Best Soy Sauces

The 10 Best Soy Sauces in 2019

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.

​Best Pick

Kikkoman Soy Sauce

The US-brewed Kikkoman soy sauce (64 fl. oz) is our best pick as an all-purpose kosher soy sauce.

​Budget Pick

Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce

The Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce (16.9 fl. oz) is our preservative-free and non-GMO budget pick.


1. ​Kikkoman Soy Sauce  

Highlighted Features

  • Large 64 fl. oz (0.4 gallon) plastic container of kosher soy sauce
  • Traditional brew of wheat, soybeans, water and salt
  • Red-brown color with a medium flavor
  • Brewed in the US

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.

​Pros

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    Large 64 fl. oz container
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    Traditionally brewed in the US
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    Kosher
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    Medium taste
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    Red-brown colored

​Cons

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    Can be liable to damage in shipping
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    Uses sodium benzoate as a preservative

2. Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce 

Highlighted Features

  • Chinese made 16.9 fl. oz soy sauce from non-GMO premium soybeans
  • Free from preservatives
  • A dark soy sauce with a balanced flavor and the addition of caramel

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.

​Pros

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    Dark soy sauce
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    Non-GMO
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    Balanced flavor
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    Preservative free

​Cons

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    Small risk of the bottle arriving damaged
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    May not be as dark as other dark soy sauces

3. Kishibori Shoyu Imported Soy Sauce

Highlighted Features

  • Imported from the Japanese island of Shodoshima
  • This bottle of 12.2 fl. oz soy sauce is free from any additives or preservatives
  • Made from wheat, whole soybeans and sundried sea salt, it ferments for a year in aged cider barrels
  • Producer recommends this is consumed raw rather than in cooking

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.

​Pros

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    Artisan soy sauce
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    Made in Japan
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    Preservative-free
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    Does not contain additives
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    Fermented in aged cider barrels

​Cons

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    ​Recommended to consume raw so may limit cooking options
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    ​As it is a glass bottle can be prone to shipping damage
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    ​Will need refrigerating and using soon after opening as preservative-free

4. San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce 

Highlighted Features

  • Soy sauce which is certified gluten free, vegan, kosher and non-GMO
  • Brewed in the US, this is available as a larger 64 fl. oz container
  • Made with 100% soybeans, salt and contains alcohol as a preservative

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.

​Pros

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    Gluten free soy sauce
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    Brewed in the US
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    Kosher
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    Vegan
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    ​Non-GMO

​Cons

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    Container may arrive with a damaged seal
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    May need to dilute with water before use
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    Different flavor to regular soy sauce
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    Although certified gluten free, there may still be slight gluten traces

5. ABC Kecap Manis Sweet Soy Sauce 

Highlighted Features

  • A 20 fl. oz bottle of Kecap Manis, or sweet soy sauce
  • Suitable for steaks, barbecue and marinades this sauce is sweetened with sugar
  • Imported from Indonesia

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.

​Pros

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    Sweet soy sauce
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    Made in Indonesia
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    Ideal for barbecue and steaks

​Cons

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    Made with sugar rather than palm sugar
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    May not taste the same as other Kecap Manis soy sauce
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    Contains sodium benzoate as a preservative

6. Best of Thailand Lite Soy Sauce  

Highlighted Features

  • Pack of two 23.6 fl. oz squeezy bottles of soy sauce
  • This Asian brewed soy sauce is low sodium, certified kosher and vegan
  • Free from MSG
  • Best used as a marinade for meat and fish

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.

​Pros

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    Low sodium soy sauce
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    Asian brewed
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    Kosher
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    Vegan
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    MSG-free

​Cons

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    Its preservative is sodium benzoate
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    Can lack some of the traditional soy sauce flavor
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    More suitable for use as a marinating soy sauce

7. BOURBON BARREL FOODS Bluegrass Soy Sauce

Highlighted Features

  • Made in a Kentucky microbrewery from local soybeans, wheat and water
  • Fermented and aged for a year in bourbon barrels
  • This is non-GMO and has a smoky flavor and mild sweetness from the bourbon barrels
  • Hand numbered glass bottles

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.

​Pros

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    Non-GMO
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    Microbrewed in the US
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    Kentucky raw ingredients
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    Aged in bourbon barrels

​Cons

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    Higher sodium content than comparable soy sauces
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    Risk of the bottle arriving damaged
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    Only a small 3.38 fl. oz bottle

8. Yamasa Soy Sauce (34 fl. oz) 

Highlighted Features

  • 34 fl. oz bottle of soy sauce brewed in Japan
  • This is a darker sauce with rich flavor and is red-colored
  • Free from sodium benzoate and any additives

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.

​Pros

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    Darker soy sauce
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    Brewed in Japan
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    Richer flavor
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    Red color
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    No additives

​Cons

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    Contains alcohol as natural preservative
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    May be too dark for some tastes

9. Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce 

Highlighted Features

  • 60 fl. oz container of mushroom dark soy sauce
  • Suitable for dipping, using in cooking or as a marinade
  • Open-air and sunlight fermented for flavor and color

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.

​Pros

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    Mushroom flavored
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    Premium dark soy sauce
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    Ideal for dipping and other uses
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    Open-air and sunlight fermentation

​Cons

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    Distinctive flavor which may not suit everyone
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    Container design is not the best for pouring and re-sealing

​10. Pearl River Bridge Golden Label Superior Light Soy Sauce 

Highlighted Features

  • An amber-colored light 16.9 fl. oz soy sauce which is ideal for dipping or for cooking
  • It has a salty and natural flavor and is best used when less color is needed
  • Fermented in sunlight and in the open-air in China for color, consistency and flavor

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.

​Pros

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    Light soy sauce
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    Ideal for dipping and cooking
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    Amber-gold color
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    Fermented in the open-air and under sun

​Cons

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    Flavor may be too salty
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    Some may consider it is a little too dark for a light soy

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.

  • Tamari

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.

Conclusion

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.

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