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Mentsuyu (めんつゆ): The Flavorful Japanese Stock Base

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Tsuyu (tsu yu), also called mentsuyu (めんつゆ), is a savory (umami) Japanese stock or soup base.

Most people know it as a seafood-flavored noodle soup base, but it’s also considered a type of sauce. It’s commonly used when making soba or udon noodle dishes, especially Japanese soups.

Basically, it’s a multi-use flavoring base, stock, or sauce. Besides noodle soups and dishes, you can use tsuyu for hot pot, rice bowls (donburi), or as a dipping sauce for tempura and yaki foods.

Best tsuyu liquid stock reviewed

Usually, the most common tsuyu is labeled as “hon tsuyu.” It’s the traditional version and has a mild flavor.

Tsuyu is made of sake, mirin, soy sauce, kombu (dried kelp), and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). Bottled tsuyu also contains some other flavorings and seasonings.

There’s more than one type of tsuyu, so I’ll explain the difference below.

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What does tsuyu taste like?

When you ask about tsuyu, Japanese people will describe it as “umami” flavored. This refers to one of the 5 basic Japanese tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami.

The overall flavor is salty or savory but with dashi flavors, which refers to fishy bonito and sea kelp. You can compare the flavor to dashi stock, but with the sweetness of mirin.

What does “mentsuyu” mean?

The first character, 麺 (men), means noodle. The second character, 通 (tsuyu), can have different meanings depending on the context. In this case, it refers to a liquid or soup that has been condensed down. So mentsuyu means “concentrated noodle soup base”.

Best mentsuyu to buy

Best tsuyu overall- Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu

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This yummy tsuyu is versatile, and it’s made by one of the most popular Japanese condiment manufacturers: Kikkoman. Their products are affordable, and you’ll find them in most pantries.

Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu is a classic stock/sauce that you can use for everything! It’s the kind of sauce that has a mild but distinct fishy flavor because it’s mostly made with kelp and bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin, and sake.

Hon tsuyu must be diluted in water, but its flavor isn’t overpowering. So it makes a great base for udon and soba soups, salads, and cold dishes too!

You can taste the delicate seafood flavors of the bonito flakes and the saltiness of the kelp. Combined with the sweetness of mirin and the savoriness of soy sauce, this sauce gives the ultimate umami taste.

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What’s the origin of mentsuyu?

Mentsuyu has a long history in Japan and its origins are a bit unclear. It’s thought to have come from China during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), but there are also records of a similar sauce being used during the Nara period (710-794), although during that time, there probably was a miso tare sauce, a miso and water base for soups.

In any case, it’s clear that mentsuyu has been around for a long time in Japan.

How is mentsuyu made?

Mentsuyu is made by simmering kombu (dried kelp), shiitake mushrooms, and sometimes dried bonito flakes in water. This creates a dashi stock, to which soy sauce and mirin are added. The sauce is then simmered until it’s reduced by half and becomes concentrated.

What’s the difference between mentsuyu and tsuyu?

The words mentsuyu and tsuyu can be used interchangeably. However, mentsuyu usually refers to the sauce itself, whereas tsuyu is more often used to describe the soup or used in the soup dishes name to indicate it’s made with the sauce.

What’s the difference between mentsuyu and tentsuyu?

Mentsuyu means soup base or sauce (“tsuyu”) for noodles (“men”) where tentsuyu means the dipping sauce for tempura (“ten”). They are similar and use the same ingredients, but they differ in how much they use of each ingredient to create of slightly different flavor profile and consistency.

Mentsuyu can be used in many different ways, but some of the most popular dishes include:

-Soba noodles

-Udon noodles

-Ramen noodles

-Donburi (rice bowl) dishes

-Tempura dipping sauce

-Yakitori sauce

Mentsuyu ingredients

The main ingredients in mentsuyu are:

-Soy sauce

Mirin (sweet cooking rice wine)

-Dashi (kombu and/or dried bonito flakes)

-Water

-Sake

How to store mentsuyu

Mentsuyu has a long shelf life and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. However, if you want to extend its shelf life even further, you can store it in the fridge. It will last for up to a year in the fridge.

How to use tsuyu & what to use it for

As I previously mentioned, tsuyu is a versatile food product. It’s used as a sauce, dipping sauce, soup base and for making noodle, hot pot, oden, and rice dishes of all kinds.

Tsuyu is one of the favorite stocks for hot and cold noodle dishes like udon, soba, and even ramen in Japan.

In some cases, people use tsuyu as a substitute for soy sauce because it has a smoky yet delicate rich flavor, and it gives a bit of dashi and bonito taste.

But there’s also a special hot noodle soup that gets its flavor from tsuyu. This soup is called kaketsuyu (かけつゆ), and it’s one of the easiest comfort foods to make!

Here are some other foods for which you can use tsuyu:

The thing about using tsuyu when cooking is that if it’s not labeled straight (ストレート), you’ll have to dilute it in water. There are specifically recommended ratios.

Bottled tsuyu is usually concentrated, except for “straight” tsuyu. Therefore, the label will say what the tsuyu to water ratio is.

Tsuyu to water ratio (how to dilute it)

1:1 ratio just means that for every ⅓ cup of tsuyu, for example, you add another ⅓ cup of water.

Or if it’s a 1:3 ratio, for ⅓ cup of tsuyu, add 1 cup of water because you multiply the ⅓ cup 3 times.

Tsuyu to water ratio for common dishes

  • For a rich dipping sauce, use a 1:1 ratio
  • For noodle soup, use 1:3
  • For cold soba noodles, you need a 1:3 ratio
  • For a hot noodle soup, you need 1: 6 or 1:8 for a milder taste
  • For donburi rice bowls, use 1:3
  • For hot pot, you need about 1:6 or 1:8, depending on how much flavor you need
  • For stews and simmer foods, use a 1:4 ratio

Here’s how to use it when making any type of hot noodle soup

  1. First, you have to dilute the tsuyu with some water.
  2. Then, you must heat up the tsuyu.
  3. Next, you pour the hot broth/sauce over the noodles.

Conclusion

Mentsuyu is a great base to have for a lot of flavorful broths, but can be used as a sauce as well. You should keep a bottle in your pantry at all times :)

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.