The world of condiments is large, but soy sauce stands out due to its distinct taste and culturally-rich history. This dark, often-salty sauce has a comprehensive and distinct variety of types and flavors. The best soy sauce can enhance many different dishes. If you’re not a fan of soy sauce already, you likely will be soon.
Are you interested in soy sauce but not sure where to start? We’ve rounded up the best soy sauce brands worldwide, including both China and Japan. Our buyer’s guide will also answer all your questions about what soy sauce is and what types to use with various foods.
The Best Soy Sauce Brands
The world of soy sauce is fairly deep, making the process of finding the best one more complicated than many people first realize. To help you out, we’ve rounded up five brands that are worth your consideration:
1. Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce
Kikkoman is a Japanese company practically synonymous with soy sauce. You’ve likely seen this popular brand in restaurants and pantries before. It’s a dark-colored Japanese soy sauce with a rich, malty taste accented by a touch of caramel.
This is a low-sodium option of their traditional soy sauce. Total sodium is 192 mg per teaspoon, compared to the main sauce, which has 307 mg per teaspoon. Aside from the benefits of a low-sodium diet, this sauce also has a less salty taste.
This two-quart container will last the average person for more than a year. However, because soy sauce keeps without an issue, you don’t have to worry about it going bad. It also has a large, ergonomic handle so you can pour controlled amounts.
2. Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce
Lee Kum Kee is a Hong Kong-based maker of Chinese soy sauces, with this one of their darker options. It’s also thicker than most all-purpose sauces.
You’ll want to use this rich sauce sparingly, as too much will overpower your dish. It’s commonly used on stir fry or other meals that blend fried rice with meat. Many people use it in a 1:1 ratio, along with a thinner, lighter sauce.
The ingredient list is minimal, containing only water, salt, soybeans, wheat flour, caramel color, and sugar. Many people consider this brand among the best soy sauces in the world.
3. Kishibori Shoyu
If you’re looking for a premium, authentic option, then you’ll want a bottle of this artisanal soy sauce from the Takesan Company, considered one of the best soy sauce brands. It’s made on a small island in Japan, where it’s fermented in 100-year-old barrels for a full year. Each bottle arrives wrapped in a cloth bag decorated with traditional imagery.
The soy sauce has a full, mild flavor that works well as a baste, marinade, or dip. It’s a bit different than many other soy sauces because it’s not meant for cooking. The sauce isn’t treated with alcohol and contains no preservatives (although it still lasts a long time at room temperature).
The company’s location plays a key role here. This small island has mild winters, which allows the fermentation process to continue uninterrupted during the entire year. Additionally, they use sun-dried sea salt from the surrounding waters.
4. Yamaroku 4-Years Aged Kiku Bisiho Soy Sauce
Esteemed manufacturer Yamaroku’s flagship sauce features a deep, full flavor frequently used as a sauce for ramen bowls or as a baste. Its limited ingredient list contains only soybeans, wheat, salt, and water.
Each batch is aged between three and five years, making this one of the most authentic sauces on our list. Aging occurs in 100-year-old traditional Kioke barrels.
The mellow flavor goes especially well with seafood, including sushi, grilled fish, and more. You can also use it to make Teriyaki and Ponzu sauces.
5. Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Aminos
Raw Coconut Aminos from Coconut Secret is a bit different from the other options on our list because it’s not, strictly speaking, soy sauce. Instead, it’s a soy sauce alternative made from coconut tree sap and sea salt.
Note that it doesn’t taste like coconuts. It offers an authentic soy sauce flavor that rivals the best tasting soy sauce. You can use Coconut Aminos as a dressing, marinade, dip, or applied directly to food. Even better, it has 73% less sodium than real soy sauce, making it a healthier option if you’re watching your salt intake.
It’s healthier in other ways, too. The coconut sauce is made under strict quality controls in the Philippines and contains no GMOs, MSG, or gluten. It’s USDA-certified organic, vegan, and contains 17 amino acids.
Soy Sauce Buyer’s Guide
Nothing against ketchup, but arguably no condiment has a richer history than soy sauce. For over 2,500 years, folks worldwide have considered it an essential cooking aid, using it in a huge variety of dishes.
Let’s take a closer look at what soy sauce is, how to find the best brands, and how you can maximize its flavor potential in the meals you prepare.
What is Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is a liquid condiment made from four main ingredients:
Making soy sauce is reasonably simple. The soybeans are placed in boiling water. The wheat is roasted, pulverized, and then mixed into the soybeans. Live fungus spores (Koji) are then added to the wheat/soybean mixture. Finally, salt brine is added.
Wait – “live fungus spores”? Koji is a perfectly harmless starter, which is an ingredient that aids fermentation. Soy sauce requires fermentation for months or even years, and Koji helps start the process.
Let’s back up a bit because not all soy sauce is made in the same way. There are two types:
Traditional soy sauce is fermented for several months, at least. In fact, the best soy sauces in the world take two years to develop. Also called naturally-brewed soy sauce, these traditional sauces have complex flavors and strong aromas.
Chemical soy sauces are made in just a few days. They use hydrolyzed soy protein to speed up the creation process, plus corn syrup and caramel to alter its taste and color. Also called non-brewed soy sauce, it typically has a much saltier taste than the naturally-brewed type.
It’s not accurate to think of chemical soy sauce as the inferior option. Many of the brands recommended above are non-brewed, and they still deliver authentic soy sauce taste. Plus, non-brewed sauces are affordable and readily available.
The Difference between Chinese and Japanese Soy Sauce
Brewed and non-brewed isn’t the only important classification when discussing soy sauces. The country of origin also plays a vital role in the condiment’s taste and consistency.
You’ll find soy sauces from all over the world, including practically every Eastern nation. However, for the American shopper, the sauces you’ll find on store shelves are usually either Chinese or Japanese.
About 2,000 years ago, the Chinese people invented soy sauce. Initially, they brewed the soybeans without any wheat. However, today most Chinese soy sauce is brewed with wheat flour. Additionally, sugar is commonly added.
It’s the saltier sauce of the two types. Plus, it’s also thicker and darker than the Japanese variant. If you shake the bottle, and the sauce coats the sides, it’s almost certainly the Chinese style.
In the 7th century, Chinese Buddhist monks introduced the condiment to Japan. Over time, the Japanese altered the creation process to eventually develop their own version called shoyu. They eventually began sending their soy sauce to countries worldwide via the Dutch East India Trading Company, which is why much of the world associates Japan with soy sauce.
Japanese soy sauce is brewed with roasted wheat instead of wheat flour. It contains no added sugar. Surprisingly, the lack of sugar, and other processing factors, result in a soy sauce with a sweeter, more well-rounded flavor.
It’s much lighter than Chinese soy sauce. If you shake a bottle of Japanese soy sauce, very little of it will stick to the sides.
Lightness and Darkness
The third factor you want to consider when selecting soy sauce is its coloring. Now, this might seem a bit confusing at first, but it’s the info you should understand so you can pick the correct sauce for your dish.
When discussing a sauce’s lightness and darkness, we’re referring to coloring relative to its type. For example, all Japanese sauce has light coloring, but you’ll find darker and lighter options within that range.
Coloring is determined by aging. The longer the sauce is left to age, the darker the color. Generally, lighter colored sauces have the sharpest, more intense flavors. Dark soy sauce is typically sweeter and milder.
Chinese Light and Dark Sauces
Most Chinese soy sauce is light. It’s often referred to as “thin” or “superior” (of course, it’s also simply called “light”). Light Chinese soy sauce is applied directly to all types of foods and has a wide variety of uses in recipes, too.
Dark Chinese soy sauce has the longest aging process of any type of soy sauce. It’s also the sweetest type of soy sauce because molasses or a similar sweeter is added during the creation process. However, it does have a fairly limited range in the kitchen. It’s mainly used as a flavor booster or added to certain stews.
Japanese Light and Dark Sauces
With Japanese soy sauce, the darker type is the far more popular and widely-used option. Despite their dark color, they have a light, sweet taste. They’re also significantly less salty than most other types of soy sauces.
Dark Japanese soy sauces are a good all-purpose choice because they don’t introduce many bold flavors that can potentially clash with the rest of the meal. They’re often used to marinate or baste meat.
How to Store
Soy sauce is easy to store. After all, it existed for thousands of years before refrigeration, so it doesn’t spoil easily. The high sodium content creates a natural resistance to bacteria.
If you don’t open the bottle, soy sauce will remain safe and flavorful for several years. Even an opened bottle has plenty of shelf life, lasting for six months or more. At worst, the condiment might lose some of its flavor over time, but it won’t turn rancid. It doesn’t need refrigeration, so you can store it in a cool, dry pantry.
What Type of Soy Sauce Should I Buy?
Now that you know the different types of soy sauces, let’s look at when you want to use each.
Light Chinese Soy Sauce
You’ll typically want to use this for any Chinese recipe that calls for “soy sauce” without further specifying. It’s also what you use when “thin” soy sauce is required. It’s used in a wide variety of marinades, dressings, and stir-fry. It’s also a popular dip.
Keep in mind light Chinese soy sauce is the saltiest type. If you want to cut down on the salty taste, mix in some dark soy sauce. Also, if sodium intake is a concern, low sodium versions are available from most major brands. (Note that a light color doesn’t mean a soy sauce is low in sodium.)
Dark Soy Sauce
The average home chef will get far more use out of light soy sauce than dark. You never want to use dark soy sauce when a recipe calls for “soy sauce.” Instead, it’s used only when “dark soy sauce” is specifically requested.
Dark soy sauce has an intense flavor. It’s typically reserved for what is called “red-cooked dishes,” which are traditional Eastern Chinese recipes that feature spices and pork, beef, or chicken.
Koikuchi is the most popular type of Japanese soy sauce. It’s considered an all-purpose sauce. If you go to a Japanese restaurant, this is what’s most likely on the table. It’s what you’ll want to use if a Japanese recipe calls for “soy sauce.”
Koikuchi is used in the same ways as light Chinese soy sauce. You’ll find it in many stir-frys and marinades. Plus, it’s used for bastes and as a dip.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have questions about soy sauce? Here are quick and simple answers about what kind to buy, how to use it, and more.
Is Naturally-Brewed Soy Sauce Better than Non-Brewed Soy Sauce?
Not necessarily. Non-brewed soy sauce is mass-produced, making it affordable and readily available. You can still enjoy an authentic soy sauce flavor.
Of course, if you’re a soy sauce connoisseur, you’ll certainly want to try as many naturally-brewed options as possible because each will have its own bold, distinct flavor you can’t necessarily find on grocery store shelves. However, the best tasting soy sauce is the one you enjoy the most.
What is the Difference between Japanese and Chinese Soy Sauce?
The creation process is slightly different, resulting in different tastes and consistency. Chinese soy sauce is salty with bolder flavors, while Japanese is sweeter with a more well-rounded taste.
What is “Light Colored” and “Dark Colored” Soy Sauce?
Both Japanese and Chinese soy sauces have a range of colors. With Chinese soy sauce, the light-colored type is more common. However, dark-colored is the more popular type of Japanese soy sauce.
What’s the Best Soy Sauce for Dipping?
Chinese light-colored soy sauce is the most popular type for dipping. If it’s too salty, add a small amount of dark soy sauce to enhance the sweetness.
Is Soy Sauce Gluten-Free?
Most soy sauce is not gluten-free because it’s made from wheat or wheat flour. If you have a gluten sensitivity, look for a Japanese option called Tamari Shoyu. It’s made entirely from soybeans with no wheat.
What Do I Use if a Recipe Calls for Soy Sauce?
You’ll find many recipes that call for “soy sauce” but don’t elaborate on what type. First, you’ll want to look at the dish’s origin. If you’re making Chinese food, soy sauce refers to light-colored soy sauce. If you’re making Japanese food, the generic term refers to the dark-colored type.
When in doubt, use light-colored Chinese soy sauce. It’s the most general-purpose option. However, many meat dishes do call for a darker sauce, which the recipe will specify.
Soy sauce doesn’t just offer a rich taste; it has a rich history, too. People look for the best soy sauce in the world and this article provides the answer to that. Fortunately, learning about the best soy sauce for each type of dish is easy.
Whether using it as a dip, marinade, baste, or applying it directly to your food, soy sauce adds a special flavor, unlike any other condiment. Enjoy your favorite soy sauce today!