• Yamasa Corporation is a large soy sauce company that has been a key player in the fight against the pandemic
  • Yamasa also manufatures pharmaceutical products like pseudouridine, a key ingredient in the COVID-19 vaccines
  • The company provides this pseudouridine to companies like Pfizer and Moderna

A Surprising Contributor Arises from the Pandemic

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve all been tasked with doing our best to help fight and stop the spread of COVID-19. Individuals, communities, organizations, and companies have been going out of their way to bring us all a little closer to life going back to normal as soon as possible. However, one very important (and unexpected) contributor, in particular, has been crucial to the development of vaccines: a Japanese soy sauce company.

What Does Soy Sauce Have To Do With This?

The soy sauce company is Yamasa Corporation, and while you may not recognize that name right away, the picture below should help. 

Yamasa Soy Sauce. Image sourced from Shopee Malaysia.

That’s right, Yamasa Corporation makes soy sauce, and guess what, they’re really good at it.  Yamasa has been making their world-famous soy sauce since 1645 and their recipes haven’t drastically changed since then.  

Now, you may be thinking, “so how is Yamasa helping fight COVID-19?”.  First off, apart from making soy sauce and other condiments and seasonings, Yamasa Corporation also manufactures pharmaceutical products and conducts research. 

To answer your question, Yamasa Corporation actually provides companies like Pfizer and Moderna with the raw materials needed to manufacture their mRNA vaccines.  In other words, they provide some of the ingredients needed to make COVID-19 vaccines.  

What Does Yamasa Corporation Do?

In particular, Yamasa provides the white powdery material known as pseudouridine, which makes up part of the mRNA, or messenger of RNA component of the vaccine for COVID-19.  

To explain why this is so important, a mRNA vaccine, like the current approved COVID-19 vaccines utilize a molecule known as an mRNA or messenger RNA, to elicit an immune system response. 

What the mRNA does is allow the body to make copies of the spike proteins that are located on the outside of COVID-19 virus and then make antibodies.  Since the spike proteins aren’t like the proteins made in our bodies, the antibodies created against them only target the virus.   Without pseudouridine, normal mRNA can’t make antibodies as they won’t copy the proteins.

COVID-19 Virus diagram with spike proteins. Image sourced from BPS Bioscience.

In other words, Yamasa makes a product that is crucial in making effective mRNA vaccines.  

Next, you’re probably thinking “okay…, but why a soy sauce company?”  

Yamasa Corporation has been making nucleic acid-related substances for more than 60 years and has been exporting pseudouridine overseas since the 1980s.

Why a Soy Sauce Company?

“Still…, why?”  

According to Yamasa’s Pharmaceutical and Chemical Division, this all started with their research on umami, the savoriness that makes Japanese food so delicious that the term was added to the list of basic tastes.  

Umami often is characteristic of Japanese broths made from things like bonito flakes, shiitake mushrooms, kelp, and more.  To get “scientific” again, we taste umami through taste receptors that respond to glutamates and nucleotides.  See where I’m going with this?

Further, the umami in bonito flake and shiitake mushrooms comes from inosinic and guanylic acid which are both nucleic acid compounds.  The representatives from Yamasa went on to outline how their years of research on nucleic acid compounds eventually turned into industrial manufacturing of pseudouridine.

Since the pandemic started, Yamasa Corporation has already begun to increase their production of pseudouridine at their factory in Choshi City, Chiba.  They have also allocated 3 billion yen (26 million USD) to fund a new facility that will focus on this sort of production and research.   

Yamasa Corporations Factory in Choshi City, Chiba. Image sourced from Healthy Recipe.

So next time you buy some soy sauce, look for Yamasa.  Not only have they been making the stuff since 1645, but they’ve also made sure that they do their research on things like umami and the flavors that make a fine soy sauce, but more importantly, they’re a major player in the fight against the pandemic.  

Sources:

https://news.yahoo.co.jp/articles/1d542189ac5375071a86b0b844039985035b08e8?page=1

https://www.yamasa.com/english/corporate/info/