Foodstuff: Pearl River Bridge Brand Light Soy Sauce

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is not familiar with soy sauce but few people actually appreciate the considerable diversity of this interesting condiment. Most people tend to regard one soy sauce as being pretty much like another but, in truth, there are many varieties, each with their own character and uses. The variety you see pictured above, manufactured by the Pearl River Bridge Company in southern China, has been available in Canada for at least a couple of decades now and is one of the best I have ever come across…

Soy sauce has been around for millennia and the traditional process for its manufacture is both simple and complex at the same time. Essentially, soybeans, and sometimes a grain like wheat, or barley, are fermented in the presence of salt using a variety of molds, yeasts and bacteria, and then aged for varying lengths of time, much in the same way as wine. Nowadays, as we shall see, a more streamlined, direct chemical process is also used whereby ‘hydrolysis’ is used to replace the actual ‘brewing’ of the ingredients and result in a much quicker method of manufacture.

The major fermentation agent is a genus of fungus, or mold, known as Aspergillus, of which several species are employed. During the brewing process, the fungus not only converts complex starches into simpler sugars but also breaks down proteins into a whole variety of amino acids, each of which contribute a different note of ‘umami’ richness to the final brew. Yeast can also be added, which in turn converts the liberated simple sugars to alcohol for added depth of taste, and a variety of bacteria, such as Lactobacillus (commonly employed in pickling), also add their own taste contribution as the brew is aged.

The picture above shows the ingredients of the Pearl River Bridge Light Soy Sauce and, as you can see, it is traditionally brewed using only the simplest components. The ‘Light’ designation in the name refers to a specific class of traditional soy and we will examine those a little more closely in a few moments. For now, though, I just want to introduce you to the second, more modern method, of production. Take a look at this:

The ‘VH’ brand is well know in Canada, and their soy sauce is ubiquitous on grocery store shelves throughout the country. As you see on the label, though, the ingredient list is considerably different than on the Pearl River Bridge variety and includes ‘Hydrolyzed Soy Protein’ as a major component. Without going into exhaustive detail, this particular ingredient is the by-product of a chemical process, instead of fermentation, whereby acids are employed to break down the bean proteins into various sub-components. These are then added as ‘flavor’ along with some other non-traditional ‘taste’ chemicals and sweeteners, along with caramel to duplicate the color of traditional brews.

These ‘Industrial Soy Sauces’, if I may use that term, do have their place in the kitchen, I suppose, and many people claim to prefer the flavor, but ultimately they do not, in my opinion have the depth and complexity of the traditional brews. If you look at the ‘VH’ label again, you will see that they specifically add the rider ‘Contains: Soy’, which might seem redundant, at first glance, but you should note there are products which do not contain soy-beans and instead employ a generic ‘hydrolyzed vegetable protein’. Strictly speaking, of course, these are not soy sauces and, personally, I find that even those ‘Industrial’ types that do include soy are ‘Soy Sauces’ only in the loosest sense of the term. Many, I find are flat in flavor, often having bitter notes, and I tend to think of them in relation to traditional brews the same way I regard powdered bouillon cubes as a substitute for a good home-made stock.

Well, enough ranting …

As I have already mentioned, the manufacture of a traditional soy sauce is very much like the production of fine wine. The depth and complexity of a good soy sauce is as dependent on a variety of factors as is a vintage Burgundy, for example, and these include the type and ratio of ingredients, the fermentation agents employed, the precise steps in preparing the brew, and the length of aging. There are hundreds of different brands manufactured in many different locations with different processes involved and all are unique in their own special ways. A proper review of the whole range of types is a little beyond the scope of this post (although I will revisit the issue from time to time in future articles) but for the purposes of this particular discussion, it is important to note that soy sauces can be broadly divided into two main categories: ‘Light’ sauces and ‘Dark’ ones…

Light sauces, as the name would suggest, are relatively light in color and tend to be fairly salty. They are used extensively in cooking, as they don’t alter the color of finished dishes too much, and less commonly as a condiment. The Dark varieties are brewed for longer, are generally less salty and often sweeter than the light kinds, and they are more a condiment than a cooking ingredient (although they are commonly employed in Chinese ‘red-cooked’ dishes, which I will be discussing in future posts). Some dark soy sauces are also enhanced with other flavoring agents and both shrimp extract and mushroom extract additives are not uncommon.

The Pearl River Bridge Company makes a variety of soy sauces and I have used three of these: the Light, the Dark, and their Mushroom Soy Sauce. Their dark variety is not bad, on the whole, better than the ‘Industrial’ varieties, certainly, but it is still not all that special, in my estimation. The Mushroom sauce is really not very good, unfortunately, having a slightly ‘burnt’ and bitter taste, but the ‘Light’ version, the feature of this post, is truly exceptional…

This particular sauce does not have the sharp aroma of some varieties; indeed, it is quite mellow and has a sweet quality and reminds me a little of the somewhat earthy smell of freshly cooked pasta. The taste, however, is much more aromatic. It is salty to be sure, but that quickly gives way to a rich sweetness, and nutty, umami notes without any bitter aftertaste. I actually like a bit of a sharp taste in soy sauces but the mellow yet hearty quality of this product makes it a perfect cooking additive as well as a lovey condiment.

I hope, after reading this, that those of you who have never paid much attention to soy sauces will be encouraged to experiment a little and try to savor the unique complexities of different types and brands. You may come to settle upon different favorites than mine, of course, but if you give the Pearl River Bridge Light Soy Sauce a try you will likely, as I do, want to always keep a bottle on hand…

 

19 thoughts on “Foodstuff: Pearl River Bridge Brand Light Soy Sauce”

  1. Thanks for the overview. Living here in Hong Kong we have more varieties of soy sauce than you can imagine but you are right each brand has its particular flavor and uniqueness. So many options.

  2. Thank you for visiting my blog and liking my post “Indians and White Skin.”

    I live in Louisiana, and we have a local brand of soy sauce that tastes a bit different from the others: Tabasco Soy Sauce. It is somewhat spicy. I don’t know if soy sauce aficionados would call this authentic. Here is a link: http://www.cajungrocer.com/tabasco-soy-sauce.html

    (I am not affiliated with Cajun Grocer.)

  3. Yes, Pearl River, makers of all things savory, saucy! In the USA (and in the Dom. Rep., too), any asian grocer or market would have this. They have several different types, the light pictured above is usually for after cooking seasoning and the dark variety for actual cooking, flavoring and coloring. In addition, they have a vegetable blend and a black mushroom (my pref.) blend which are fab! Anywho, thank you for the Rustic Paella ‘like’ and I expect to continue following your wonderful culinary exploits. Regards, TJ

    1. I’d love to try the vegetable blend. I tend to use Kikkoman for cooking and then use PRB light for a condiment or in dipping sauces or cold preparations.

      1. I am part asian, cantonese/dominican mix to be exact. I find Kikkoman doesn’t work well with traditional chinese however I use several differenet soys for cooking and condiment. One sauce I use that is not a soy but greatly enhances the soy mix is MAGGI seasoning – its like liquid gold – mix it with any soy and its like candy for adults!

        I mix PRB with some Maggi, Sesame oil, Ginger oil, chinese hot chili oil, some cilantro leaves and chopped chives, let sit for 15 to 20 minutes then do the dip. Hip, hip hooray! Or, Hurrah

      2. Kikkoman does have quite a sweet ‘Tamari’ sort of flavour but I like it in many dishes. I have heard of Maggi seasoning before but never tried it… I shall certainly keep my eye out for it!

      3. I’ll place a few photos of other asian products that may be of interest you on my blog under pictures. If you do a lot of asian/chinese and filipino cooking these may come in handy!

      4. Thank you very much… that would be nice. I thought rather than just bookmarking your blog I would follow it but, for the life of me, I can’t see where, on any of your pages, that I do that…

      5. I don’t know what browser you may be using however on IE8/9 I see it at the header next to my blog name. However, I’ll give this another look and update to get it right. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. I try to live without migraine triggers. Maggi seasoning contains monosodium glutamate (MSG) the taste enhancer that is fed to MSG rats so they gain weight faster for testing heart drugs. Vetsin is a trade name for MSG. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is a flavor enhancer… because it stimulates our umami taste receptors, just like soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, or MSG. However, it’s much cheaper than real food, because the USA heavily subsidizes the production of corn, soy, and wheat and, in the case of soy and corn, it’s made from a byproduct of soy and corn oil manufacturing that would otherwise be fed to cattle. And that’s why we find “hydrolyzed wheat protein” and “hydrolyzed soy protein” in so many processed “foods”.

    1. I don’t have any particular food sensitivities that I am aware of but I much prefer to use raw basic ingredients and avoid as many ‘industrialized’ food products as possible.

  5. The best sauce I have found is the pearl river bridge premium soy sauce, wonderful flavor but less salty than most sauces. Very good but also very hard to find.

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