The Hudson Valley is famous for its wide variety of artisanal products: whiskey, chocolate, and pretty much anything you can find at a farmers market. However, like its urban counterpart, upstate New York is full of surprises. Add to the list: soy sauce.
Turns out, the Hudson Valley is also home to Wan Ja Shan, one of the top soy sauce producers in the world. It’s the brand favored by chef Ming Tsai. Back in the ’70s, the founders of Wan Ja Shan chose the location not only for its proximity to customers on the East Coast, but also for the availability of the pristinely clean water from the Catskills. Its aim? To create the highest quality soy sauce on the market. It’s made without preservatives, and makes the leading organic soy sauce line on the market.
Making soy sauce is no easy task, especially at Wan Ja Shan—its soy sauce, like fine wine is aged, in this case from six months to up to a year. This time investment is necessary not only because the sauce needs the time to develop its flavor, but also because Wan Ja Shan makes its soy sauce naturally, as opposed to chemically. Many soy sauce manufacturers use the latter method to make their soy sauce, or some mix of both—to save time, money, or both.
Chemical methods use chemical hydrolysis to make soy sauce, meaning that the soybeans are boiled in a mixture with hydrochloric acid. The soy protein is extracted, and ingredients are added for flavor and appearance.
When soy sauce is made naturally, the ingredient list is simple: water, soybeans, wheat, and salt. Naturally made soy sauce shies away from chemical additives, and it tastes better. Wan Ja Shan’s sauce has a softer, more complex flavor than its chemically made, sharper tasting counterparts.
And the taste is certainly complex. The natural method creates a sauce with four flavors: a little sweet, salty, umami, and sour. As a result of the process, good soy sauce should taste better when it’s heated up.
Entering its production facility in Middletown, New York, a warm aroma welcomes you—something like baking bread. The name, Wan Ja Shan, means “Aroma of 10,000 Houses.”
The process is laborious and long, but the result is a better soy sauce.
Wan Ja Shan’s dedication to flavor and being chemical-free is matched by its dedication to the environment. It pledges to be waste- and pollution-free, and believe every part of the process can be recycled.
Instead of throwing away and wasting the ground soy meal byproduct, the soy meal is given to nearby farmers and ranchers, who mix it in with their cattle and pig feed. The animals got so used to the delicious umami flavor, in fact, that they ended up being addicted to the soy meal. Now, they refuse to eat the feed without it.
Products come in organic and gluten-free versions. The soy sauce also serves as a base for myriad other products, like Worcestershire sauce, ponzu vinaigrette, and stir-fry sauces.
Wan Ja Shan is available at Whole Foods and other specialty stores. For a list of stockists, or more information, see WanJaShan.com.
Wan Ja Shan is a sponsor of Taste Asia Food Fest