With its iconic bottle featuring a red capped dispenser, Kikkoman is synonymous worldwide as the image of Japanese soy sauce. Indeed, with its roots as manufacturer of soy sauce from 1661, Kikkoman is just as renown within Japan and has been the purveyor of soy sauce for the Imperial Family for over 100 years. Their factory in Noda city in Chiba Prefecture holds six tours daily where visitors can learn more about the process of making this famous fermented condiment.
Noda has historically been a town famous for making soy sauce. The reason is because of its ideal location. Situation at the junction of the Tone and Edo rivers, Noda had easy access to good quality soy beans, wheat and salt as well as a reliable water route transport to the markets in the capital of Edo, present-day Tokyo.
The Kikkoman soy sauce factory tour lasts approximately one hour and begins with a short video of how soy sauce is produced. It is a video worth watching carefully because it shows close-ups of how the process works. The tour itself does not give access to many of the rooms where production occurs. This is inevitable because fermentation is a process that requires facilities to be sealed off to control temperature and humidity. The tour itself consists of walking through the facilities and looking at a variety of panels depicting the process. Real samples of the various stages of soy bean fermenting are on display to look at and also to smell as well.
The one room that visitors can have a long look at is the stage of pressing the liquid from the fermented mash. Factory workers oversee the production line where the mash is laid over beige cloth of over 30 meters in length. This mesh material is still the preferred choice to separate the liquid from the solid.
The highlight of the Kikkoman factory has to be a visit to Mame Café, its small cafeteria for visitors. There are free samples of tofu on little platters to be tasted with three types of soy sauce: regular, light-colored, and low-sodium.
Other foods are available for purchase. My recommendation is the soy sauce soft cream is made either with soymilk for a lighter taste or with cream for a richer flavor. The soy sauce gives it a light brown color and a caramel-like accent. There is a hint of saltiness but it complements the sweetness of the ice cream very well.
The small dish of cold noodles is refreshing as is the warm bowl of vegetable stew. The adventurous will have fun roasting their own rice crackers and brushing them over with a thick soy sauce.
The tour ends with each visitor given a bag with information pamphlets and a bottle of the original Kikkoman soy sauce.
Also on the Noda Kikkoman factory premise is the “Goyogura,” (Imperial storage house) the historical brewery that has been making soy sauce for Japan’s Imperial Family since 1908. The building on site was originally constructed in 1939 but at another location in Noda. In 2009, Kikkoman decided to take apart the structure and relocate it using the same material but reinforced and repainted. The Goyokura at Kikkoman is a “working museum.” The soy sauce for the Imperial Household is still produced in the traditional way here and it is a museum exhibiting the historical brewing techniques, tools and equipment used. Visitors can actually see the royal soy sauce fermenting in large cedar vats lacquered in a vibrant red. To control the temperature and humidity for fermentation, there is a mechanism to open and close the roof of the storage space. Only the finest domestic soy beans, wheat and salt are used. Starting in 2012, a limited quantity of Goyokura soy sauce will actually be available for purchase to the public.
Making Soy Sauce:
- The first step is to process the raw materials. Soy beans are soaked in water for an extended time, steamed at a high temperature and then drained. Wheat is roasted and then crushed by rollers the shell sorted out.
- Lactic acid bacteria, enzymes and a type of fungus called aspergillus are added to the mixture. Every manufacturer uses its original fungus to create their special flavor. A specific Kikkoman aspergillus has been used since the company was founded. This mixture is then spread out onto large trays for three days with the temperature and humidity of the room carefully controlled. This produces a fermented liquid called shoyu koji.
- The shoyu koji is then mixed with salt water to become moromi, a mash which is fermented and aged in huge metal tanks for months.
- The final step is pressing the moromi to become finished soy sauce. The mixture is placed on long strips of cheese cloth where gravity makes the liquid drip down. Then the mixture is pressed down by machines for 10 hours to drain all the liquid from the mash.
- This liquid is called raw soy sauce. For several days, inside huge storage tanks, the liquid is naturally separated into sediments at the bottom, oil on top and soy sauce in between. Then the clear soy sauce is heated to be pasteurized and stop fermentation of the enzymes. The taste, color and aroma of the final product are adjusted before bottling.
The Noda Kikkoman Factory Tour
Tours are held six times a day and free.
To make a reservation, call 04-7123-5123
(Reservations should be made in Japanese. Weekends are booked months in advance but there are usually spots available for weekday tours. At the main factory and at Goyogura, there are English-language pamphlets and displays.
Kikkoman Noda Factory
110 Noda, Noda City, Chiba Prefecture
(The factory is a 3-min walk from Noda-shi Station on the Tobu Noda Line.)