A food review by Daniel B.
The third annual New York Locavore Challenge is quickly approaching. It begins the first of September. Really, it’s a series of thirty challenges over the course of the month, culminating in state wide locavore potlucks on Sunday, September 30.
Local foods are great. They are important. I support them.
All the same, there are certain foods that I just won’t give up which can’t be grown locally. Coffee is at the very top of that list. Chocolate is a close second. But there are other pantry staples that come from all over the world which I also love: Spanish olive oil, Italian anchovies, Greek olives, Korean noodles, and Chinese soy sauce.
Except recently I was told of Wan Ja Shan in Middletown, New York. They are a Taiwanese soy sauce company that had owned and operated a plant in New York since the 1970’s. As it turns out, their Tamari is terrific.
For many, soy sauce is nothing more than those brown packets that come with Chinese takeout. And this is a crime. Well, it’s not a crime, but it should be. Because many of those packets are nothing more than salty brown water. Just take a look at the ingredients, there isn’t any soy to be seen.
Compare that for a moment to the Tamari from Wan Ja Shan, which is made from just water, soybeans, wheat and salt. There aren’t any preservatives. There isn’t even any alcohol added to naturally preserve this fermented condiment.
Although Tamari fans and the gluten intolerant may be a little confused. Generally speaking Tamari is made entirely of soybeans without the presence of wheat. Most Tamari comes from Japan, and that’s how it’s made in that country.
Cultural differences aside, Tamari is defined by the use of the Aspergillus tamari fungus that is used in the fermenting process.
In short, soy sauce is made by steaming soy beans, roasting and grinding wheat, and combining that with a specific strain of fungus. This mixture is cultured, brewed and pressed. And though the magic of fermentation and time, these humble grains transform into a dark brown liquid imbued with layers of flavor and aroma.
The nose on Wan Ja Shan’s Tamari is delightful. There is almost a fruitiness to it which I tend to associate with wine rather than soy sauce. On the palate it is pleasantly oily, with rich round roasted notes, and a bit of malty sweetness. But unlike wine, tasting soy sauce is a bit of a jolting experience as it’s obviously intensely salty.
While the bottle I sampled was their traditional Tamari, Wan Ja Shan also has an organic Tamari in addition to an organic wheat free Tamari, for those who are gluten intolerant. They even make a straight organic soy sauce which Food & Wine magazine called one of their three favorites back in September, 2005.
Who would have imagined New York soy sauce could be so good.
About Daniel B.
A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.