does this sound like a safer choice than regular grocery store sauces?

    Reply
  24. Denver Tina via Facebook July 9, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Try taking it back where you bought it. They store my just exchanged it for something else since it’s unopened.

    Reply
  25. South River Miso in Conway, MA makes an amazing Miso Tamari from their Chickpea Miso that is unpasteurized. They also produce several tasty varieties of Seasonal Miso on their Farm. Southriver.com

    Reply
      • hi shannon,
        i am so curious as to know more about braggs. my children’s school uses so much of it and i have been quite worried about it. i at a big batch of their soup this week and had a wicked migraine, but didn’t attribute it to the braggs. could you please share with me where the holes are in this article, i really would like to know more.
        thanks so much
        heather

        Reply
    • Me too Brittany! I am so mad now! I am highly allergic to MSG and ALWAYs get severe headaches with it! Not to mention, my husband has a large kidney stone and we are being so careful about any salty products! The “bragging” is going to stop here! Thanks for this article!!!

      Reply
  26. Do you know if alcohol is a naturally occurring byproduct of the fermentation or if it is necessary added ingredient for tamari and soy sauce? I buy the san j organic tamari since its going to be heated in cooking anyway, but have only been able to find the cheap store brands without alcohol added.

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist July 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      I am not aware of any unpasteurized tamari brands. Only the unpasteurized soy sauce linked in the article.

      Reply
      • As an alternative, you might try Red Boat fermented fish sauce. It’s just anchovies and sea salt, traditionally fermented in wooden barrels. It gives a salty flavor boost to foods and if you put some on after the food has cooled a bit, you can preserve the fermented goodness and enzymes. It’s wheat free, soy free, everything free except for anchovies and sea salt, and is GAPS friendly to boot. (Note that some of the other brands, like Thai Kitchen fish sauce, are not fermented and contain sugar.)

        Reply
    • I purchased a raw, wheat free tamari from South River Miso a few years ago, made from their garlic red pepper miso. It’s a great company, who produces traditional, fermented products. I love every product I’ve ordered from them. They only ship in cooler months, so I don’t think you can order until September, but it’s worth the wait!

      http://www.southrivermiso.com/

      Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Login to your account

Can't remember your Password ?

Register for this site!