Americans have learned a lot about food in recent years. We’ve learned the difference between robusta and Arabica coffee beans. We’ve learned that the flavor of olive oil is delicate and variable. We’ve learned that table salt is not, in fact, applicable for all occasions. We’ve accepted that if we’re going to enjoy the better versions of all these foods, we’re going to have to pay a premium for it. Now, my fellow Americans, prepare yourselves for premium soy sauce.
While we’ve been dunking our sushi in $3-a-bottle Kikkoman, a revolution has been taking place in Japan, The Wall Street Journal reports, where soy sauce has become an artisanal product, lovingly aged in century-old wooden barrels. (Kikkoman uses enormous metal tanks.) Soy sauce brewing was considered a fading art, but now breweries have become tourist attractions; one brewer told the WSJ that his microbes enjoy the human company and produce more delicious sauce in response.
Artisanal soy sauce, naturally, can’t be splashed indiscriminately on everything. It’s used judiciously in cocktails, one drop at a time, and on ice cream, which highlights subtleties in flavor. Of course this stuff is not cheap: one premium 24-oz. bottle from the Kamebishi brewery goes for $85. (Kamebishi’s proprietor, Kayoko Okada, saves a special 39-year aged brew for her favorite customers.) In Tokyo, a language has developed among gourmets to describe different flavors: “smoky,” “complex,” “round.”
Artisanal soy sauce has already made inroads in the United States. The WSJ talked to chefs and bartenders in Seattle, Virginia, and Lawrence, Kansas. Be prepared: It’ll be in your town soon enough.