What Is Tsuyu And What Does It Taste Like?

Mentsuyu — also called tsuyu — is a ubiquitous and super versatile product used throughout Japanese cooking. It acts as both condiment and sauce, sometimes interchangeably. It's sometimes served cold and sometimes served hot. It's sometimes a dipping sauce, sometimes a base for soup ... the list goes on and on. Read ahead to learn more about this multi-purpose Japanese ingredient.

No Recipes states that mentsuyu actually translates to "noodle broth." It dates back as far as the 1300s, according to Shun-Gate. Mentsuyu is essentially a combination of dashi, sake or mirin, and soy sauce, but it can also sometimes contain mushrooms or other additions. If you're uninitiated with dashi, it's a combination of bonito flakes and kelp (or seaweed). It is an integral component and building block of Japanese cuisine. Matcha-JP notes that bonito flakes, which are dried and sliced, are also sometimes called katsuobushi. While dashi traditionally contains fish, vegan versions have also been developed, which would obviously also produce a vegetarian or vegan mentsuyu.

To make the iconic condiment/sauce, the mentsuyu ingredients are quickly boiled together, drained, and then are ready to be enjoyed. The flavor is rich, slightly smoky, with a depth similar to that of soy sauce. There is also a slight tang and sweetness.

How is tsuyu made?

Mentsuyu is simple to make, easy to use, and will keep in the refrigerator for weeks at a time, according to Japanese Cooking 101. It's great to have on hand.

According to Shun-Gate, cold noodle preparations are enjoyed throughout Japan, especially on hot days. Tsuyu is the perfect dipping sauce for a chilled noodle. Some use tsuyu as a replacement for soy or teriyaki sauce, in salad dressing and stir-fries, or for any other preparation that calls for a burst of umami. Many Japanese dishes containing udon, soba, or other noodles often contain either a broth or sauce made of mentsuyu.

Eat-Japan notes that mentsuyu used for soup is called kaketsuyu, whereas mentsuyu used as a dipping sauce is called tsuketsuyu. Ten-tsuyu, on the other hand, is the dipping sauce used for tempura. 

When making soup with mentsuyu, it's imperative to dilute the sauce, or else it'll be too strong as a broth. It can also be reduced and used as a glaze for proteins or vegetables, which is an especially delicious way to use mentsuyu. Of course, you can buy mentsuyu from the store, but it's not especially challenging to make at home. If purchasing sake/mirin, soy sauce, bonito, and kelp sounds like a lot, another option is to use instant dashi and simply add water, soy sauce, and mirin/sake — couldn't be simpler!