Oct 25, 2022 - Food and Drink

Inside San-J, Richmond's soy sauce factory

the San-J building

About 90 people work at the San-J plan in Henrico. Photo: Karri Peifer/Axios

A 200-year-old Japanese soy sauce manufacturer has been quietly making one of the country's most popular brands of tamari out of a plant near the airport in eastern Henrico for 35 years.

Why it matters: San-J International hosted its first-ever open house Sunday to raise awareness about the company and its local roots.

  • It plans to host open houses annually going forward.

Tamari soy sauce, the type made by San-J in Henrico, differs from traditional soy sauce because it's made with 100% soybeans, as opposed to the 40%-60% soybean-wheat ratio of regular soy sauce.

  • The distinction results in a smoother, less salty sauce — and one that happens to naturally be gluten free.
Made in Virginia. Photo: San-J

The gluten-free part helped increase San-J's popularity with home and restaurant chefs in recent years, San-J president Takashi Sato tells Axios.

  • To keep up with demand, San-J more than doubled its Henrico production facility in 2019 and today can be found in more than 18,000 stores nationwide.

Flashback: San-J opened its U.S. headquarters in Henrico in 1978 as a sales operation, Sato tells Axios.

  • His father chose Richmond for its central location on the East Coast, proximity to the Port of Virginia and climate, which is similar to Japan's, including the humidity.
  • Soy sauce production began in 1987.
The fermentation process. Image: San-J

Today, San-J is made in Henrico using the same techniques Sato's family began using in Japan eight generations ago in 1804:

  • Soybeans are cooked into mash, fermented with water and salt for up to six months, then pressed, pasteurized and filtered into the final product.
Karri's miso will be ready in spring 2023. Or fall. Photo: Karri Peifer/Axios

💭 Karri's thought bubble: My favorite part of the open house was making my own miso, as I now have a baggie of rice and soybean koji in the back of my cupboard I need to remember to check on in six to 12 months.


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