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What are the tradeoffs between soy sauce and salt to pick when to use which between the 2?

Does it come down to dry vs wet? Both seem to do the same job of being mediums for adding sodium/saltiness to something. One in a dark liquid form and the other in solid form. Are there other subtleties and nuances for optimizations? I've personally mostly phased out soy sauce out of laziness and minimalism, salt doesn't have an expiry date unlike soy sauce to my understanding. I'm curious as to what I may be losing out on in terms of options.

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    Potato chips are salty too... why not just eat salt, instead of eating potato chips?
    – Sneftel
    Jan 25 at 10:16
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    It's possible you have been using a poor brand of soy sauce. I've had cheap stuff that seemed to be little more than salt water with caramel color. Jan 25 at 15:08
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    Would you put soy sauce on a baked potato? how about your eggs? What do you mean is there a difference? How is that even a question?
    – Issel
    Jan 26 at 0:48
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    Taken a certain way, this question could be borderline offensive to soy sauce haha. Eat a bowl of salted rice then a bowl of unsalted rice with soy sauce (not too much! Doesn't need to be swimming in it. Just a dash.). That's the difference. I guess you wouldn't really know if you always mix it into recipes and have no idea what is responsible for what flavour.
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 26 at 1:57
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    @issel I have had eggs served with soy sauce. It is delicious!
    – Seth R
    Jan 26 at 15:46

5 Answers 5

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Soy sauce is not just salty, it has a strong taste of its own. So, to answer your question: you would use soy sauce when you want the taste of soy sauce, and salt when you don't and just want saltiness.

Your question is a bit like comparing pure sugar and mint syrup: both add a lot of sweetness, but the syrup has a lot of extra flavors, you can't just substitute one for the other.

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    Or rather, like sugar and maple syrup! Because the maple taste isn't quite as "breathtaking" as mint and may go unnoticed between other strong flavors, and the cheap fake ones are indeed just sugar and water, paralleling the soy sauce situation. (And, of course, you can substitute one for the other to a degree, like with soy sauce and salt.) Jan 27 at 23:57
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Perhaps the most significant reason to use soy sauce is that it adds umami, a flavor that is different from saltiness. In addition to the umami, additional flavors soy sauce brings are expected in dishes that use it as an ingredient. These flavors are not provided by salt alone. Also, soy sauce might have a "best by" date (of significant length), but it doesn't expire.

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    Salt doesn't just make foods "salty", it can also enhance sweet flavors and be used in more than just savory dishes. You can't add soy sauce to fruits without adding its own extra flavor.
    – Luciano
    Jan 25 at 14:02
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    @Luciano sure, but that is not a result of the salt itself, rather it is our perception of its interaction with other ingredients. My main point is that there are flavor elements contained in soy sauce that salt alone cannot replace.
    – moscafj
    Jan 25 at 14:34
  • My mom has a 2L bottle of soy-sauce she parcels out into the smaller bottle like once every...year? For years now lol
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 26 at 1:55
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Soy sauce is pretty broad category of sauces from light soy to dark soy sauce, ponzu citrus soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, tamari which is a bipoduct of making miso, also the fermentation agents and methods differ greatly from japanese soy sauce (aspergillus oryzae) to say Korean soy sauce (natural yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria). Also by salt do you mean table, sea, or kosher salt just to name the common ones? TLDR you have to clarify your question. Also to answer your question or what I think your question is, why use soy sauce over salt? Soy sauce has high levels of glutamate giving it the ability to enhance the natural flavor of your proteins that you cook and/or marinade in it, also it has salt in it so it's a flavor enhancer and a seasoning. Down sides the salt is not going to be evenly distributed in the liquid so always stick to a recipe and/or taste your dishes when using different brands and/or types of soy sauce, soy sauce can burn giving your food a bitter taste, isoflavones, https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-estrogen, https://www.healthline.com/health/estrogen-in-men.

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    Your answer started strong with mentioning that there are many types of both soy sauce and salt… but then went into the weeds with unproven health claims.
    – Joe
    Jan 27 at 15:45
  • phytoestrogen high concentration in soy sauce and other soy products if you want me to get into the chemistry I can. Also depending on the percentage of salt, water, wheat, aspergillus culture, and soy beans you can get sedimentation and/or crystallization of salt and/or salted debris depending on filtration of final product. Also glutamates are additives, and soy sauce has a burning point. These are all things you can look up, so thank you try again. I can provide sources unlike many of you. Jan 27 at 18:32
  • Joe your an ass. Jan 30 at 18:49
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I just happened to stumble upon a post on instagram that should answer your question pretty well - albeit specifically with regards to applications concerning grilled fish. However, I think the general idea applies - that soy sauce does enhance and contribute new flavors to whatever you are marinating with it, with much more complexity than what just salt alone can do.

Quoting from the author's post caption:

In my previous IG posts, I sometimes referred to the background/reason why soy sauce reduces fishy odor, why soy sauce becomes darker upon heated, and why soy sauce creates good flavor upon heated. So, I learned that all these functions of soy sauce contribute to the palatability of the food, which could also be confirmed by the chart of correlation values on the last slide.

None of this content is mine, all credits go to @takashi_tamari.

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Salt is Vegan, Soy Sauce may might not be depending on the brewing process.

Also, some people cannot consume Soy for dietary reasons, my wife being one.

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    It's very unlikely for plain soy sauce to contain animal-derived ingredients. If you stick to naturally brewed soy sauces, it's pretty much guaranteed. Don't confuse soy sauce for fish sauce or soy sauce like ingredients.
    – Bloodgain
    Jan 26 at 1:47
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    in particular, the main dietary requirements would be soy allergies (kinda obvious) and not being able to eat wheat (whether due to coeliac disease, wheat allergies, or gluten intolerance).
    – Tristan
    Jan 26 at 10:11

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