Course:HIST104/Kikkoman Soy Sauce

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History 104: Topics in World History
HIST 104
Section: 99A
Instructor: Joy Dixon
Kelly Cairns
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

What is Kikkoman's Soy Sauce?

Kikkoman’s Soy Sauce is a food condiment that is generally salty, earthy and brownish in color intended to season food during cooking or at the table. There are many variations of soy sauce out there, but Kikkoman’s is a Japanese recipe.

Kikkoman’s Soy Sauce is produced by Kokkoman Corporation, an international company based in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. Kikkoman began in 1917 after eight family-owned businesses combined. Soy sauce is one of the main products produced by the company and the most popular brand is soy sauce in Japan and the United States.

Kikkoman has six different varieties of soy sauce to meet the needs of the market. Traditional Kikkoman’s is their best seller, but then they also have Less Sodium soy sauce, Organic soy sauce, Sushi Sashimi soy sauce, Tamari soy sauce and Gluten Free soy sauce.

Components of Kikkoman's Soy Sauce

Soy sauce has four basic ingredients: soybeans, wheat, salt and water. Searching for better ways to preserve foods, soy sauce was originally a way to stretch salt, an expensive and rare commodity. By using easy-to-grow soybeans and wheat as principalingredients, the amount of salt required in soy sauce was significantly reduced; therefore, more food could be preserved with less amounts of salt (“History of Soy Sauce”).


Soybeans were first domesticated in the eastern half of north China in 11th century BC. Until 1933, China and Manchuria were the leading soybean producing countries, producing 87% of the world’s soybeans (Shurtleff and Aoyagi). By first century AD, soybeans were grown in Japan and many other countries; the further spread of the soybean was due to the establishment of land and trade routes. It began to be farmed in significant amounts in the United States in 1851; the United States has now taken over as the largest producer of soybeans (“History of Soybeans”).


Wheat was first domesticated in Turkey around 9000 BC. Cultivation began to spread in 8000 BC, reaching Greece, Cyprus, India, Egypt, and Western Europe before being introduced to China in 2000 BC (Gibson and Benson). Soy sauce began to be used in China in the same century that wheat was introduced. Wheat began to be farmed as a cash crop in the America’s, where technology allowed surpluses to be produced; these surpluses were exported to other countries for profit.


The process of unifying China began in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Salt taxes were imposed on citizens, with revenues from sales used to build armies and defensive structures such as the Great Wall. Salt financed the expansion of the Chinese empire, bringing Chinese culture into contact with new territories (Kurlansky 29-32). Salt was imperative in Egypt, and its use was adopted by Romans. The Romans established trade routes throughout the empire for the exchange of salt (Kurlansky). The African continent was also involved in salt trade with Timbuktu becoming the center of the salt trade as well as the tobacco trade (Kurlansky, 47-50). Rivers were used as trading routes, and port cities developed as a result of the inter-continental, and later international, salt trade (Kurlansky).

How is Kikkoman's Produced?

Historically, soy sauce was produced by hand, in small batches. This process was adapted from Chinese methods of making soy sauce, as a result of the spread of soy sauce across East and South East Asia. The same ingredients are used today in production and roughly the same process is used, however this process is now highly mechanized and mass-produced in factories.

Soy sauce is made using a mixture of wheat, soybeans, yeast and mould cultures, which are made "koji". "Koji" provides an environment for the mould cultures to thrive. This produces the distinct taste of soy sauce. The "koji" is then mixed in tanks with a sea-salt and water solution called moromi, which is fermented. The mixture is then pressed and and strained. It is then pasteurized to enhance favour.

A video showing the production of Kikkoman soy sauce:

The Industrial Revolution in Europe from 1750 to 1850 resulted in changes in manufacturing. Mass-production in large factories replaced production in small batches. Mechanization of production also took over production by hand. Japan, at this time, ended its isolationist policies and opened the country to Western trade and influence, or what they called "Bakumatsu". Increased interactions with the West encouraged Westernization in Japan. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), rapid Westernization of Japan caused the country to go through its own Industrial Revolution. They began adopting Western methods of mass-production in factories.

Where is Kikkoman's Produced?

Legend holds that a widow in Noda, Japan in the 17th century began making Kikkoman’s Soy Sauce, and it became so popular that it was eventually exported to the United States. In 1917, Kikkoman Corporation began when eight family business combined and created the most popular soy sauce in Japan and the United States.

In 1972 when a need arose in the U.S. for naturally brewed soy sauce, Kikkoman Foods, Inc. opened a plant in Walworth, Wisconsin. The company was attracted to the clean air and fresh groundwater that Walworth offered as well as the central location within the United Stated and soybean region. The Walworth plant has become the highest-producing soy sauce plant in the world, nearly 30% of Kikkoman’s soy sauce and around 29 million gallons a year. Anyone in North America that uses Kikkoman’s will be using a bottle manufactured in Wisconsin’s plant. Twenty-six years after the Wisconsin plant was opened a second plant was opened in Folsom, California. It was built to provide for the demand that western U.S. markets were creating. This particular plant produces 2.6 million gallons of soy sauce per year.

In total, Kikkoman has three production plants in Japan and seven elsewhere in the world. The two plants located in the United States are the only ones that produce for the North American market.

The History of Kikkoman's Soy Sauce

Soy sauce has always been a kitchen staple among many Chinese households, but over the years it has expanded to suit various other cuisines across the world. Soy sauce has developed a use that is not strictly confined to its original state, but instead, it can be combined with other ingredients to make various other types of sauces.

What has grown to be an emblem of soy sauce around the world today is the teardrop shape dispenser of Japanese-style Kikkoman Soy Sauce. I think it’s safe to assume that if not all, the majority of citizens today have been able to get their hands on one of these unique, tear-shaped shaped bottles, whether it’s out at an Asian restaurant or through their own purchases in which they can use within the comforts of their homes. Kenji Ekuan, who witnessed the bombings at Hiroshima, created the bottle’s design in reference to his experiences from the war that killed his younger sister and father (Camhi). Kenji says, “For me it represents not the new Japan, but the real Japan. The shape is so gentle. Of course, during the war, we were forced into acting differently. But for a long time, some 1,000 years, the history of the Japanese people was very gentle” (Camhi).

But prior to the bottle’s production in 1961, importantly, is the production of Kikkoman soy sauce itself, which was led by the Mogi and Takanashi families in Chiba Prefecture, Japan in the mid-seventeenth century (“Origins”). Moreover, preceding Japan’s manufacturing of Kikkoman soy sauce were the ancient Chinese methods of preserving food called “grain jiang,” “the forerunner to what we now know as soy sauce,” which was created from soybeans and wheat (“History”). Ever since China introduced this method to Japan, the process of producing naturally brewed Kikkoman soy sauce established and flourished throughout the country and was spread by traders overseas in the mid-nineteenth century. Following World War II, the Kikkoman business abroad expanded drastically, and in 1972, Kikkoman established its first production plant in America (“Origins”).

Kikkoman's Soy Sauce in Canada

The production of Kikkoman’s Soy Sauce can be traced back to the 17th Century. Its recognition and use in cooking in North America however, really started when the company opened an import and distribution centre in San Francisco in 1957. Distribution of the product in North America can be traced back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. In 1972 Kikkoman International Inc. opened a production plant in Walworth, Wisconsin, Illinois. Buying the controlling interest of Japan Food Corporation in 1969, the largest importer/distributor or oriental foods in the U.S., was the stepping stone for further distribution of Kikkoman products in Canada.

In post-war Japan, the occupying allied forces, mainly U.S. military forces and government officials were eager to try Japanese foods and sauces. In the early 1950’s demand for soy sauce and Japanese foods by the ex-patriots returning home was high. Ironically the consumption of soy sauce was higher in the U.S. during this period than in Japan. Consumption of soy sauce dropped in Japan because the Japanese had embraced western foods and sauces. This would suggest that there was more of a culture swap than a first contact situation! Kikkoman International Inc. planned a very successful marketing campaign for the United States and North America market. The strategy was to market the sauce as an all-purpose, all American food. Attractive full colour adverts in U.S. magazines, along with television advertising all helped to introduce the use of soy sauce a necessary ingredient for everyday foods such as meats, fish and poultry to the North American public. It is worth mentioning that prior to the company opening the San Francisco offices; soy sauce was marketed solely as a seasoning for oriental style foods. By 1973, the company had published a cookbook, featuring home cooking American style, using soy and teriyaki sauces along with a few Japanese recipes. This represented a shift from using the sauce as a seasoning to using the sauce as an ingredient. By the 1980’s teriyaki and soy sauces would be in every supermarket ‘sauces and pickles’ aisle throughout the United States and Canada. Where they were not seen, is also very important; they were not seen in the oriental food section of the supermarkets.

Differences Between Kikkoman Soy Sauce and Chinese Soy Sauce

The main differences between these two types of soy sauce is the ingredients used to produce them. Chinese soy sauce generally uses less wheat and some does not contain wheat at all. Wheat flour is used instead and the resulting product has a taste that seems to be lacking. Additives and chemicals are then added to Chinese soy sauce to compensate for this. Chinese soy sauce also tends to contain more salt and has a more viscous appearance. In contrast, wheat is one of the main ingredient of Kikkoman soy sauce which gives it a sweeter taste. As a result, additives and other chemicals are not used in the production of Kikkoman soy sauce as they are not necessary.

It is believed that Kikkoman soy sauce originated from jiang, a precursor of Chinese soy sauce. Jiang was potentially brought to Japan by Buddhist monks around AD 552 along with other soy-based product. As a result, soy sauce was developed independently in both countries. In the mid 1200s, Kakushin, a Japanese priest, learned the method to make Kinzanji miso while he was at the Temple of Golden Mountain in China. After he returned to Japan, he developed tamari from the residual liquid left from making Kinzanji miso. By the 1400s, Kakushin’s seasoning was renamed tamari-shoyu. Japanese soy sauce developed from tamari-shoyu in the 1640s. During that time period, many experiments were conducted by producers of tamari-shoyu. It can be presumed that these experiments were meant to improve the flavour of tamari-shoyu. This eventually led to the inclusion of wheat in the production of tamari-shoyu. The resulting product was renamed shoyu, the Japanese term for soy sauce. The founding families of Kikkoman were producing tamari-shoyu in 1661 and ultimately start producing shoyu in 1764. On the other hand, soy sauce underwent different development in China. It appears that the Chinese did not try to experiment making soy sauce using wheat as an ingredient. This difference in development accounts for the differences between Kikkoman soy sauce and Chinese soy sauce.


Perhaps in a better overall visual understanding of Kikkoman Soy Sauce, notice how this Kikkoman Soy Sauce commercial advertises its product by focusing on the versatility of the soy sauce in different cultural foods (especially the Caucasian woman in the beginning who certainly has no ethnic relation to the soy sauce, but most likely is presented to reflect the cultures in contact with the product itself, while the narration simultaneously attempts to emphasize the "essence of Asian cuisine" and "taste of tradition"):


Camhi, Leslie. "Who made that? (soy-sauce dispenser)." The New York Times Magazine 17 June 2012: 29(L). Business Insights: Essentials.

Dresner, Jonathan . "Bakumatsu Chronology." Japanese History.

Gibson, Lance and Garren Benson. “Origin, History, and Uses of Oat (Avena sativa) and Wheat (Triticum aestivum)” Iowa State University, Department of Agronomy, 2002.

"History of Soybeans.” North Carolina Soybean Producers Association Inc.

"History of Soy Sauce.” Kikkoman Soy Sauce Museum, Nov 2012.

Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: A World History. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2002.

"Leading the way since 1906.” JFC International, Nov 2012.

"Making Soy Sauce." Kikkoman Soy Sauce, Nov 2012.

"Origins of Kikkoman Soy Sauce." Kikkoman Soy Sauce Museum. 19 Nov. 2012.

Shurtleff, William and Akiko Aoyagi. “History of Soy Sauce, Shoyu, and Tamari.” History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s. Lafayette: Soyinfo Center, 2007. Soyinfo Center. 22 Nov. 2012.

"Soya from a Historical perspective” Soy Info Centre, Nov 2012.

"Story of Soy Sauce." Kikkoman Soy Sauce USA, Nov 2012.

"The Industrial Revolution in Japan." Count Okuma, The North American Revuew, Vol. 171, No. 528 (Nov., 1900), pp.677-691.

"Wisconsin's Soy Secret." Express Milwaukee. Nov 2012.