Japanese make hard candy with some novel indigenous ingredients and flavors that often sound culinarily dubious but actually taste quite good. This is one, shoyu ame, or soy sauce candy. It is made by a shinise shoyu producer that still makes handcrafted soy sauce the heart of the ancient city, just a few minutes walk from the Gosho Imperial Palace. While soy sauce might not sound like a good match for sweets, there are some precedents in Japanese culinary tradition.
Sawai Shoyu Honten Soy Sauce Candy 澤井醤油本店 醤油の飴
Sawai Shoyu has been in business in Kyoto since 1879 and makes the premium quality brand of Marusawa Soy Sauce. The immediate neighborhood smells nearly oppressively of fermenting and brewing soy sauce and the old wooden store houses can be seen at the back of the site.
I have used Marusawa shoyu and ponzu for several years but when I stopped by the other day to get my favorite grapefruit ponzu I spotted this hard candy flavored with soy sauce. I have seen this kind of candy before but I don’t recall ever eating it so I picked up a bag.
The sauce that is poured over mitarashi dango grilled mochi dumplings is sweet and shoyu based. I don’t much like it but it is very popular with Japanese and this confection was invented in Kyoto centuries ago.
How did soy sauce candy taste?
It hardly tasted of soy sauce. It tasted like hard candy with this, hmm, what is that taste in there? If I hadn’t known that it included shoyu, I doubt that I would have caught it, it was that subtle. Actually, I think that the taste was a bit too understated. Obviously, a little shoyu goes a long way — with anything, especially candy! However, my tongue wants to know what it is that I am eating. It is not enough for my eyes to just read the label and know.
There is a concept in Japanese cuisine called kakushi-aji, literally ‘hidden taste’. A hidden taste is what it sounds like. It is there, you pick it up but it is not quite pronounced enough for most people to be able to isolate it and identify it. For example, in Kyoto-style sushi, quite a bit of dashi broth is used to make the sushi rice. If you just taste the sushi rice, you can’t miss it. By the time it becomes sushi, it isn’t a prominent taste but it does add depth and complexity to the overall flavor.
I see the shoyu in this candy as fulfilling the function of a kakushi-aji but it is billed as the main event on the package. I doubt that was the makers intent, but that is how it comes off for me. Whatever the case, it is a contradiction. I think that if they doubled the amount of soy sauce they put in, it would be just right. But, I could easily be wrong! I think this is a tough combination to get just right. But this is Kyoto, it has to be just right!
There is a shinise that makes salt flavored hard candy that I sometimes but, it isn’t from Kyoto. It is out of this world, and I don’t even like salt! That candy is subtle and delicate yet you know you are eating salt flavored candy. So, I think my ideal is possible.
Nevertheless, I like this shoyu ame candy quite a lot and it would make a novel and tasty omiyage souvenir to bring back home.
This is a very lame package design with lots of plastic waste. It needs some serious kaizen. Too bad.
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