Exploring the Traditional Asian Condiments

Asian cuisine is renowned for its unique and complex flavors, and a big part of that is due to the condiments used in the dishes. From soy sauce to sesame oil, hoisin sauce to sweet chili sauce, there are a variety of traditional Asian condiments that can be used to enhance the flavor of any dish. Soy sauce is one of the most consumed condiments in East and Southeast Asian cuisine. It was first created in China almost 2200 years ago, and it is used as a preservative because of its salty and enhanced flavor.

Soy sauce can be used in a variety of ways, from marinades and dipping sauces to soups and stir-fries. Kikkoman makes different types of soy sauce for all tastes, so those who are worried about sodium or gluten can still enjoy it. Sesame oil is another popular condiment in Asian cuisine. It is made from roasted sesame seeds that are pressed to produce their aromatic flavor.

Toasted or “dark” sesame oil is best as a finishing touch for dishes, while “light” sesame oil is best cooked with. It can be used to dress salads, marinades or dipping sauces, or poured over any soup or main course for added depth. Hoisin sauce is also made from fermented soybeans, but it contains other ingredients such as sesame, chili, garlic and other spices. It is commonly used as a marinade or sauce for barbecue ribs or char siu in Cantonese-style cuisine.

It has a rich, tasty, sweet and spicy flavor. White rice vinegar is more subtle than regular vinegar and can have a delicate sweetness that vinegar doesn't have. It is much less intense and acidic than regular vinegar. Sweet chili sauce is made with red chili peppers and is often sweetened with sugar or honey.

It has a great balance of sweet and spicy flavor, making it a great accompaniment to meatballs and spring rolls. Oyster sauce is mainly made from oyster extract. The oyster juices are boiled and caramelized and then combined with sugar, cornstarch and monosodium glutamate to make a thick, super dark sauce that is rich and full of umami with a complex sweetness. Fish sauce is popular in Asian cuisine and can enhance an adobo or sauce.

It has a distinctive sweet and salty flavor that is accompanied by a rich seafood umami. Mirin is a popular Japanese cooking wine that has less alcohol and more sugar than sake. The slight acidity and sweetness of mirin really balance a dish and combine a sauce, so it's commonly used in dishes with a delicious sauce. Teriyaki sauce has become incredibly popular beyond Asia and the rest of the world. It can be bought ready-made or made at home with brown sugar, honey, garlic, ginger, mirin and quality soy sauce. Ponzu sauce is a combination of soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, seaweed and katsuobushi flakes combined with the juice of a lemon or yuzu.

Unagi or eel sauce is made by taking salted fish and fermenting it for several months before thickening it with caramelized sugar. It has a sweet, salty flavor that is out of this world. Light soy sauce makes up approximately 10% of the soy sauce produced in Japan. This style comes from the Kansai region and is characterized by its lighter color due to an extended fermentation process with less salt than regular soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is darker, richer but slightly less salty than regular soy sauce. It has rich umami flavors with light sweetness, sourness and unifying bitterness.

Thick soy sauce is most commonly used in Taiwanese and Indonesian cuisine. It is thickened by adding more wheat during the fermentation process and further reduced with sugar. Sweet soy sauce or fermented soy sauce has a dense color and taste due to being double-fermented with koji mixed with soy sauce instead of brine like regular soy sauce. Tamari is made in the Japanese region of Chubu and it's slightly thicker than dark soy sauce with thick umami flavors. Soy sauce can be mixed with other condiments such as chili oil for seasoning or mirin for sweetness to create unique sauces for any dish. With so many traditional Asian condiments available to choose from, you can easily find one that will enhance your dish.

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