A good bottled sauce can be a timesaver, but could we find a balance between salty and sweet?
Published Mar. 5, 2020.
Here in the United States, the word “teriyaki” probably brings to mind the salty-sweet bottled sauce available at most supermarkets. However, true Japanese teriyaki has little to do with this sauce. In Japan, teriyaki is a cooking technique that involves grilling meat or fish over hot coals and brushing it a few times (and sometimes at the end) with a sweetened soy glaze. Loosely translated, “teri” means “glazed” and “yaki” means “to grill.”
Traditionally, the glaze used in Japanese teriyaki is a simple combination of soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar; it has a thin consistency and a glossy appearance. Debra Samuels, Japanese culinary curriculum developer and cookbook author of My Japanese Table (2011), told us that Japanese teriyaki glaze is thin because it’s typically used as a finishing—rather than a stir-fry—sauce. Samuels said that while you can find Japanese-style teriyaki glazes in the United States, most of the bottled teriyaki sauces sold in American supermarkets are thicker and have more flavoring ingredients. According to an article in the East Bay Times, Japanese immigrants in Hawaii played a role in developing these sauces, which contain ingredients such as brown sugar and pineapple juice.
Today, bottled teriyaki sauce is used in stir-fries, as a marinade, for grilling, and more. To find the best product, we rounded up six supermarket teriyaki sauces, priced from about $0.20 to about $0.70 per ounce, and tasted them plain and in Teriyaki Stir-Fried Beef with Green Beans and Shiitakes as a replacement for the homemade marinade and glaze.
The consistency of the sauces we tasted varied widely, from runny and thin to goopy and viscous. The ingredient list of the thinnest product most closely resembled that of a traditional Japanese-style sauce; it contained no thickeners and was notably runny. Tasters commented that its consistency was like soy sauce. Conversely, four of the sauces contained one or more thickening agents such as cornstarch, corn syrup, locust bean gum, arrowroot, or xanthan gum. While we liked thicker sauces, especially when making a stir-fry where we wanted the sauce to cling to the meat, some products were far too thick. The one product that uses locust bean gum was notably goopy both plain and in the stir-fry, with one taster comparing its gelatinous texture to “glue.”
The consistency of the best sauce fell somewhere between thick and thin. Our favorite, which contained no starchy thickeners and had a balanced, viscous texture, glazed the meat well and was neither watery nor gloppy like some of the other sauces.
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