Why Is Soy Sauce Not Vegan

By Olivia

Soy sauce is a widely used condiment in many dishes, especially in Asian cuisine. However, despite being derived from soybeans, which are plant-based, soy sauce is not always vegan-friendly. The production process and some of the ingredients used in making soy sauce can make it unsuitable for those following a vegan diet.

Soy sauce production and the use of fish

One of the main reasons why soy sauce is not always vegan is the traditional production process, which involves the use of fish. While soybeans are the primary ingredient, the complex fermentation process of soy sauce typically includes the addition of fish or fish products. This fish component contributes to the distinct flavor and aroma of soy sauce. The fish is often used either directly, in the form of fish sauce or fish paste, or indirectly, in the form of fish-fermented brine or broth. These fish-based additives are used to enhance the natural umami flavor of the soy sauce.

The use of fish ingredients in soy sauce production has its roots in Asian culinary traditions, and many traditional soy sauce recipes still include fish. Therefore, it’s essential for vegans to be mindful about the specific type and brand of soy sauce they choose, as some may contain fish-based additives. Fortunately, there are alternative soy sauces available in the market that are explicitly labeled as vegan-friendly or fish-free, making it easier for vegans to enjoy this popular condiment.

Hidden animal-derived ingredients in soy sauce

Aside from the fish-based additives used in traditional soy sauce production, another reason why some soy sauces are not vegan-friendly is the presence of hidden animal-derived ingredients. These ingredients are typically used to enhance the flavor, color, or texture of the sauce. Some common animal-derived ingredients that may be found in certain soy sauce brands include:

  • Worcestershire sauce: Some soy sauce blends incorporate Worcestershire sauce, which typically contains anchovies.
  • Bone char-filtered sugar: In the refining process of some sugar used in soy sauce, bone char, which is derived from animal bones, is utilized as a filtering agent.
  • Chicken broth or stock: Certain soy sauce variations may include chicken broth or stock for added depth of flavor.
  • Shellfish products: Some soy sauce recipes incorporate shellfish or their derivatives, such as oyster sauce or fish sauce.

It’s crucial for vegans to carefully read the ingredients list and labels of soy sauce products to ensure they do not contain any hidden animal-derived ingredients. Opting for soy sauce brands that explicitly state they are vegan or plant-based can provide peace of mind and align with a vegan lifestyle.

Gluten content in soy sauce

While not directly related to veganism, it’s worth mentioning that certain soy sauce brands may contain gluten, which can be problematic for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat and other grains, and it is commonly used as a thickening agent or flavor enhancer in various food products, including some soy sauces. It’s important for those avoiding gluten to choose soy sauce labeled as gluten-free or made with gluten-free ingredients.

Soy Sauce TypeIngredientsVegan-Friendly
Traditional soy sauceSoybeans, wheat, water, salt, possibly fish or fish-related ingredients*No
Tamari soy sauceSoybeans, water, saltYes (typically)
Shoyu soy sauceSoybeans, wheat, salt, waterNo (typically)
Coconut aminosCoconut tree sap, saltYes (vegan-friendly alternative)

*Fish ingredients may vary depending on the brand and recipe of soy sauce.

Cross-contamination concerns

Another aspect to consider when it comes to the vegan status of soy sauce is the potential for cross-contamination during production or packaging. Shared manufacturing facilities or equipment used for soy sauce and other products containing animal-derived ingredients, such as fish sauces or oyster sauces, may result in trace amounts of these ingredients ending up in soy sauce batches. While the amounts may be minimal, strict vegans who avoid even the slightest presence of animal products may want to choose soy sauce brands that have stringent manufacturing practices in place to prevent cross-contamination.

The availability of vegan-friendly soy sauces

Fortunately, with the increasing demand for vegan and plant-based products, there are now various soy sauce alternatives explicitly manufactured to cater to vegans. These vegan-friendly soy sauces are made without any animal-derived ingredients or additives, ensuring they align with a vegan lifestyle. Reading labels, looking for vegan certifications, or opting for soy sauce brands known for their commitment to producing vegan products are surefire ways to find soy sauce suitable for vegans.

In conclusion, while soy sauce itself is made from soybeans, several factors contribute to why it may not always be vegan-friendly. The traditional production process involving fish, hidden animal-derived ingredients, the presence of gluten, and potential cross-contamination issues are all factors that vegans should consider. Thankfully, there are now plenty of vegan alternatives out there, allowing vegans to still enjoy the flavors of soy sauce while adhering to their dietary choices.