Of all the foods that Asian culture has produced, ramen is arguably the most recognizable. Originally limited to the ramen packets and cups we see in supermarkets, the West is now becoming used to actual Japanese ramen.
If you’ve ever had a chance to visit your local ramen restaurant, you’ve probably been asked to choose amongst a few broth choices including two of the most common traditional broths: Shio and Shoyu.
Here at immi, we always encourage eaters to get creative with broth and topping choices. But whenever we head to traditional ramen shops for team outings, we often debate whether Shio or Shoyu is best.
To put this debate to rest, we wrote this article to provide a breakdown of both ramen broth types, what goes into each, what makes each great, and finally which one’s the best.
Let’s get into it.
Let’s start off the comparison with the more common variety, Shoyu Ramen is what most people here recognize as ‘traditional’ ramen.
Although there are many regional and national variations to this recipe, the original version has a soup that’s flavored using Japanese soy sauce. Shoyu actually means soy sauce and in this application, it’s used to flavor both clear and cloudy broths.
Ramen chefs in the US do add shoyu to all different kinds of broths so the definition has thinned down a bit. The good thing is, it’s easy enough to make, so you can get the classic shoyu flavor yourself at home.
What separates shoyu ramen from the rest is the light tang you get from the soy sauce. The mouth feel is not as rich as with miso ramen but the dashi broth made from kombu (edible kelp) and shiitake mushrooms is still nice and filling.
Place of Origin
This version of ramen originated in Yokohama, within Central Japan. The dish is popular in the Kanto region, where Shoyu is used to flavor a variety of broths.
The defining ingredients of the Shoyu Ramen recipe are:
- Wheat noodles or chuka soba noodles (Our low-carb immi ramen is a healthier alternative)
- Katsuobushi (bonito flakes) for the tare
- Japanese soy sauce
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The ingredients of the modern version of Shoyu ramen are as diverse as ramen culture itself. However, any broth that has been flavored with soy sauce can be defined as Shoyu, regardless of what the broth base is.
Shoyu ramen is generally a painter’s canvas in terms of topping possibilities!
There is so much you can top it with, however, the more commonly used toppings are:
- Chashu pork (pork shoulder or pork belly braised in mirin and soy sauce)
- Narutomaki (fish cake)
- Green onions
- Age negi (fried aromatics)
- Chili oil (optional)
- Nori seaweed
Additionally, you’ll see enoki mushrooms and bean sprouts as toppings.
Here’s the health information for a bowl of Shoyu ramen:
- Total Calories: 780
- Fat: 29 grams
- Carbohydrate: 58 grams
- Protein: 62 grams
The majority of the calories in a bowl of shoyu ramen come from the pork and the noodles themselves. The total calories depend on factors such as which cuts of pork you’re using, the carb count of the noodles, and the broth base.
What Makes it Great
Shoyu ramen, much like any other type of ramen, is comfort food that you can have for any meal of the day. However, what sets this ramen flavor apart from the rest is the savory tang that you get from the Japanese soy sauce.
The sauce is what takes it to that next level. This is not the usual watery soy sauce that you buy at the grocery store. It’s a special sauce made with half wheat and half soy, which gives them a deeper, slightly sweeter umami flavor.
Then there are all the toppings, which include tender Chashu pork, nori seaweed, and boiled eggs.
In terms of vegetables, you basically have the freedom to choose from a wide variety. You can go with the traditional bok choy, enoki mushrooms, green onions, and scallions, or you can add corn, bean sprouts, and menma (fermented bamboo shoots).
The soy sauce flavoring is prominent enough to shine through no matter what topping and broth combination you have. It also works great for vegetarian ramen recipes, adding an awesome flavor kick to otherwise bland vegetables.
Now, let’s take a look at the competitor, Shio Ramen.
A much simpler version of the dish, Shio is known for its easier and quicker preparation, as well as relatively fewer ingredients (at least in the original version).
Shio ramen is flavored with sea salt, which is the perfect salt to flavor chicken broths and sauces.
The sea salt is not overpowering in the chicken stock and still lets the clear broth base and toppings come through on their own.
Shio ramen broth is lighter and thinner than other varieties. It also has a shorter prep time, which makes it great for when you’re craving a quick bowl of ramen.
Place of Origin
This version of ramen comes from Hakodate, in the Hokkaido prefecture of Japan. The region is known for its culinary and cultural ties to China, and it shows in the cuisine, with the thinner, lighter noodle soups.
The defining ingredients of the Shio Ramen recipe are:
- Fresh ramen noodles (immi ramen is an ideal low-carb alternative)
- Shiro dashi
- Sesame oil
- Sea salt (the tare base)
It may look overly simple, but trust us, the sea salt brings out the hidden flavors of all the other ingredients since it absorbs moisture from whatever it’s in. It also acts as a flavor enhancer so you don’t need to add any further seasonings.
Don’t use your average table salt for this recipe, since that has an overly processed taste once it’s mixed in with the ingredients. It doesn’t give the same results and you run the risk of putting too much in homemade ramen due to the finer grains.
Shio ramen has fewer and simpler toppings as compared to other types.
Here are the most common ones:
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Chashu pork
- Green onion
You’ll see some ramen chefs in the US garnish their shio ramen with leeks, toasted cloves garlic, and nori. These work well with the dish, although toasted garlic may alter the flavor a tiny bit if you use too much of it.
Here’s the health information for a bowl of Shio ramen:
- Total Calories: 950
- Fat: 35 grams
- Carbohydrate: 111 grams
- Protein: 48 grams
Because it’s a thinner broth, you need fattier cuts of meat and oil to make the dish more filling. That’s where a lot of the calories come from in shio ramen.
What Makes it Great
As mentioned earlier, it’s a version of ramen that’s easier to prepare and doesn’t require the long cooking times of Shoyu ramen.
As mentioned earlier, this is the most traditional flavor for a bowl of ramen. When the dish originally came over from China, the noodles would be flavored with sea salt. Usually, the salt is added to the bowl separately, although sometimes it’s mixed with the base for a more amalgamated flavor.
What makes Shio ramen great is its simplicity and a flavor that almost everyone is familiar with.
In some ways, you can call it the predecessor of the instant ramen packet in that it doesn’t use any complicated sauce mixes and uses a super-common ingredient as the primary flavor-maker.
Shio ramen is also really easy to make for casual ramen meals. All you have to do is prep the meat and toppings. It’s all a matter of putting the recipe together after that.
Although it warms you up just as well, shio ramen is not as heavy as tonkotsu ramen, which is made by boiling pork bones in a large pot of water over medium-high heat.
Both broth versions have their merits and unique flavors, and both are a great Asian addition to global cuisine.
If we were forced to pick a favorite type, KLee is a fan of Shoyu ramen while KChan is a fan of Shio ramen.
KLee loves the light dash of sweetness from the soy sauce in Shoyu while KChan loves the simplicity of a Shio ramen that lets the ingredients shine.
But we could easily devour either bowls any day!