The Skill of Soy Sauce Making
Kagawa Prefecture is famed nationwide for its Sanuki Udon noodles, but lesser known even among Japanese is the prefecture’s deep and longstanding connection with soy sauce. The prefecture has been producing this key ingredient of Japanese cuisine for over four centuries, and is still the country’s third largest producer of soy sauce made the traditional way in wooden barrels. Hiketa, a port town in eastern Kagawa’s Higashikagawa City, is home to a very special location that has appeal for soy sauce lovers and curious travelers alike.
The Kamebishi soy sauce factory, established in Hikeda over 260 years ago and still owned and run by the 17th generation of the founder’s family, produces what is arguably the world’s best soy sauce. Used by not only Japan’s most respected chefs but also those of Michelin-starred restaurants as far away as France and Italy, Kamebishi soy sauce is likened to the finest whiskey or olive oil by aficionados. A visit to the Kamebishi factory, which has been designated a ‘tangible folk cultural property’ by the Japanese government, allows a fascinating peek behind the scenes followed by the chance to sample its esteemed wares.
Kamebishi stands out on its row of charming old buildings, that also includes sake breweries, thanks to its bright red stucco facade. Even before spotting its colorful frontage, however, your senses might first pick up its pungent smell. This rich aroma is due to Kamebishi being Japan’s sole remaining soy sauce maker to adhere to a very early brewing method known as mushiro koji (‘woven mat mold’).
It is this labor-intensive manufacturing technique that gives Kamebishi’s soy sauce its acclaimed taste. The mushiro koji method involves spreading soy beans out on woven straw mats placed atop bamboo trays, then fermenting them at around 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees celcius) to produce a jet-black, paste-like mash known as moromi. This moromi is next aged in cedar barrels for at least three years, with further time then taken to age the soy sauce itself. At Kamebishi this maturation process generally ranges from two to 10 years, though for special orders the brewery has in the past patiently aged its sauce for some five decades.
Although the heart of Kamebishi’s brewing process is off limits for safety reasons, visitors are invited to take a tour of the area where the moromi is stored, and also to try their hand at making soy sauce (an appointment is required for both of these activities).
Of course, to fully appreciate why Kamebishi’s soy sauce is so esteemed by gourmands across the globe, you will need to try it for yourself. The company has a shop, just across the street from the brewery, which a range of products can be sampled and purchased. These range from soy sauces aged for a variety of periods (up to ten years which is Kamebishi’s maximum for ‘off the shelf’ sauce), to novelty items such as soy sauce chocolate.
The small store is also home to a dining corner where, alongside a selection of other dishes, Kamebishi’s soy sauce can be enjoyed in the dashi broth accompanying Kagawa’s signature Sanuki Udon noodles. This is also the only place in the world offering Kamebishi’s unique Moromi Udon: in this recipe Sanuki Udon is topped with a generous helping of the moromi mash produced during Kamebishi’s singular soy sauce brewing process. More delicious than this perhaps sounds, the taste of the broth gradually intensifies as the rich black moromi slowly melts into it.
- Facility Name
- Kagawa Pref. Higashikagawashi Hiketa 2174
- Information Sources:
- NAVITIME JAPAN