Teriyaki Sauce: A Japanese-American Seasoning

According to food historians, teriyaki first showed up in the Edo period between the 1600s and the 1800s. Historians also believe that the cooking style was a product of significant changes in Japanese society at the time including urbanization and new agricultural methods. It was one of several dishes of the time that included a grilled or roasted protein. Teriyaki sauce is the element that makes the dish different from the others.

In the 1960s, teriyaki made its way to the US via Japanese immigrants living in Hawaii and became popular. Hawaiian-style teriyaki sauce typically uses alternative sweeteners like pineapple juice along with sugar or in place of it. Some bottled commercial versions of teriyaki sauce may be thickened with cornstarch, which can add to the glossy appearance.

According to some sources, the type of teriyaki that is popular in the US is rare in Japan.

The “teri” part of the word teriyaki means to shine or glossy while the “yaki” part means grill. So, the word translates to “shiny grill” and refers to the appearance of the meat. Teriyaki is shiny because of the glossiness it gets from teriyaki sauce. That glossiness comes from the mirin and sugar content primarily.

Teriyaki sauce flavor profile

The main ingredients in teriyaki sauce are soy sauce, sugar, and mirin but some versions call for ginger and other ingredients. The mirin may also be replaced by another kind of wine. The combination of the ingredients produces an umami-rich sauce with a deep caramel note. Its sweetness can range from mild to rich.

Outside of Japan, garlic is sometimes added to teriyaki sauce to give it a pungent earthiness and enhance its umami properties.

Health benefits of teriyaki sauce

Like most condiments, teriyaki sauce is about enhancing flavor. It is not used for its health benefits. That said, it does have some nutritional value and can have some positive effects on health. Its nutrients include:

  • Minerals: Teriyaki sauce contains small amounts of some important nutrients including iron, potassium and phosphorus.
  • Vitamins: Teriyaki sauce contains small amounts of some B vitamins including niacin and riboflavin.
  • Protein: Because of the soy content, teriyaki sauce does contain a small amount of protein per serving.

With teriyaki sauce in your diet, you may be able to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Obesity: Teriyaki sauce can add a significant amount of flavor to food without adding significantly to the calorie load, which means that it won’t contribute much to weight gain.
  • Poor bone health: The phosphorus in teriyaki sauce may play a role in preventing or treating osteoporosis. It may also be beneficial for other health issues that affect bone health.

Health concerns

Teriyaki sauce contains a lot of sodium, which means that it can contribute to high blood pressure and other health problems caused by excessive sodium consumption. It is also high in sugar, and too much of that may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Common uses

The traditional way that Japanese cooks use teriyaki sauce is as a basting sauce for grilled seafood. They use it on eel, tuna and other fish. Its use on chicken, pork is more common in the West.

Outside of Japan, teriyaki sauce is popular as both a marinade and finishing sauce. Western applications for it include as a dipping sauce for chicken wings and stir-fry sauce for vegetables.