Because I was indoctrinated with Italian and Greek food as a kid, soy sauce has just never been in my wheelhouse when cooking comfort food at home. These days, though, it goes in just about everything. And since I read I Am a Filipino: And This is How We Cook, I became loyal to Silver Swan Special Soy Sauce specifically. Whether I’m cooking adobo, fried rice, or pasta (it’s great in marinara), good soy sauce stays on my shelf as a powerful flavor enhancer that I can deploy at will, the type of ingredient that lifts my favorite comfort foods to tasty new high water marks.
This past year, though, I was introduced to another type of soy sauce that has almost replaced regular soy sauce entirely for me, and it’s made from mushrooms.
What is mushroom soy sauce?
Mushroom soy sauce is a dark soy sauce usually made from straw mushrooms, an ever present mushroom in the warmer climates of Asia. You’ve probably seen straw mushrooms sold canned at the store, but their flavor intensifies when dried, which is why they’re often used in soy sauce.
I know what you’re thinking: “Does it taste like mushrooms?” No, not at all. Like, not one damn bit. It’s just incredibly savory, much like a dark soy sauce but without the extra thickness.
If you know me, you know I’m not doing brand deals, but boy do I love to eagerly tout the products I use at home to anybody who will listen. This Thai brand, Healthy Boy mushroom soy sauce, is the one I use regularly. Rather than straw mushrooms, Healthy Boy is made from Chinese black mushrooms, aka shiitake. The sauce is dark and thin, and man, the taste here is incredible. It’s savory as all get out, with a hint of smoky flavor.
It also doesn’t taste incredibly salty, but that does not reflect the nutritional facts: Healthy Boy carries 1440mg of sodium per tablespoon, significantly more than regular soy sauce and on par with many dark soy sauces.
How to use mushroom soy sauce in your cooking
Obviously, mushroom soy sauce makes sense with stir fry, pad thai, rad na, and the like. It’s also great in glass noodle soup. And it makes sense to use in braised meats, where flavors compound and intensify, like red pork.
In addition to using it as an ingredient, it can function as a dipping sauce; I think it works well in a little side dish to serve alongside cooked seafood and meats. And although it’s not Chinese black vinegar, I’d happily dip dumplings into this deep, dark, savory liquid. Whatever you add it to, though, it’s going to add umami to that dish. Much more so than all purpose soy sauce.
I made a chicken cacciatore last night with floured and seared chicken thighs, olive oil, onion, garlic, bell pepper, tomato paste, dried chilis, anchovy, pickled hot cherry peppers, anchovy, and mushroom soy sauce. It was delicious because I made it, yes, but also because I added a boatload of mushroom soy sauce that reduced with the other ingredients, compounding the flavors and creating layers of savoriness that cacciatore often doesn’t have. Basically, it was Italian chicken adobo. The sauce was sticky, tangy, dark, funky, and stupidly good—the powerful comfort food I crave on a Sunday.
Where to get mushroom soy sauce
You can get this stuff at Asian specialty stores and grocers, but also, you can just order it directly from Amazon if you don’t mind being complicit in that whole process. I’d also spring specifically for the Healthy Boy brand over the cheaper, more poorly made products such as Lee Kum Kee, which features only artificial mushroom flavor. (Healthy Boy uses pure mushroom extract.)
I frequent the restaurants in my neighborhood, Thai Town, and I’m starting to think mushroom soy sauce might be the great binder in some of my favorite dishes at those establishments, such as rice, pork, and glass noodles. It’s that little bit of extra that makes you go, “Damn, what’s in here?”
Like dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce, mushroom soy sauce is a valuable weapon, not just in Southeast Asian cooking but also in whatever you make at home. It deserves a place on your shelf.