Although we have many Lee Kum Kee products commonly available up here in the North, their Soy Sauces have never appeared on our store shelves thus far. Accordingly, while I have actually heard some good reports on these, I was unable to try them until one of our local stores began stocking not one but four (!) different varieties. For this post, we will look at the two that are classed as ‘Light’ soy sauces…
We will examine the distinction between ‘light’ and ‘dark’ soy sauces in a moment but, suffice it to say for now, these two Lee Kum Kee versions of ‘light’ come in two levels of quality. The first, pictured on the left, might, in default, be termed ‘regular’ while the other is specifically labeled as ‘Premium’. There is very little to distinguish the two, having regard to the label, save that the ‘regular’ includes ‘caramel color’ in the ingredient list, and the latter uses the Chinese characters 特級 (tèjí) meaning ‘top quality’ as part of the name. Accordingly, we will have to ‘taste-test’ the two individually to see what makes them distinct…
Traditionally brewed soy sauces (as opposed to the industrial concoctions of hydrolyzed soy proteins) consist of the liquid drawn off from the brine-fermentation of soybeans paste. In the Chinese varieties (and Lee Kum Kee soy sauces are traditionally brewed in China), the name of the basic product 醬油 (jiàngyóu) reflects the process in that in translates as ‘soy-paste oil’.
In the two products pictured above, you can see the characters 生抽 (shēngchōu) in both names. This essentially means ‘raw, or early pull’, meaning that the liquid (now constituting light or ‘thin’ soy sauce) is drawn off the brew in the early stages. Typically, it is lighter in color and much saltier than the stuff drawn off later (as we shall see in a subsequent post).
The ‘Regular’ Light Soy
The color of the ‘basic’ product is a nice reddish-amber with good clarity. The aroma is not especially remarkable, having a rye-toast like quality, while the taste is very salty with a moderate amount of sweetness. There is a vague honey, or caramel’ background taste, but no other real highlights beyond this.
The ‘Premium’ Light Soy
I was half-expecting the ‘Premium’ to be little different than the ‘regular’ but, in fact, it is a superior product. The color is very similar (possibly a little darker despite no apparent ‘Caramel color’ being added) and the aroma is not much different either. The taste, however, is significantly more complex, with fruity, wine like aromatic notes and a hint of fermenting bread dough in the background. It is, as is the ‘regular’ variety, very salty indeed, but the taste balance is very good on the whole.
The plain soy sauce is perfectly adequate for most uses, and it is considerably better than many others available (even the naturally brewed types). The ‘Premium’ however, is well worth purchasing. I have long been partial to the Pearl River Bridge Brand of light soy sauce but, without making an absolute choice one way or another, I would say the Lee Kum Kee Premium variety is a serious contender….