This is an interesting article about the dire shortages of miso and soy sauce in Seoul, where authorities apparently struggled to prevent consumers from hoarding scarce supplies. The Korean people, who apparently used to make their own miso and soy sauce at home, had to start buying ready-made miso and soy sauce from grocery stores once rations of raw soybeans were stopped. The problem was that supplies of ready-made miso and soy sauce were only enough for the small ethnic Japanese community, who only made about 2.9% of Korea’s population at the time, so shortages inevitably resulted. Authorities did all they could to increase production, but they cut corners by substituting ingredients, cutting brewing times, and watering down the soy sauce, resulting in poor quality.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) December 19, 1943
Tomorrow’s posture to win through to victory
A Focus on Eating Habits (3)
Miso and Soy Sauce Edition
Housewives are confused by rumors
What are the true causes of the shortages?
These days, difficulties in obtaining common side dishes has increased the role of miso and soy sauce as seasonings, and demand for these products is on the rise. Aside from soy sauce, there is an outcry over shortages when it comes to miso. This is compounded by rumors that miso and soy sauce will be rationed, and the number of housewives who go to grocery stores in Seoul every day to buy up miso has been increasing dramatically. However, is it really true that miso and soy sauce are going to be rationed?
In view of last year’s winter shortages and the shortages still being reported in the present day, let us examine the brewing and market situations of miso and soy sauce, which are indispensable seasonings for home cooking. First, let us look at the causes of the wintertime shortages of miso, as explained by Mr. Kan’ichi Inoue, director of the Gyeonggi-do Soy Sauce and Miso Brewing Industry Association.
“There were shortages last winter because we had a poor harvest of soybeans and barley, so we had to rely on ingredients from Manchuria for brewing. The raw ingredients were not as available on the market as we had hoped, so we had to use great millet, chestnuts, and Japanese barnyard millet instead. But this year, things are going well with Korean-made ingredients, so much so that we are busy with production at the 28 brewing facilities in the Seoul area. It may be because we learned some lessons from last year. There is absolutely no reason to believe that miso and soy sauce will become scarce during this winter season.“
If housewives are having difficulty buying miso, it is probably because of the proliferation of hoarding behavior by consumers who are being misled by completely groundless, false rumors that miso cannot be brewed due to a lack of ingredients or that miso will be placed on the rationing card system. This hoarding is evidenced by the fact that people who used to each buy 100 monme (375 grams) or 200 monme (700 grams) of miso in the summer would each buy 500 monme (1.88 kg) or even 1 kan (3.75 kg) of miso in the winter, since miso goes bad in the summer but can be stored for a long time in the winter. Such people check out grocery stores far and wide and buy up all the supplies that they can find.
Another reason for the shortages is the fact that working Korean people used to make their own miso and soy sauce at home using their rations of soybeans and salt, but ever since the rations for those raw ingredients were completely stopped, it could be said that they naturally started to encroach upon the miso and soy sauce supplies that were normally consumed by the ethnic Japanese people. Such increase in demand along with the senseless hoarding driven by misleading rumors are the reasons why miso and soy sauce can no longer be easily purchased.
[Photo: Miso and soy sauce in abundance]
Nevertheless, the increase in consumption has been met with a considerable increase in the amount of raw ingredients, and brewing methods cannot fully meet demand with only two brewing cycles in spring and fall. Therefore, each brewery has adopted an immediate brewing method and is doing everything in its power to keep brewing and make sure that its products do not run out in the marketplace. Therefore, from the brewery’s point of view, there is absolutely no chance that consumers will suffer from shortages. We discussed these breweries’ encouraging solutions with various food retailers and asked for their opinions.
“Retailers receive shipments of brewed products from wholesalers, but breweries also sell their products directly, so we buy the miso directly from the breweries every week or every two weeks. In terms of sales volume, there is no difference at all between summer and winter. However, in recent days we are seeing lots of completely unfamiliar customers each coming to buy 1 kan (3.75 kg) of miso. Some customers want more than that, but we try not to sell more than 1 kan (3.75 kg) of miso to a single customer. As retailers, we are rather surprised at the number of customers who keep coming to us asking for miso,” said one food retailer in the Seoul area.
These reactions by the breweries and retailers may seem a bit confusing to housewives who are concerned about shortages of miso and soy sauce. However, in light of the fact that rationing was ultimately not implemented, and market availability has been the same as usual, we should all take a moment to reflect on whether or not we are each buying 1 kan (3.75 kg) of miso as well. Aside from complaints about the availability of miso and soy sauce on the market, there are many people who are saying, in recent days, that the miso tastes bad and that the soy sauce is watery. To address those who go so far as to suggest that retailers might be watering down their soy sauce, we turn again to Director Inoue of the Brewing Industry Association.
“I often hear people say that the taste of soy sauce has declined, but from the point of view of the retailers, it can be said that consumers tend to demand high-quality products too much. For example, miso is not classified into different quality grades. Instead, miso is divided into two types: white and red. White miso used to be made from rice, but now it is made from barley. This may not taste good to those who are accustomed to the traditional taste. It may also be that the immediate brewing method, which was adopted to meet demand, is more or less diluting the original viscous texture that the miso used to have.“
In the past, soy sauce brands such as Kikkōman and Marukin were shipped in from mainland Japan, but now the soy sauce is all made in Gyeonggi-do. The #1-grade products are the four brands: Kikkōryū, Kikkōyū, Kuniyoshi, and Fujitada. When these high-quality brands are unavailable, then you ultimately have no choice but to buy the #2-grade or #3-grade products, which presumably results in the impression that the taste of soy sauce has declined.
The quality of soy sauce is supposed to be better than before due to the revision of the official prices in July, along with the revision of the standards. In the end, the decline in taste means that high quality products are no longer available. One could argue that the brewing of #2-grade and #3-grade products should be reduced in favor of increasing the production of high-quality products. However, brewing #1-grade products nowadays requires considerable improvements in the manufacturing facilities, and technologically, breweries that have been brewing #2-grade and #3-grade products cannot raise the quality of their products overnight. Anyways, it is a completely false and groundless belief that miso and soy sauce can no longer be brewed due to a lack of raw ingredients or that they will be placed on the rationing card system. Supplies will be plentiful if consumers curb their hoarding behavior.
See also the other Keijo Nippo food shortages articles in the same series: