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Sauce makes the meal
Publication Date : 05-07-2013
Kansai firms fine-tune their condiments't flavours
When one thinks about the assimilation of Western dishes into Japanese cuisine, usuta sauce quickly comes to mind. The dark, thick, savoury sauce--whose Japanese name derives from the English “Worcestershire sauce”--enjoys a special place on tables in Osaka, where people love to pour various sauces over okonomiyaki pancakes and takoyaki octopus dumplings.
Worcestershire sauce is said to have originated in the city of Worcester, England, in the early 19th century. The British condiment inspired full-scale sauce production in Japan beginning in the Meiji era (1868-1912).
While Worcestershire sauce is pungent, usuta sauce tends to be relatively sweet.
The Nihon Sauce Kogyokai (Japan Sauce Industry Association) has 84 sauce makers nationwide as members. The largest share of those, 11 companies, are based in Osaka Prefecture.
According to the Japan Agricultural Standards, usuta sauce is defined as a sauce made with juices or purees of vegetables and fruits, with sugar, vinegar, salt and spices added. They are sorted into three categories, according to the degree of viscosity--usuta sauce, semi-thick sauce and thick sauce.
A survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry on the average yearly purchase volume of sauces by households of two and more people from 2010 to 2012 showed that Kobe ranked first at 2.576 liters, followed by Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, at 2.496 liters. Municipalities in the Kinki, Chugoku and Shikoku regions occupied the top 10.
Daikokuya in Fukushima Ward, Osaka, which was founded in 1923, is one of the well-established sauce makers in the Kansai region.
“For okonomiyaki or takoyaki specialty restaurants, sauces are important seasoning agents to influence the tastes of these foods,” said Masayuki Onishi, 47, the head of Daikokuya’s production sector.
In addition to selling its products to the public, Daikokuya also provides sauces to restaurants, tailored to their requests. Daikokuya makes about 150 kinds of usuta sauces.
When Daikokuya makes the sauce especially for yakisoba pan-fried noodles, the employees increase the proportion of pepper and pork extract to highlight the taste of the ingredients in the dish, such as pork and cabbage.
For the takoyaki sauce, they thicken the basic sauce with cornstarch and use additional soy sauce.
They respond meticulously to various requests, such as “a bit more sour” and “hotter flavour”. Such a flexible approach to each customer supports the culture of flour-based foods in the region.
Big vat of flavour
I visited Daikokuya’s factory near Osaka Port to see the manufacturing process of the sauces.
The main ingredients include fermented vinegar, apple juice, pureed carrot, chopped onion and tomato paste.
Daikokuya uses many apples and onions to give its products a fruity taste with deep sweetness.
To begin with, the employees added sugar, salt and other seasoning agents in a four-metre-high tank filled with fermented vinegar and then heated it up.
“Heat makes vinegar’s sourness disappear and the taste becomes milder,” Onishi said.
Next, they added ingredients, such as apple juice, and boiled them with 15 kinds of spices, such as pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Later, they wait about a week for the vegetable fibre to settle out at the bottom of the tank. As the lees include the highly concentrated umami flavour of vegetables and spices, the substance is sold as another product called “ori sauce”.
Removing the deposit from the tank, they shift the remaining liquid to a storage tank to age the sauce for about two weeks.
I asked if I could do a taste test comparing the sauce immediately after being boiled with another more matured sauce. Sampling each on some cabbage, it was clear that the older sauce was much milder.
In addition, I ate fried shrimps with two kinds of sauces with a different combination ratio of ingredients. The more spices it includes, for example, the deeper the taste becomes. The more tomato, the more sour it is.
Takashi Tsutsumi, executive director of the Nihon Sauce Kogyokai, said, “Usuta sauce including sugar, vinegar, spices and other materials is a versatile accompaniment to any sort of Japanese, Western or Chinese cooking”.
On its website, the association suggests a variety of dishes, such as dried fruitcake with the sauces’ rich flavour. Such a versatile flavouring agent makes the possibilities of cooking ever wider.