I did not know that: soy sauce

Recipe Redux in the NYTimes takes a look at a classic recipe from the archives each week, gives a little history, and comes up with a modern take on the old favorite. This week: Worcestershire sauce. Read the article for the full story (bottom line, 19th century mistake in an apothecary in Worcester), because I’m here to talk about soy sauce.

Courtesy of Flickr user Fotoosvanrobin under a Creative Commons license

Courtesy of Flickr user Fotoosvanrobin under a Creative Commons license

The original 1876 recipe calls for shallots, allspice, mace, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, anchovies, vinegar – and soy sauce? I was incensed for a few minutes, sure that the Times must have updated the recipe to include only ingredients that could be sourced now (though I don’t know the last time I saw mace in the spice aisle). Surely that’s not the point of this exercise. Surely soy sauce wasn’t commercially available to a Times-reading audience in 1876.

So I looked it up, and lo and behold, soy first made it big in Europe in 1737, when the Dutch East India Company brought 35 barrels of shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) to the Netherlands. However, it had been around even longer than that. According to the no doubt impartial Soy Info Center, the first known European reference to soy was made by none other than John Locke in 1679.

Shoyu was quite expensive, but imports increased across the continent over the next century until it was overtaken by cheaper Chinese soy in the mid-1800s. In 1886 the Kikkoman Corporation sent someone to Europe to look into increasing the market for shoyu, but by then it was too late for Japanese soy sauce. Chinese soy sauce, however, never looked back.

In Britain, soy-based sauces like Worcestershire were all the rage, from as early as the late 18th century.

Who knew?

I’d also like to add that all this talk of Worcestershire sauce has made me desperate for Chex mix. What in the world is the UK equivalent of Chex?


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