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How Do I Choose the Best Soy Marinade?

Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory

Soy marinades are popular because they impart a deep, almost mysterious flavor to foods such as beef, poultry, and pork. They are easy to create, and store-purchased versions are readily available. The best soy marinade depends upon the foods it will be used for. Soy marinades can be spicy or mild as well as simple or complex.

The base for soy marinade is either soy sauce or tamari, which like soy sauce, is a condiment created from soybeans that have been fermented. Tamari is made without wheat, so diners who are gluten sensitive needn’t avoid the delicious, Eastern quality of soy-based marinades. There are dozens of ways the wise cook can spin the marinade.

Soy beans.
Soy beans.

In addition to imparting flavor, soy sauce is a tenderizer. This means it contributes to breaking down the connective tissue in meat muscle or vegetable fibers. Other tenderizing ingredients that can be added to a good soy marinade include white wine, vinegar, and citrus juice, such as lemon, lime, or pineapple.

Many types of soy marinade contain both garlic and ginger, although a cook can use one or the other instead. Other common additions include mustard, either dry or from a jar, as well as a lightly flavored oil like canola. The oil is especially important if the marinade is intended for fish or for skinless chicken pieces because it coats the delicate meat and protects it from being dried out by the heat of the grill or broiler.

Soy marinades tend to go in two directions. Some diners prefer marinade that infuses food with a little heat or even a true burn. Others want to add a little sweet to their savory flavors.

Ponzu sauce is a Japanese steak marinade.
Ponzu sauce is a Japanese steak marinade.

Whether the home cook chooses to heat things up with a few drops of hot sauce, some cayenne powder, or a hot pepper or two, soy marinade is sturdy enough to handle it without losing its own identity. Hot soy marinades are especially good with red meat such as steaks, with pork, and with chicken. It can overwhelm a delicately flavored fish, however.

Sweetening the sauce is a matter of adding a dollop of honey or a little brown sugar. Some home cooks like to chop some fresh stevia or use a stevia-based sugar substitute. Combining a little sweetening with a little heat can be the best of all possible worlds.

The best soy marinade will also contain chopped herbs or other spices. Adding five-spice powder gives an Asian taste to marinated foods. Curry adds both heat and many layers of flavor. Basil, cilantro, or other herbs add a subtler twist.

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    • Soy beans.
      By: terumin
      Soy beans.
    • Ponzu sauce is a Japanese steak marinade.
      By: Arnold Gatilao
      Ponzu sauce is a Japanese steak marinade.