Mentsuyu is a versatile Japanese sauce used in many traditional Japanese dishes. It’s known for its complex and umami-rich yet delicate taste that lends itself well to a variety of foods. It is used extensively in Japanese cuisine, especially as a soup base for cold and hot noodles and as a dipping sauce for tempura. But this condiment is not limited to just these classics; it can be used for much more including salad dressings and hamburgers. Explore the ingredients here along with step by step instructions to learn how to make this sauce easily at home with just 5 ingredients and enhance the flavours of your favourite Japanese dishes!
What is Mentsuyu?
Mentsuyu, or sometimes just ‘tsuyu’, is a traditional Japanese soup base used in a variety of dishes. It is made from a combination of soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), sake (Japanese rice wine), and dashi (a broth made from bonito flakes and kombu seaweed). The word “mentsuyu” literally translates to “noodle sauce,” as it is commonly used as a dipping sauce for noodles such as soba and udon.
The flavour profile of mentsuyu can be described as umami-rich, savoury, and slightly sweet. It provides depth and complexity to any dish it is added to. It’s typically concentrated and needs to be diluted with water before using it. Mentsuyu can be enjoyed both hot or cold, depending on personal preference and the dish being prepared.
While store-bought options are readily available, opting for homemade mentsuyu is better, especially since it is easy to make. Why is making your own mentsuyu at home worth the effort?
- Tailored Flavour Profile: Making mentsuyu from scratch means you can customise the flavours according to your personal preferences making it sweeter or more savoury.
- Superior Freshness: Store-bought mentsuyu often contains preservatives and additives to prolong its shelf life, compromising its freshness and altering the authentic taste. By preparing it in your kitchen using fresh ingredients, you can ensure a truly authentic flavour experience without any added chemicals.
- Vegetarian friendly: Mentsuyu is made with dashi which is a type of stock made from bonito fish. By making the mentsuyu at home, you can make this sauce vegan/vegetarian friendly by using kombu dashi made from seaweed or a shiitake mushroom based dashi.
- Healthier Choice: Homemade mentsuyu gives you full control over the quality and type of ingredients used. You can choose low-sodium soy sauce or even substitute it with tamari for a gluten-free version. This also allows you to omit artificial flavor enhancers commonly found in store-bought varieties.
If you do choose to purchase store-bought mentsuyu the make sure to read the bottle carefully. The sauce is often concentrated and may need to be diluted.
Here are some of the key ingredients found in mentsuyu recipes.
Dashi: Dashi is the base of mentsuyu and many other Japanese soups and sauces. It is typically made from kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). These ingredients infuse the broth with a savory, slightly sweet taste. To make a vegan version of mentsuyu, use a homemade kombu dashi or shiitake mushroom dashi (click each to get the recipes).
Soy Sauce: Soy sauce is an essential component of mentsuyu, providing a salty element to balance out the flavours. It also contributes to the rich brown color of the sauce.
Mirin: Mirin is a sweet rice wine often used in Japanese cooking to add sweetness and depth of flavor. It helps to balance out the saltiness of soy sauce while giving mentsuyu its characteristic mild sweetness. If you use Hon Mirin(本みりん), boil it down to allow the alcohol content of hon mirin to evaporate. Read more about types of Mirn here.
Sake: This is another type of rice wine which can be added to mentsuyu for additional complexity and aroma. It enhances the overall flavor profile without overpowering other ingredients.
Sugar: A small amount of sugar may be included in mentsuyu to round off the flavours and create a perfect balance between sweet, salty, sour, and umami tastes.
These ingredients can vary slightly depending on individual recipes or regional preferences within Japan but provide a general understanding of what goes into making mentsuyu.
Step by Step Instructions
1. Place mirin and sake in a medium sized pot. Add kombu kelp to let it soak in the liquid ingredients to release its umami flavours.
2. Put the pot over medium heat, once it’s boiled turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes over low heat.
3. Add bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and simmer for a further one minute.
4. Turn the heat off and let it cool down.
5. Add soy sauce into the saucepan.
5. Using a fine-mesh strainer lined with a kitchen paper towel, strain out all solids from the mentsuyu into another clean container to keep.
How to Use Mentsuyu
The beauty of mentsuyu lies in its versatility across a wide range of dishes.
Common uses for mentsuyu include :
- as a dipping sauce for tempura and cold noodles like soba and udon
- as a soup base for hot noodle dishes and hot pots such as sukiyaki and nabemono.
Other usage ideas:
- Mixed with olive or sesame oil, shallots, and sesame seeds as a salad dressing
- To glaze or marinade grilled meats or vegetables or to flavour hamburgers.
- As a sauce for cold tofu (hiyayakko) or fried tofu (agedashi tofu)
- To enhance the flavour of stir-fries.
When using mentsuyu, remember that it often needs to be diluted as it is very concentrated.
Dipping sauce (tsuketsuyu) for noodles such as cold soba noodles and somen noodles, in general, the ratio of mentsuyu and water is 1 : 1 to 1 : 2.
Noodle soups (kaketsuyu) such as udon noodle dishes, the ratio is 1 : 3. For instance if you would like to make one cup of kaketsuyu, you need 1/4 cup of mentsuyu and 3/4 cup of hot water.
As mentioned before, by making mentsuyu at home you have the flexibility of adjusting the ingredients to suit your preferences and needs.
Vegetarian and Vegan option : replace bonito flake (katsuobushi) dashi with a kombu dashi or a shiitake mushroom dashi.
Quick option : you can also use instant dashi powder if they are available. Put 100ml each of mirin and sake in a small saucepan over medium heat to bring to boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for a few minutes to let alcohol content to evaporate. Add 1 and 1/4 teaspoon of dashi powder to dissolve. Then stir soy sauce in.
Tips for Making Mentsuyu
- To extract maximum flavor from your ingredients, simmer the mixture gently over low heat. This process allows the flavors to meld together while infusing the dashi stock with umami goodness.
- Do not boil after adding bonito flakes as it brings out a fishy smell.
- After simmering, strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove any solid particles, resulting in a smooth and refined mentsuyu sauce.
- Also, when straining the cooled mentsuyu, squeeze it LIGHTLY as squeezing too hard will bring out the unpleasant taste.
A : Tentsuyu is primarily used as a dipping sauce for tempura while mentsuyu is for noodles. There is a difference in the ratio of ingredients used for each.
A : Yes it does, however this recipe does not use water which makes this recipe last longer (but means it’s concentrated and needs to be diluted when using it). Keep this mentsuyu in a sterilised jar and it will last for a few weeks in the fridge and a month in the freezer.
- 1 cup Mirin *
- ¼ cup Sake
- 5 cm Kombu kelp strip
- 20 g Bonito flake
- 1 cup Soy sauce
- Place mirin and sake in a medium sized pot to let the kombu soak in the liquid ingredients to release its umami flavours.
- Put the pot over medium heat, once it's boiled turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes over low heat.
- Add bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and simmer for a further one minute. *2
- Turn the heat off and let it cool down.
- Pour soy sauce into the saucepan.
- Using a fine-mesh strainer lined with a kitchen paper towel, strain out all solids from the mentsuyu into another clean container to keep.