Mentsuyu Guide: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

Mentsuyu is a Japanese sauce — sometimes described as a noodle stock — used on noodles and other dishes. The word mentsuyu is a Japanese word consisting of two shorter words: men means noodles and tsuyu means stock or sauce so mentsuyu translates literally to noodle sauce.

Mentsuyu may have already been around in the 14th century. At that time in Japanese history, miso tare (miso and water) would have been one of the main condiments. Miso tare is the precursor of mentsuyu. People would eventually add bonito flakes (katsuobushi) to enhance its taste.

Dashi — a kind of stock — was one of the ingredients added around the 17th century, which is also when people began to use this early version of mentsuyu as a sauce for soba noodles. Soba and udon noodles are cold noodles that get served in warm weather, and both are traditionally served with mentsuyu. Documentation of mentsuyu from this period suggests that it could be made with or without bonito flakes according to the maker’s taste. Later on, sugar was added to make the flavor profile slightly sweeter.

These days, mentsuyu is used as a faster soup base for soba and udon noodles. Over the years, mentsuyu has evolved to suit changed tastes. Mirin, soy sauce, and other ingredients are added to a base of dashi. Because it requires less time to prepare, commercially prepared mentsuyu is better suited to use by home cooks when compared to the time-consuming dashi.

Mentsuyu flavor profile

The ingredients in traditional mentsuyu include bonito flakes. Some versions will also include tuna and/or sardine flakes. These ingredients greatly enhance the sauce’s umami character. They also increase its saltiness. Saltiness and umami are the principal qualities of mentsuyu. The addition of mirin and sugar adds a slightly sweet touch.

Health benefits

While it is not necessarily promoted for improving health, mentsuyu does have some nutritious ingredients that can help make this sauce a valuable addition to your diet. The list of beneficial compounds includes:

  • Vitamins: You can get important B vitamins including B6 and B12 from mentsuyu.
  • Minerals: Mentsuyu contains important minerals like calcium, potassium and iron.
  • Protein: Mentsuyu is a good source of protein due to the inclusion of bonito flakes and soy. Its ability to supplement protein is probably its greatest benefit.

If you consume mentsuyu as a regular part of your diet it may help with the prevention and treatment of health problems like:

  • Obesity: Mentsuyu is a great way to add flavor and nutrition to food without also significantly adding to the calories, which means that it can help you to lose weight.
  • Celiac disease: Homemade versions of mentsuyu are typically gluten-free as are some commercial versions. It is safe for people with celiac disease to consume as a result.

Health concerns

Mentsuyu is high in sodium, which means that it can cause serious health trouble if you consume it in excess. Health issues associated with too much salt in the diet include high blood pressure and heart disease.

Common uses

Mentsuyu is often sold as a concentrate that you dilute before using in a dish. Traditional uses for it include as a dipping sauce for noodles, to make a cold or hot noodle soup or in dishes like nikujaga. Another common mentsuyu application is as a dipping sauce for yakitori.