Soy sauce is a cupboard staple for many of us, allowing us to dish up easy stir fries, dip egg rolls or even marinade meat. There is a lot more versatility to this ancient sauce though; its umami flavor is ideal in salad dressing or even to use as an everyday condiment in place of table salt.There have been health concerns with soy sauce, especially around its sodium content and some of the other compounds it contains. In this article we discuss some of the potential risks of high consumption of soy sauce, as well as some of its potential benefits. We also review some of the best soy sauce currently available to help you choose the best sauce for your cooking and your table requirements.
The US-brewed Kikkoman soy sauce (64 fl. oz) is our best pick as an all-purpose kosher soy sauce.
The Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce (16.9 fl. oz) is our preservative-free and non-GMO budget pick.
Table of Contents
- Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Soy Sauce
- 1. Kikkoman Soy Sauce
- 2. Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce
- 3. Kishibori Shoyu Imported Soy Sauce
- 4. San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce
- 5. ABC Kecap Manis Sweet Soy Sauce
- 6. Best of Thailand Lite Soy Sauce
- 7. BOURBON BARREL FOODS Bluegrass Soy Sauce
- 8. Yamasa Soy Sauce (34 fl. oz)
- 9. Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce
- 10. Pearl River Bridge Golden Label Superior Light Soy Sauce
- Things to Consider Before Buying Soy Sauce
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Soy Sauce
1. Kikkoman Soy Sauce
The naturally brewed Kikkoman soy sauce (64 fl. oz) is a Japanese soy sauce with medium taste and red-brown color. This is a kosher soy sauce which is brewed traditionally in the US from soybeans, wheat, water and salt. It does contain sodium benzoate as a preservative and like all soy sauces, it can taste quite ‘salty’ which can mean a very different taste if you are used to lower sodium soy sauce. You may also need to adjust your marinade times to reflect this.
2. Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce
Made from premium non-GMO soybeans and wheat flour, the Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce (16.9 fl. oz) is also free from preservatives. Made in China, this balanced dark sauce contains caramel which makes it ideal for caramelized dishes, although like most soy sauces it is suitable for a variety of cooking requirements.
3. Kishibori Shoyu Imported Soy Sauce
An artisan soy sauce, the Kishibori Shoyu imported soy sauce (12.2 fl. oz) is made on Shodoshima, an island in Japan’s inland sea. It has a full yet milder flavor than other soy sauces and does not contain any additives or preservatives. It is made with whole soybeans, sundried sea salt and wheat and ferments for one year in cider barrels which have been used for over a century. Some may find this sauce a little salty. It is recommended that this be consumed raw, although it can be used in cooking.
4. San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce
Made from 100% soybeans, the San-J Tamari gluten free soy sauce (64 fl. oz) does not contain any wheat. It is also non-GMO, certified kosher and vegan. This sauce does contain alcohol to act as a preservative and is brewed in the US. Some users prefer to dilute this sauce slightly with water before using and although gluten free, there is a very small chance of cross-contamination of up to 2 ppm of gluten, so celiacs may need to avoid. As a gluten free sauce it will have a different taste to regular soy sauce as it has been produced without the wheat.
5. ABC Kecap Manis Sweet Soy Sauce
Imported from Indonesia, the ABC Kecap Manis sweet soy sauce is in a 600 ml (20 fl. oz) bottle. Suitable for barbecue, fried rice, marinades and steaks, this sauce is sweetened with cane sugar and will offer a sweet umami flavor. Some buyers consider that this lacks flavor as it uses sugar rather than palm sugar and is not as similar to other Kecap Manis as it could be.
6. Best of Thailand Lite Soy Sauce
The low sodium Best of Thailand Lite Soy Sauce (Pack of 2) is in a 23.6 fl. oz squeezy bottle for easy use. Brewed in Asia, it is certified vegan and kosher. There is no MSG added and it is recommended that this sauce is best used for marinating meat or fish. Even though low sodium, so have reported that it does still taste quite salty and lacks some of a traditional soy sauce flavor.
7. BOURBON BARREL FOODS Bluegrass Soy Sauce
The 100 ml Bluegrass soy sauce (3.38 fl. oz) is a US microbrewed soy sauce made from non-GMO Kentucky grown soybeans, soft red winter wheat and spring water. The sauce is aged and fermented for one year in bourbon barrels to give a smoky flavor and light sweetness. Each bottle is hand numbered when bottled. This does have a higher sodium contents than other soy sauces and some buyers have found the saltiness overpowering the other flavors of the sauce.
8. Yamasa Soy Sauce (34 fl. oz)
The Yamasa soy sauce (34 fl. oz) has a red color and a rich flavor. This is a darker soy sauce which is brewed in Japan. This does not have any additives or sodium benzoate, instead it uses alcohol as a natural preservative.
9. Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce
The premium, Pearl River Bridge mushroom dark soy sauce (60 fl. oz) is ideal for egg rolls. This is fermented in open-air and sunlight to give color, consistency and flavor. As well as a dipping sauce, it is ideal for cooking, pouring over or as a marinade. The addition of mushroom gives a more distinctive and a stronger flavor than regular soy sauce which may not be to everyone’s taste. The container for this sauce may not be the best designed and you may struggle to pour from it and then re-seal after use.
10. Pearl River Bridge Golden Label Superior Light Soy Sauce
Made in China, Pearl River Bridge Golden Label light soy sauce (16.9 fl. oz) is an amber-gold colored sauce ideal for when minimal color is required. It is also suitable for dipping. It has a strong natural flavor and a salty palate, which some may find too salty. This is fermented in the open-air and under sunlight for its consistency, color and flavor.
Things to Consider Before Buying Soy Sauce
Made from fermented soybeans, salt and water, soy sauce has a umami flavor which makes it ideal for all types of seasoning. Umami or savory is one of the five basic tastes alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salt. We usually experience umami flavors through our taste receptors which respond to glutamates such as MSG. Along with soy sauce, other umami flavors include soups, broths, fish sauce, hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, yeast extracts, cheeses and meat extracts.
Soy sauce probably originated from a Chinese sauce called ‘chiang’, used in cooking over 3000 years ago although similar products were developed in Japan, Korea, Indonesia and other parts of southeast Asia. Soy comes from the Japanese word ‘shoyu’ for soy sauce – the soybean was actually named for the sauce rather than the other way around.
Soy sauce was used in cooking in China over a thousand years ago and is still a staple in Asian cuisine across the globe. Traders first brought soy sauce to Europe in the 1600s.
How Soy Sauce is Made
To make soy sauce, soybeans are softened by cooking and then cultures such as Aspergillus are added to the cooked beans. These begin the fermentation process by propagating mold. Roasted wheat may be added to the fermenting tank at this point, or even other grains. This mix is then added to salt brine and left to brew for a set amount of time.
As it is brewing or fermenting, the microorganisms in the mix breakdown the soybean proteins and sugars into over 300 compounds which give the characteristic flavors and color of soy sauce.
Once fermentation is complete - which can be up to one year - the mix is pressed to extract the liquid. The leftover solids are often used as animal feed. Most soy sauces are cooked/pasteurized at this point (some are left unpasteurized).
The more modern technique of making soy sauce uses acid-hydrolyzed vegetable proteins. This method only needs a couple of days manufacture and it produces soy sauce with a longer shelf life. The soybeans are heated to 176°F and mixed with hydrochloric acid to break down the soybean and wheat proteins.
Soy sauce made in this way is not as popular with traditionalists as they argue that it does not have the flavor depth that traditional soy sauce has.
There are many varieties of soy sauce available. The ingredients used, how made and where made all give different flavors. The most common soy sauces in the US are light, dark, low sodium and tamari.
Light soy sauce
Has a lighter red-brown color and is more opaque. Commonly used for dipping, marinating, dressing and stir fries, light soy sauce enhances the flavor of the dish. Light soy sauce can be very salty and have a strong flavor, but some people mix this with dark soy sauce to take the edge of the saltiness. If you are following a Chinese recipe, when it says soy sauce, it will always be light soy sauce unless it specifies otherwise.
Dark soy sauce
This is aged longer than light soy sauce and often contains caramel or molasses and some cornstarch. This gives it a darker color and thicker texture. Often sweeter and less salty tasting than light soy sauce it is popular in stews and dishes such as red-braised pork. Dark soy sauce should be used carefully though as it can dye other ingredients brown.
Low sodium soy sauce
These sauces tend to be made using the acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein method as this does not need as much salt. When soy sauce is produced traditionally, salt is important as an anti-microbial.
This is a Japanese soy sauce made only from soybeans. Because it does not contain any grains it can be more suitable for those on a low gluten diet. Tamari is a darker color and lacks the typical soy sauce aroma.
Cooking with Soy Sauce
If you are cooking a dryer dish, less soy sauce is needed, but if cooking a braised dish or one with lots of liquid, more can be used. It is usually better to add a small amount of soy sauce, taste and then add more if required.
If you want to glaze with soy sauce, an equal mix of it with maple syrup or honey brushed onto a roast joint and caramelized will give a savory flavor and glazed finish.
As well as a staple of Asian cuisine, soy sauce makes an ideal substitute for table salt in everyday cooking. It is also useful in marinades as its salty flavor penetrates food deeper than salt does. A suggested ratio is two parts soy sauce to one-part liquid.
It can also be used for salad dressing – try a 50/50 mix of soy sauce and oil with some lemon juice or vinegar. You can also add fresh spices or herbs.
High Salt Levels in Soy Sauce
In a tablespoon of traditional soy sauce, there is around 900 mg of sodium (salt), which supplies around 38% of the recommended daily allowance. When compared to the same quantity of table salt though, the sodium content of soy sauce is around six times lower – making it a healthier condiment choice. Higher salt intake is linked to high blood pressure and may also contribute to heart disease risk.
Sodium Benzoate as a Preservative
Sodium benzoate is made from sodium hydroxide and benzoic acid. Sodium benzoate is easily excreted from the body, but because it can convert to benzene, a known carcinogen, there are some concerns over its use in food.
The FDA classify the preservative sodium benzoate as Generally Recognized As Safe and it is internationally approved as a food additive. Limits are also set on how much can be added to foods. Sodium benzoate helps stop microbe growth in foods, preventing them from spoiling.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is a form of glutamic acid produced naturally when soy sauce is fermented. Glutamic acid is an amino acid which is thought to contribute to the umami flavor of food. MSG can be added to acid-hydrolyzed soy sauce to improve its flavor.
Although MSG was once thought to contribute to headaches, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that this is true, therefore at present, MSG is probably no cause for concern and is safe in moderate amounts.
Chloropropanols in Soy Sauce
Chloropropanols are a group of toxic compounds produced during the processing of foods such as soy sauce. 3-MCPD is one such chloropropanol, found in acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein used in chemically produced soy sauce. This compound is low level or even absent in traditional fermented soy sauce.
3-MCPD has been linked to tumors, fertility and kidney damage and the US has a limit of one mg of 3-MCPD per one kg (2.2 lb) of soy sauce to minimize exposure.
Amine Content in Soy Sauce
Soy sauce, alongside other foods such as cheeses which are aged, contain higher amounts of amines such as histamine and tyramine. These amines are natural compounds in animals and plants. When histamine is taken in large quantities it can cause headaches, sweating, blood pressure fluctuation, rashes and stomach problems.
These problems seem to arise in very few people, although some of us can be sensitive to histamine and if that is the case, then soy sauce is best avoided.
Tyramine intake should be restricted when monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are taken.
Benefits of Soy Sauce
There has been some positive research into the benefits of soy sauce, although these early studies have been carried out in a laboratory, or where human subjects have been used, the groups have been very small.
Research is continuing into whether soy sauce can promote digestion and better gut health. Soy sauce also contains a number of antioxidants known to have a positive effect in the body. There is also research around whether soy sauce may have potential in cancer therapy.
Storing Soy Sauce
Soy sauce has a long shelf life when unopened and stored in a cool dark place. Once open it should be refrigerated as this will keep the fermented flavors fresher. It has low risk of microbial growth due to its high salt content.
Like many other foods in our diet, soy sauce is one that when consumed in moderation should pose no, or very little risk to our health. When used as a condiment, soy sauce provides less sodium content than table salt and early research into the health benefits of soy sauce are also promising.
We hope that our in-depth look at soy sauce has answered some of your questions around what soy sauce contains and we also trust our reviews have helped you select the best soy sauce, whether light, dark, low sodium or tamari, to keep to hand in your kitchen cupboard.