Susan Speaks: The Soy Sauce Story


I got home from another great Penguins game last night to find this message in my inbox: Tell the Soy Sauce Story. The reminder came from The Bluest Butterfly and thank goodness, because I’d completely forgotten I’d left a comment on someone’s blog that said, “Remind me to tell the Soy Sauce Story.”

Now, to fully appreciate the Soy Sauce Story, you’ve got to understand that I’m a bit geeky. I think some of it is from birth, but the majority of it has rubbed off from the Tour Manager. Fortunately for him, he’s indispensible to me, so I’ll gladly take a bit of geekiness on his end. And maybe mine, too.

One of our favorite shows is Alton Brown‘s Good Eats. (I won’t link to the show because last time I did, it fought with my XM radio and took down my entire computer. I’m talking Blue Screen of Death takedown. And even though XM just made me choose between Metallica and Iron Maiden, I won’t torture it again with the Good Eats link. You, I’m sure, know how to Google.)

One Saturday night, before our local indie station started running Farscape, we were watching Alton teach us about soy sauce. Alton pointed out that in the case of soy sauce (unlike crystal meth), better living does NOT come from chemistry. Soy sauce should be made up of soy beans and water, nothing else.

This probably wouldn’t have stayed with me, but the next day, the Tour Manager and I were in the local grocery. Soy sauce was on our shopping list. The Tour Manager looked at me with that glint in his eye, the one that says he’s about to unleash the Inner Geek. And then he set about reading the ingredient list on the bottle of soy sauce that we had a coupon for.

It was perfect: Soy beans and water. Into our shopping cart it went.

Of course, the Inner Geek wasn’t done yet. The Tour Manager’s Inner Geek is never satisfied that easily, not when there’s geekiness to be wreaked. And so, in short order, the Tour Manager was off, reading the ingredient list of each and every brand of soy sauce and reporting his discoveries.

Now, this is merely a story of a geeky tour manager and his writer wife, who is standing there, slightly embarrassed, slightly intrigued, and definitely pleased that the Tour Manager’s having so much fun. What makes this story such a good one is the man who was also shopping for soy sauce at the same time.

The man who reached into his cart and began reading the ingredient list on the back of the soy sauce he’d chosen.

The man who put that bottle of soy sauce back. Who looked none-too-casually into our shopping cart. And who picked up the same brand of soy sauce inside our cart. The one made of soy beans and water, and nothing else.

Okay, maybe you’re not roaring with laughter the way The Tour Manager and I were as we walked away. Maybe you’re only smiling as you’re picturing this. Maybe it’s a “you should have been there” type of story. I don’t know. You tell me.



  1. PI

    March 17, 2007 2:34 pm

    Hi Susan. Here from Michele’s. Maybe I’m sexist but that is so typical of a man’s behaviour. Nothing wrong with it and it’s great that it keeps them happy. Not so great if you have a time problem and are trying to rush round the super market.

  2. Breeni

    March 17, 2007 3:40 pm

    I can’t bear to read any more ingredient lists! A girl at work just graciously informed me how many calories our chocolate coins contain…you know…the ones I eat nonstop when we’ve got samples? It’s better to remain in deluded bliss. 😉

  3. Robyn Mills

    March 17, 2007 4:05 pm

    I thought it was funny. It reminds me of a day (long ago) at school when a group of us stood looking at the sky pointing at nothing…. soon lots of people were seeing all sorts of things that weren’t there….

  4. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 17, 2007 4:19 pm

    OMG, that is something Trevor would do, Robyn!BR/BR/Breeni, stop with the samples. I know they taste good. I know they’re chocolate. But… think of your waistline, woman!

  5. karen!

    March 17, 2007 5:09 pm

    I think that’s a fabulous story! 😀

  6. margalit

    March 17, 2007 5:20 pm

    I love Alton’s show. I learn so much from him. I have always claimed that cooking is similar to chemistry, and his show proves it. Our soy sauce is free of everything but soy beans and water. BR/BR/Here via Michele

  7. scooper

    March 17, 2007 6:24 pm

    I have no idea what’s in my soy sauce. I pick the cheapest bottle and am okay with that. Maybe if I compared taste I’d be a little pickier, huh?

  8. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 17, 2007 6:26 pm

    Possibly. I know the best soy sauce I’ve ever tasted is from a Japanese restaurant near us. They brew it themselves. No clue what’s in it, though; maybe it’s more than soy and water???BR/BR/More to come on the subject of taste; this just became a week-long topic of discussion, outtakes, and Thursday Thirteen.

  9. Mr. Althouse

    March 17, 2007 8:28 pm

    I guess he just deferred to your expertise in matter of sauces of the soy bean. Perfectly rational in a country where very few actually think for themselves. BR/BR/Michele sent me,BR/BR/Mike

  10. christina

    March 17, 2007 9:24 pm

    I didn’t know that, although there seem to be two kinds of soy sauce; the thin variety and the thick variety. BR/BR/I thought they were both fermented, so I guess there must be something else in there somewhere?BR/BR/Current kitchen selection is Kikkoman.


    March 17, 2007 9:33 pm

    Well…the man at the supermarket learned something. :-)BR/BR/We have Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce which contains:BR/Water,wheat,soybeans,salt,lactic acid and sodium benzoate (as a preservative).BR/BR/We also have regular Kikkoman Sauce which contains the same except for the lactic acid.

  12. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 17, 2007 9:58 pm

    Go check out the ingredients of, we think, La Choy. Kikkoman all the way (well, until you see the outtakes this spawned)!

  13. littlebirdblue

    March 18, 2007 10:49 am

    NO, GREAT STORY!BR/BR/I’m a label-label-label readin’ Iwhore/I. The fewer ingredients, the better. You would be amazed, mystified, and astounded by what goes into the foods you eat. I’m surprised some of bottled and canned chemical-dumps get labeled as food at all!BR/BR/Everyone should read the labels on everything they put into their bodies. S is even a convert. He’s one of the most unhealthy eaters I have ever known (he thinks vegetables are ‘punishment food’) and even he reads labels now, and hates the bread with the high-fructose corn syrup and the tortillas with the lard.BR/BR/BR/ARGH. You’ve got me a-rantin’ again.BR/BR/Good post, Susan.

  14. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 18, 2007 11:18 am

    Wow, birdie. It seems I’m good at pushing your buttons, huh?

  15. cheesygiraffe

    March 18, 2007 11:47 am

    Okay first thing, what is Michele’s? It seems you’ve been getting lots of folks from there lately. :)BR/Very cute story btw. 😉 I haven’t read labels since my WW days. I have 2 bottles of soy sauce in the fridge and I bet you both have more than soybeans and water. LOL

  16. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 18, 2007 11:50 am

    It’s the caramel color and other evil things you have to look out for, Cheesy. Go peek and let us know — and then correct your ways for next time!BR/BR/(The Tour Manager makes really amazing hummus. One day, a friend brought a store-bought container of hummus to another friend’s house for lunch and I was appalled at the ingredients. What was wrong with chick peas, tahini, garlic, oil, and paprika for color???)BR/BR/As for Michele’s … — check it out. Fun place.

  17. Bob-kat

    March 18, 2007 12:07 pm

    I guess I should have been there but I CAN imagine it. sometimes shared jokes are the best! :-)BR/BR/Michele snet me to say to check my Soy Sauce ingredients now!

  18. MarciNYC

    March 18, 2007 2:37 pm

    Mmmm… I think I might have to look at my soy sauce a little more closely.

  19. sobeit

    March 18, 2007 6:59 pm

    Hi Susan!!! Sorry I haven’t dropped by. Lately things have been so hectic! So, I took this time to tag you. If you want to participate, you can look on my blog. Believe me, I understand if you don’t have time! I hope everything has been going great for you and that you have a wonderful week!

  20. Joely Sue Burkhart

    March 18, 2007 10:18 pm

    Oh, geez, now I’ve got to get up, go in the kitchen, and see what’s in my soy sauce.

  21. Marcia

    March 19, 2007 1:54 am

    It was/is a good story.

  22. Lindsey

    March 19, 2007 8:04 am

    Hi Susan, it’s been a while! My computer’s still playing up. 🙁 I’ve missed an awful lot …BR/BR/*Headpats* for the rejections.BR/BR/The soy sauce story doesn’t sound geeky to me … worryingly. Pure soy sauce for all! 😀

  23. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 19, 2007 8:07 am

    Read on, sisterfriend. It’s getting geekier!

  24. Southern Writer

    March 19, 2007 8:25 am

    I liked the story. My DH is a freak about his soy sauce. Only Kikkoman is allowed in our house.BR/BR/I was in the store one day scouting for my favorite hot sauce, and a man, his wife, and their daughter seemed to be very interested in my choice. I think the man even asked me about it. I told him, “Oh, yeah, this is the best. The only kind I buy.” Wouldn’t you know – he had just started manufacturing his own hot sauce. Oops. Sorry, buddy.BR/BR/I have a fetish about salsa, too. If you’re not familiar with Religious Experience, check it out:BR/BR/

  25. Sparky Duck

    March 19, 2007 9:42 am

    it can get geekier??BR/BR/you know I love Alton. I am going to make his chocolate syrup some day after watching what he described as some of the ingredients in the name brands

  26. Claire

    March 19, 2007 2:08 pm

    I loved the soy sauce story, i am going to the chinese supermarket next week with my dad and i will definitely be checking out other folks carts.

  27. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 19, 2007 3:05 pm

    Look out for Annoying Chinese Slut, Claire. That’s where the best soy sauce will be.BR/BR/And Southern, we used to make our own salsa. Hopefully, we’ll get back to it, but for now… off to The Wrath! Thanks!

  28. The Tour Manager

    March 20, 2007 6:42 pm

    OK. Time to set the record straight.BR/BR/1) The Tour Manager reads ingredients because he’s a damn fine cook and cares what goes into his creations.BR/(Coming soon, the recipe for “Pregnant Wife Chicken”)BR/BR/2) There’s part of the story missing. After the guy surreptitiously switched to our brand of soy sauce and we started laughing, we ended up explaining toBR/him the source of our laughter atBR/which point he confessed to being an AB fan.BR/BR/3) Real soy sauce is soybeans and water. Others (like LaChoy) areBR/replace the soybeans with corn syrup, caramel flavor, and hydrolyzed soy protein.BR/BR/4) “Thick soy sauce” is something completely different.BR/BR/5) Dark vs light soy sauce is (partially) a cultural/regionalBR/thing.

  29. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 20, 2007 6:46 pm

    Hey! Go start your own blog if you want to be posting recipes!

  30. Claire

    March 20, 2007 9:33 pm

    I loved the tour managers little soy sauce interruption. He gets a pair of those undies for it!lol!

  31. Susan Helene Gottfried

    March 20, 2007 10:43 pm

    Oh, Claire, I love him too much to let you do that to him. *tee hee*

  32. Claire

    March 21, 2007 9:35 pm

    Lol! I hope you are not really heading for a knee replacement?

  33. Claire

    March 21, 2007 9:39 pm

    Thats not good, very painful. No ice or anywhere cold. A tropical island where the tour manager can bask in his undies!

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