Pursuing the origins of white soy sauce

Nitto Brewery (Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture)

“The white soy sauce now, has a different taste than from the past.” From these words, Nitto Brewery was inspired to create white soy sauce. Undergoing trial and error, looking for good quality water, and setting up a brewery far from the head office factory, this is a story of how this brewery did it all.

Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture. Wheat is the main ingredient for white soy sauce, and is one of Japan’s most important agricultural products.

“Old?fashioned” and “State?of?the?art”

When I visited the head office factory of Nitto Brewery, I was surprised by the strict sanitary control. Everyone wore a white work uniform, and had to adhere to stringent procedures from thorough hand washing to using the adhesive tape. It is considered a cutting?edge brewery, compared to the standard soy sauce factory.

Nitto Asuke Brewery, the white soy sauce factory, is operating in an old school building. Inside, the kioke?or large wooden barrels?are neatly arranged.

Nitto Asuke Brewery is 90 minutes from the head office factory

Many locals refer to this area as the “Hokkaido of Aichi,” where the mountains act as an air?conditioner in the summertime. Tucked beneath these mountains is an old elementary school, where the white soy sauce factory, Nitto Asuke Brewery, is currently at. Yoichi Ninagawa?san admits that the brewery location is a bit unusual, and explains that he was initially looking for a clean water source, not a new factory.

However, this story dates back to the beginning of the Heisei Period (1989?present).

“The white soy sauce now, has a different taste than from the past...”

These words were uttered from one of the predecessors of Nitto Brewery. But it was not clear on what was different about the white soy sauce now. Could it be the production method? Or is it a change in raw materials? The search for genuine white soy sauce began with a slight memory from the previous generation.

At first, the brewery tried changing the ratio of koji (naturally?occurring mold) and water from the standard 1:2, to 1:1. Although the production yield decreased, it had a taste that resembled white soy sauce. However, the pale amber color?which is the characteristic of white soy sauce?was not apparent, and the consistency of this batch was thicker than usual. Therefore, it was considered useless.

One of the primary factors that cause soy sauce to have a dark color is raw soybeans. So Nitto Brewery initially didn’t use any soybeans at all. However, through much experimentation, the key ingredient was pure water.

Ninagawa-san inspecting the soy sauce.

Love at first sight?change in focus

“In my head, I always thought about water,” said Ninagawa?san. He traveled all over Hekinan, asking people where he could find good quality water for his soy sauce. One day, Ninagawa?san asked an assistant from Hekinan, and they unexpectedly said, “I know a place! I can accompany you to the source, but we must go through a path deep in the mountains.”

“Is there really a water source in this here?” said Ninagawa?san, as they were anxiously driving through the mountains. After some time, you can see a small village past the summit. When they arrived, Ninagawa?san laughed, and said, “I was struck by the landscape. I knew I wanted to make soy sauce in this area.”

The white soy sauce accumulates at the bottom of the kioke barrels. They drain the barrels to collect the soy sauce.

Doubtful beginnings

Originally, Ninagawa?san thought about transporting the water back to head office factory. But after seeing the beauty of this small mountainous village, he wanted to make soy sauce here. He thought it would be possible to borrow the retired elementary school, but it proved to be much more challenging than he thought. It took the local people two years to understand what he was doing, and why he wanted to use the building.

To the local people’s perspective, a soy sauce brewery that is 90 minutes away from the head office factory by car seemed unusual, and doubted whether his intentions were true or not. So it is understandable for them to question Ninagawa?san’s plan. He simply replied back, laughing, “I do think this plan is quite ridiculous!”

After discussing numerous times, they decided to visit the head office factory. When the local people saw the factory, they said, “He really is making soy sauce!” and then the journey for white soy sauce begins.

Looking at the top of the kioke barrel. In making white soy sauce, you cannot see the moromi, or the main fermenting mash, because a piece of tarp and a heavy stone is placed on top. When the soy sauce has fermented for about 3-4 months, then it will be pressed and refined. This maturation age is short compared to natural brewing methods (which typically range between 1-4 years). This shows that white soy sauce has unique production methods.

“Shiro tamari” is not soy sauce

By definition, soy sauce is made from soybeans. Common white soy sauce uses a small amount of soybeans, so that is why it can still be called “soy sauce.” But shiro tamari, or white liquid run?off for sashimi, does not use a single soybean. Therefore, it cannot be called “soy sauce.”

During the pursuit of white soy sauce, Ninagawa?san realized he cannot call it ‘soy sauce,’ “I was surprised at the time, but I have to obey the rules. Even in one large vat of white soy sauce, I can’t add even a single soybean. To be honest in my products, I call the wheat?brewed sauce as a seasoning.”

Processing raw materials. In regular soy sauce, the soybeans would be steamed and the wheat would be roasted. However in white soy sauce, the wheat is steamed.

Wheat koji.

Shiro tamari is not regular white soy sauce.

Pressing and refinement area. Management and attention to detail is clear at Nitto Asuke Brewery.

Pressing and refinement area. Management and attention to detail is clear at Nitto Asuke Brewery.

Is your neighbor a salesperson?!

One day, after finishing a tour at Nitto Asuke Brewery, one of Ninagawa?san’s neighbors came up to him and said, “Nitto Brewery is a good company. I want to tell more people about it. You’re selling soy, aren’t you? I want to introduce Nitto Brewery to the world!”

The neighbor continued talking animatedly, as if he was a salesman of Nitto Brewery. Ninagawa?san was a feeling a bit embarrassed by the whole ordeal, and wanted to excuse himself by saying, “It is almost time…” However, the neighbor continued praising Nitto Brewery.

Ito-san, Managing Director; Kaneko-san, Sales Manager; and Ninagawa-san, Owner and President.

I think it is safe to say that this brewery is one of the best in the soy sauce industry. Whenever you visit, everyone has a smile, and the staff is also friendly to each other. I believe this is a wonderful charm of Nitto Brewery.

Committing to pursue traditional white soy sauce


Shiro tamari100ml

During our pursuit for the perfect white soy sauce, we cut the water portion in half, and did not add any soybeans. You can perfect any dishes with this beautiful amber-colored seasoning.

Price: \381 + tax
Ingredients: wheat, salt, shochu (Japanese spirit)



Nitto Brewery

71-6-chome, Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture 〒447-0866
TEL:0566-41-0156  FAX:0566-42-7744