YUZU SHOYU, ASARI, KOTTERI, AND UNLOCKED SODIUM
Hi! Tim here again with another blog. Man, I've been writing a lot lately.
This time, we’re going behind the scenes. I’ll be talking more about the development process of a Partner Flavor, what yuzu and shoyu are, the definitions of “Asari” and “Kotteri” in regards to ramen, and how they affect development limitations, especially shifting from v1.2 to the v3.0 platform.
For those of you who don’t like reading as much, here’s a description of the Yuzu Shoyu flavor in flowery words:
A collaborative flavor between @girl_dm_ and Vite Ramen, this "Unlocked Sodium" Partner Flavor is bursting with floral notes and the delicate citrus aroma of Japanese yuzu. We've balanced the broth with a deeply savory dashi base brewed with real powdered kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms, and a secret blend of vegetables & seasonings. A masterful blend of three full-bodied soy sauces completes the broth, while a dash of rice vinegar brightens this soul-warming soup. Savory aromatics intermingle at the finish, ending with the lemony, refreshing yuzu oil to provide an unmatched experience for the senses.
Notably, this flavor is our first Unlocked Sodium flavor, meaning we really focused on flavor first. Everything in moderation... including moderation :^) Our full flavor creativity’s gotta be let loose every so often, y’know?
Let’s get started.
What is Shoyu?
While Yuzu comes first in the name, let’s talk about shoyu first! In the flavor “yuzu shoyu”, yuzu acts as an accent descriptor, like how “roasted” is appended at the beginning of “roasted soy sauce chicken”. It acts as an adjective of sorts to describe a special characteristic of the “shoyu”-- and shoyu, quite literally and simply translated, means soy sauce. So, what…? Does this make this a “soy sauce” soup?
Sorta. When used in the context of ramen, and specifically in the context of describing the broad categories of ramen, shoyu speaks of the shoyu style of ramen –one of the most popular 4 types of ramen to exist. These ramen types are, broadly speaking, characterized by their seasoning type: Shoyu(soy sauce), shio(salt), miso, and... tonkotsu?
Tonkotsu, which describes a thick pork bone stock, is kind of the strange outlier, but likely was included for its massive popularity. Confusingly enough, tonkotsu can also contain the seasonings that define the other types, but, to be fair, those aren’t the only styles either; they’re only some of the more popular ones.
Look, no one said the history of ramen was very cleanly organized. It’s a wild world of noodly goodness out there.
Shoyu ramen is arguably the first type of modern ramen ever made in a restaurant setting. Its first known preparation was made during 1910 in a restaurant known as Rairaiken, located in Asakusa, Tokyo -- by Chinese cooks.. Funnily enough, the word “ra-men” is the Japanese way of saying the Chinese phrase 拉麵, or pulled noodles. Confusingly enough, ramen noodles were never known to be pulled by hand, but rather cut, likely by a similar technique of noodle cutting to what our machines use today.
My personal pet theory is that pulled noodles had this special kind of glamor to them, being a specialty food from China. So, these merchants sold the much easier to make cut noodles as pulled noodles to get more business, and then the name kind of stuck around.
This theory especially stems from the fact that Chinese noodle soups existed in all sorts and types well before 1910. For example, the famous Nagasaki noodle soup dish ‘champon’ originating from another Chinese restaurant in 1899, a good twenty years before the first ramen restaurant. If these types of noodle soups existed far across Japan well before the first ramen restaurant, then what else but marketing would drive the use of the specific term “ramen/la mein”?
This is especially telling because we know for a fact that light broths such as “shio” style have been being served with noodles and meat for at least a few hundred years. (Shoutout to Max Miller of Tasting history, who we sponsored a video about noodles in Japan’s Edo era: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9xX78pauXQ ). Those noodles were then called “somen” noodles, derived from the Chinese “素面” or “plain noodles”. But, up until 1910, neither the term “shoyu” nor the term “ramen” itself were widely popular in the context of ramen soup that it is today.
Shoyu, then, is a soup that consists of the classic dashi, a seaweed/seafood/umami base of Japanese cuisine, which is then seasoned with soy sauce, and specifically used for ramen. Shoyu’s direct use as a term to describe a ramen soup therefore likely originates entirely from the original 1910 Rairaiken restaurant in Asakusa becoming popular enough to spread as its own style of cuisine that has spawned so many beloved sub-types, regional styles, and instant versions!
What is Yuzu?
Yuzu is a floral, aromatic citrus, similar in shape and size to a lemon, but it is noticeably less acidic. It originates from central China and the Tibet region where it grows wild, and while it’s not commonly seen in popular Chinese cuisine styles, it’s very widely used in Japanese cuisine – to the point where its use is heavily associated with Japanese food. Korean cuisine also uses yuzu, but it hasn’t quite permeated through as much.
It’s not a particularly juicy fruit, and has seeds that are much larger than a lemon’s which take up a considerable amount of space in the fruit. The rind is also rather thick, and the insides pulpy, making it a poor choice for eating by itself like a tangerine, or even trying to squeeze juice out of it like a lemon or lime.
Where this fruit excels though, is in its extraordinary fragrance and aroma. The essential oils within its skin, as well as the meager amount of juice it does offer, possess a unique and refreshing scent that’s reminiscent of a delicate blend of mandarin orange, grapefruit, and lemon; all stuffed with zesty floral notes and finished by a faint aromatic bitterness.
It is, in my opinion, the most complex and tantalizing of citrus fragrances, and that’s exactly why it’s utilized for lighter asari soups.The intricate aromas elevate delicate flavors that might have otherwise been lost; all without overwhelming the tongue as a heavier, more acidic or sweet citrus might do.
What is asari, and what is kotteri?
Ah, right, what’s asari?
Asari, or あっさり in Japanese, essentially means “light” or “easy”. In ramen terms, this refers to soups that are easier to eat, being light in flavor and generally showcase clean, transparent soups. Shoyu soups tend towards this direction, as do shio(salt) soups, branching into other clear, light soups like some types of seafood ramen or vegetable ramen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all shoyu soups are asari, however, as shoyu can be utilized as an appended seasoning type(see: Shoyu Tonkotsu) rather than a soup type.
As an aside, shio, or salt, is used as a referenced seasoning in Japanese cuisine, as the primary “default” seasoning is a seaweed/seafood based stock called だし, or dashi. I’ll write something about dashi, tare, stock, and seasonings in ramen at some other point where I plan to compare it to the French based cuisine I learned in culinary school, the Japanese cuisine I learned at restaurants and from my mentor, and the Chinese cuisine I grew up with.
You’ll also notice I’m specifically using the term “soup” here. That’s also kind of important just in terms of clarification in definition... which we’ll cover in another blog :^)
Kotteri, or こってり in Japanese, is the direct opposite of asari; a thick, rich soup. The most common, and by far the most popular type of kotteri soup, is the much lauded, rich, and hearty tonkotsu soup, made with pork bones that have been boiled for many long hours, sometimes as many as 48! Other types of kotteri soup that are less known, but just as delicious, would be things like chicken paitan ramen, kotteri miso ramen, or even hokkaido cheese ramen!
Notably, a soup doesn’t necessarily exist in the binary as either asari or kotteri – rather, soups exist as a spectrum across kotteri and asari. The terms are useful as descriptors to help classify the expectation or design philosophy of a soup, rather than be an outright category. Even the classic four ramen types that you’ll see most commonly (shio, shoyu, tonkotsu, and miso) will be mixed into each other often as ramen chefs play with all sorts of combinations. Ramen, after all, has only existed in its modern form since 1910, with the most popular style of ramen, kyushu tonkotsu ramen, only having been invented in December 1937.
Whoops, getting into things a bit too much again.
Designing Yuzu Shoyu v3.0
When designing Vite Ramen, one of the considerations we had to take into account was the offputting flavor of the micronutrients, especially potassium and the gluconates. Even starting from v1.0, all of our soups were forced into being kotteri soups, being much thicker in mouthfeel in order to lay on heavier coverings to conceal the off notes from the nutrients.
Which, also, why do our taste buds decide that correct amounts of essential nutrients should taste bad? Taste buds really need to be patched.
Anyway, going into v1.2, we began to utilize encapsulated MCT coconut oil which allowed better coverup of the off notes than the attempted flavor coverings of v1.1 and v1.0. This did come with an alternate cost, however– it also covered up other flavors, as MCT coconut oil coats the tongue and blocks everything from being tasted as clearly. This was a decent, acceptable compromise at the time, but still made it so that all soups we made had to be kotteri in nature.
Even during the development of v1.2, we knew aroma oils could introduce some really stunning complexities to the ramen, but rather than floating on top and releasing those volatile, delicious compounds, the aroma oils would be largely muted as they are binded to the MCT coconut oil. Between the cost of needing to use significantly more aroma oil to achieve the same effect and the high minimum order quantities we had to buy, this just wasn’t a feasible route.
Everything changed when we designed v3.0. Not only did the changes we make to the soups create a much cleaner, neutral tasting base to work from, our development system and process was upgraded to accommodate faster development cycles, allowing us to be able to create flavors at a blistering pace, only slowed down by material sample shipping times and supply chains, opening up the doors for the back and forth changes needed in order to create partner flavors, like the one with girl_dm!
That also meant, for the first time ever, we had the option to create asari soups.
With v3.0’s introduction of aroma oils, yuzu was one of the perfect candidates for an asari soup. With the development of v3.0 flavors taking priority, however, we never got around to really implementing anything with yuzu. We were in the middle of developing the Beef Pho flavor when our talks about the girl_dm partner flavor began, and when we asked her what she’d like, she responded that she was personally a big fan of yuzu shoyu ramen.
I cannot readily express just how stupidly, giddily excited I was hearing this. Yuzu Shoyu?! I’d finally have a good reason to really sit down and pursue it, truly testing the limits of how asari we could actually make our soup. Even as early as 2019, before our ramen had even been released to the general public, every time Tom and I had to travel for Vite Ramen, we’d drop by as many places that had some kind of yuzu ramen as possible. We’ve tried everything from yuzu shio to seafood yuzu to even a really awesome jalapeno yuzu ramen we had down next to Disneyland.
I’ve mentioned this before, but this actually isn’t the first flavor we’ve developed alongside one of our partners. While this flavor came first due to supply chain disruptions, we were able to utilize a much more streamlined design process thanks to our past experience with the other first partner flavor we developed-- which, when that flavor is revealed and comes out, I’ll talk more in depth about that part of it. Meanwhile, though, the process with Girl_dm went pretty smoothly, where she would describe what she wanted, and then we’d ship samples to her, take her feedback, adjust, order new supplies according to any changes we’d needed, and repeat until she approved the flavor and was happy with it.
Specifically, for partner flavors, we are doing them with Unlocked Sodium, because it’s very important to us that the flavor is everything that the partner wants it to be. Sodium restrictions imposes a lot of tradeoffs we’d have to overcome, and compromises the fidelity of the special flavors we try to do for the partner. Besides, these are limited editions and special, and our normal, lower sodium flavors still exist, so why not full send on flavor, and therefore sodium?
Everyone knows the phrase ‘everything in moderation’, but the seemingly secret full version is:: Everything in moderation, including moderation.
We gotta go full power every so often and have fun, y’know?
During the design process of yuzu shoyu, we experimented with 6 different types of soy sauces, 4 kinds of yuzu oil, things like vegan “bonito” made of soy, and much more to try and make as delicious of a yuzu shoyu as possible. In the recipe of this yuzu shoyu, a blend of three soy sauces made the final cut, as well as a “dashi” base made of real powdered kombu, shiitake, a secret blend of vegetables and seasonings for sweetness and vegetal complexity, rice vinegar to balance acidity, and more to create a delicious, full bodied, yet asari soup.
The package design was also a very fun back and forth, playing with everything from the current ahoge hair design to adding furry ears to the Vite Ramen logo(that one ended up a bit weird). From this flavor’s inception all the way to its final creation, we’ve been in touch and working closely with girl_dm to make sure it’s everything she wanted! And, of course, we made no compromises on the nutritional aspect– This flavor still has the high protein, fiber, and nutritional density you’ve come to know and love from Vite Ramen.
A big thanks to anyone who’s made it through all of this– It always makes me happy to know that people are reading and liking these blog posts! They do take quite a bit of time from my day, but it’s always worth it when someone talks about how much they enjoyed the insight.
If you want to try our exciting Yuzu Shoyu, be sure to sign up for the Chaos Drops here: https://shop.viteramen.com/pages/girl_dm_mayo If you’re unfamiliar with chaos drops and missed our last blog post, check it out to get caught up:
And good luck!
-Tim Zheng, Vite Ramen CEO/Founder, who should probably stretch his hands a bit more after writing faster than a NaNoWriMo pace in a few days