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Soy sauce, even in its most basic form, is a multi-layered process that has both evolved and stayed within its traditional production roots. Typically, making soy sauce starts with, you guessed it –– soybeans –– that are first soaked, cooked, then cultivated with wheat and incubated, fermented, and finally, squeezed, separating the soybean mash from the raw soy sauce.
Even though soy sauce can be commonly found in western cooking today, the numerous types of soy sauce vary from region to cooking methods. According to The Woks of Life, the most common soy sauces originate from China and Japan, even though there are some common Southeast Asian brands available at Asain markets. The most commonly used Chinese soy sauces are the light, a general purpose soy sauce, and dark, primarily used for cooking; double black, and seasoned soy sauce are also popular varieties.
Japanese styles also include light and dark soy sauces, but also include tamari, which is typically made without wheat. Thai and Indonesian soy sauces are on the sweeter side, and new substitutes like gluten-free, vegan, and low-sodium soy sauces are creating more options to enhance any style of cooking. Really, there is no “best soy sauce,” since every soy sauce has different uses for different dishes and regional cuisines. However, not every soy sauce is created equally, and some are worth the sodium more than others.
It’s hard to call this a soy sauce when it barely meets the minimum requirements, aside from “soy sauce” being on the label. Unlike most soy sauces, La Choy is made with hydrolyzed soy protein, chemically made “soy” that isn’t naturally brewed or fermented in the traditional manner, corn syrup, and caramel color. If that isn’t scary enough, a Reddit comment in a thread about the best soy sauce brands talked about how they never buy La Choy in fear that their Japanese aunt may haunt them –– say no more.
Many people can get on the La Choy-hating bandwagon. According to a Mashed poll picking the worst brand of soy sauce, over 29% picked La Choy as the worst against brands like Kimlan, Kikkoman, and Lee Kum Kee. While some Amazon reviews recount La Choy as a nostalgic taste of childhood cooking, most were extremely negative, recounting its saltiness, and unappealing taste in comparison to other soy sauces, with one person comparing it to “Roundup.” It might be best just to pass this one up at the grocery store.
Target is one of the most beloved stores that we can’t help but give all our money to (it’s like hypnosis). Its private brand, Market Pantry, offers an array of bare-bones essentials, just like the soy sauce, and people love that about them. In a Mashed survey asking what was the best grocery private label brand, almost 16% of voters picked Target’s Market Pantry. Target offers a regular soy sauce and a low-sodium option, which is not the variety seen from some of the other brands, but it’s good if you are in a pinch and already have $200 worth of who-knows-what in your cart.
Overall, average reviews on Target’s website gave the soy sauce an average 2.8 out of five on taste, with many people saying that it lacked complexity and left their fridge smelling awful. It did get an overall four out of five for value, since it was able to get the job done –– no more, no less. However, at less than $2 for 15 ounces, it’s one of the most affordable options listed.
Trader Joe’s private brand is so iconic, that it doesn’t even need a different name. Consequently, the store brand has been ranked in the top percent –– according to a 2015 Consumer Reports, out of 68 chain stores, Trader Joe’s was the overall winner, followed by stores like Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Harris Teeter. In a separate 2019 Consumer Report, they found that Trader Joe’s was the only national chain among the top-rated list, thanks to its lower private brand prices and overall funky vibe.
It is not a heavy hitter on Amazon, with only 13 reviews and an average of 4.6 out of five stars. Overall, people loved how they could get the product from anywhere, especially if you can’t make the day trip to Trader Joe’s. Another review said Trader Joe’s has the best, natural Japanese- style soy sauce that is low in sodium while still having lots of flavor. Even if it is not the most groundbreaking or intense, it is versatile, cheap, and comes in a three-pack –– triple threat.
A popular mass-market Japanese soy sauce brand, Yamasa is a great general purpose soy sauce for cooking, seasoning, and marinating. When compared to brands like Kikkoman, Yamasa tends to be less salty and more complex in flavor (via Serious Eats). In an Epicurious interview with Chef Niki Nakayama, Nakayama says that Yamasa is their go-to general soy sauce for seasoning and cooking, citing that the type of soy sauce used depends on the dish.
While it is a widely available soy sauce that can have a wide variety of uses, Yamasa is considered a blended product; according to MalaFood, a blended soy sauce is mixed with additives, like molasses, that modify the overall taste and texture, as opposed to a brewed soy sauce, which uses only soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. In a Metro Mag soy sauce taste test, Yamasa was considered one-note with a crisp, sharp flavor, and drinking it straight resembled the same mouth-feel akin to wine. Despite its lack of pizzaz, Yamasa makes for a solid choice for traditional Japanese cooking.
When most people think of soy sauce, they think of the traditional Chinese or Japanese brands like Kikkoman. However, brands like Mother’s Best, offer a unique flavor profile that rivals most grocery store brands. Made in the Philippines, Mother’s Best creates a wide variety of sauces and marinades, such as its toyomansi soy sauce, original soy sauce, and others like its apple and banana ketchup.
Sauces, like the toyomansi soy sauce, are made with calamansi, a green citrus fruit resembling a lime, that is well-known and loved in Filipino cuisine. Its strong citrus flavor is able to lighten, and enhance the rich flavors of dishes, creating a more balanced dish and more standout flavor profile. In a taste test from Pepper reviewing soy sauces like Datu Puti and Silver Swan, they deemed Mother’s Best, well, the best, since the strong citrus was able to add freshness and help balance the saltiness. However, even though its strong citrus flavor does not make it very versatile to pair with other dishes, it’s superior for enhancing Filipino cuisine.
Whole Foods’ private brand, 365, is synonymous with the grocer’s store brand –– sleek, health-conscious, and slightly more affordable than some of its other options. In a Mashed survey of the best private grocery store brands, Whole Foods was the second most popular behind Walmart, with 22.65 % of the votes.
The Japanese-style shoyu soy sauce is offered in both a regular and low-sodium soy sauce option. It’s also considered one of Amazon’s more popular and highly rated soy sauces, with over 1,400 reviews and an average of 4.6 out of five stars. 76% of the reviews gave it five stars, saying that it was a great bang for your buck, even though one person still liked the traditional Kikkoman better. One review said that it had a particularly fishy taste, and that it also tasted watered-down and salt-heavy. At $3.99 for 20 ounces, it still makes for an affordable option, while also being dairy-free, vegan, kosher, low sugar, and keto-friendly.
One of Taiwan’s largest soy sauce makers, Kimlan, is a great example of a Chinese light soy sauce. According to a Reddit thread about the best soy sauce brands, one comment claims that Kimlan is most often used in Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, giving it that nostalgic carryout taste. However, one comment said that their sauce had a slight “licorice extract” flavor, and didn’t advise purchasing if that wasn’t your thing. A balance of saltiness and sweet, it makes for a good and cheap soy sauce for cooking. The company even creates a wide variety of specialty products, specifically one soy sauce made from a tropical plant called Job’s tears, which undergoes nine months of fermentation to develop a more mellow taste.
Author of “Chinese Soul Food,” Hsiao-Ching Chou, told Epicurious that her all-purpose soy sauce was from the brand, Kimlan, since it is neutral and balanced without too much sweetness. Its short ingredient list and no added preservatives makes for a neutral, no-frills added soy sauce to enhance any stir fry or rice dish.
Named the heart of Korean cuisine, Sempio has been Korea’s number one soy sauce brand for over 70 years, with 61% of Korea’s total market share in the soy sauce industry belonging to Sempio. Sempio has a range of soy sauces, including a gluten-free option, naturally brewed soy sauce, and an organic option. Reddit threads about the best soy sauce brands highlight Sempio as a favorite ranked alongside other popular brands like Pearl Bridge and Kikkoman.
In a Korean soy sauce Youtube video, the Youtube channel, dearsaturdays, reviewed a number of Sempio soy sauces, starting with their “made for soup” soy sauce. The taster started by talking about the balanced smell, citing notes of alcohol and yeast. Overall, it tasted balanced, and the umami flavor was paired well with the light sweetness and well-rounded saltiness. However, not all of the Sempio soy sauces were winners, like the Sempio Chosun Naturally Brewed, which she said was intensely salty and almost undrinkable.
Lee Kum Kee, according to one Reddit thread about soy sauce, tastes the “most like high quality Chinese take-out,” creating that authentic cooking experience at home. People continuously hyped it up on Reddit, calling it their go-to for a good Chinese-style soy sauce with great options and styles to choose from. On Lee Kum Kee’s website, the brand offers dozens of soy sauce options for different types of dishes, such as soy sauce for sushi, for Hainanese chicken, seasoned soy sauce for dumplings and seafood, even organic and its “panda brand” soy sauces.
It is also one of the most reviewed and most popular soy sauce on Amazon, underneath BetterBody Organic Coconut Aminos, with over 4,000 reviews with a 4.7 out of five rating. Taste of Home also praised the soy sauce brand as the best soy sauce option for stir-frys in their taste test, explaining that it had nice citrus and acidic notes that balanced out with the salt and umami flavors. One Reddit comment, however, said that Lee Kum Kee didn’t have a lot of flavor or sweetness, but its cheap price and versatility make it a good soy sauce for marinating meat, stir fry dishes, and general seasoning.
It’s hard not to include soy sauce substitutes in this list, especially when they are just as good, if not better, than some of the alternatives. According to The Spruce Eats, Bragg Liquid Aminos is a “seasoning sauce” made from soybeans that tastes more like tamari than soy sauce. What makes it different from conventional soy sauces is that it is naturally gluten-free, since most soy sauces contain wheat or barley. It also does not contain any GMOs, additives, alcohols, or preservatives, and is a good vegan soy sauce option.
Even though it is not recommended for a low-sodium diet, Bragg liquid aminos have less sodium per serving than other soy sauce brands. Compared to Kikkoman, Bragg liquid aminos has about 30 milligrams less salt, at a whopping 930 milligrams per tablespoon –– if you are looking for a lower-sodium alternative, coconut aminos have less sodium, around 130 milligrams per teaspoon. Despite being more expensive than typical soy sauce brands, its clean “bragg lifestyle” makes for a better version of soy sauce substitutes (looking at you, La Choy).
Established in 1958, Pearl River Bridge, according to the brand’s website, was established as the “first and leading brand of soy sauce exporter in China.” Its name lives up to its reputation, with dozens of soy sauce options to choose from for different cuisines, such as mushroom flavored, gluten-free, seasoned, and superior soy sauce. Interestingly, this full-flavor soy sauce follows traditional Chinese fermentation techniques that date back 3,000 years that involve more than 100 days of natural sunshine fermentation.
What really stood out about this brand was the brand loyalty people shared for it. In a Reddit thread about best soy sauces, many people echoed that Pearl River Bridge was the superior Chinese light soy sauce, holding to as high of standard as the Japanese brand, Kikkoman. One person talked about how they preferred it over Sempio when looking for a light or dark soy sauce. In another Reddit thread about best soy sauce brands, one comment talked about how it was cheaper than other brands like Kikkoman, but still a must-have for Chinese cooking. Even though 18% of a Mashed survey voted this the worst soy sauce brand, Reddit never lies, right?
Operating since 1873, Shoda Shoyu is one of the largest manufacturers of soy sauce in Japan. Wrapped in beautiful, calligraphy-drawn paper, it’s like unwrapping a Christmas present all year round. However, its presentation does not outshine its flavor; in an Epicurious interview, Washington D.C chef, Katsuya Fukushima, explains how he uses a combination of sauces, such as Shoda as well as Yamasa and Higashimaru brands, at different times while cooking one dish.
Shoda soy sauce is made without additives — only soybeans, wheat, and water –– achieving a remarkably balanced and simple soy sauce. In a New York Magazine Strategist article, author Natalie Toren, chronicles falling in love with Shoda’s koikuchi soy sauce at Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Toren described it as nothing she has ever tasted before, “as if someone snuck a twist of yuzu into the bottle,” and “not-too-funky” despite being fermented for several weeks. This incredibly balanced soy sauce trumped favorites like Kikkoman (too salty) and Kishibori ( too funky); despite the steeper price of $21 a bottle, it’s a worthwhile splurge for the finer things in life.
Referred to as “the champagne of soy sauce,” Yamaki Jozo is the epitome of traditional Japanese soy sauce making. It specifically sources the sauce’s water from a natural spring called, Kamiizumi-sui or God Spring Water, and ages the soy mash, what the owners call their “soul,” in traditional cedar barrels. Since 1902, Yamaki Jozo has been operated and owned by the same family for five generations, and the soy sauce carries such a high reputation that the Emperor of Japan is presented with a bottle of it each year.
One of the ingredients listed isn’t typically seen on most soy sauce labels, but is a vital part of the soy sauce-making process. Koji, like a yeast starter when making bread, starts the fermentation process when added to a base like soybeans or wheat. Made with only the most natural and Japanese-grown ingredients, Yamaki Jozo is a light and elegant soy sauce that lends itself to any style of Korean cooking.
The only microbrewery of soy sauce in the United States, Bourbon Barrel Foods makes a unique bourbon-barrel bluegrass soy sauce that rivals your traditional soy sauce brands. Using only Kentucky-grown ingredients –– soybeans, red winter wheat, and limestone-washed spring water –– it is fermented and aged in bourbon barrels to give it notes of “charcoal, oak, spice” and, naturally, bourbon.
In an article published in Kitchn, author Dana McMahan said that she loved this soy sauce so much, she carried it in her purse, using it instead of her restaurant’s go-to, Kikkoman. Instead of intense saltiness, it almost resembles the smoothness of bourbon, and is so good, you can take shots of it like bourbon.
In one review in the Whiskey Reviewer, Bluegrass soy sauce opens up a new world of soy sauce potential, one that is potent and salty, but also sweet and balanced with a light char and smokiness. It paired well with sushi, in a steak marinade and vegetable marinade, or as a flavorful side. The only downside is the price at $8.99 for 100 milliliters –– but if you can adjust for it in your grocery budget, it’s worth the treat.
When people think of a popular brand of soy sauce, or the brand hiding in the back of their fridge, chances are they are going to think of Kikkoman. It is an all-around mass produced soy sauce that can be found at any grocery store or sushi restaurant that’s versatile enough for dipping and cooking. In a Mashed article picking the best soy sauce brand, 57% of survey respondents said Kikkoman was their preferred brand, and that Kikkoman was the number one soy sauce in the United States based on 2020-2021 sales data.
Kikkoman has consistently rated high in articles and kitchen taste tests where it is praised for its accessibility and balanced flavor of saltiness and sweetness. The brand also offers a variety of soy sauces such as gluten-free regular and gluten-free sweet, soy sauce with lime, and double fermented shoyu, not to mention this adorable Hello Kitty soy sauce. In one Reddit thread, one comment illustrates that “Kikkoman is to soy sauce in Japan as Heinz is to ketchup in America,” which perfectly describes how essential it has become to Japanese and Western cuisine.
If you are wondering if this soy sauce is worth the $15 price tag, the answer is yes, and yes. Kishibori, a Japanese-style soy sauce, was raved about by Epicurious for being an artisanal soy sauce that stands above the mass-market brands. It uses roasted wheat and is fermented for a year in 100-year-old cider barrels to bring out these complex, rich, and smooth umami flavors. Sam Mason in a Epicurious interview said Kishibori has been a longtime pick for making ice cream, saying that the high-end soy sauce is less like a salt bomb, and is more earthy and mildy funky with natural sweetness.
However, with a soy sauce like this, its flavor profile and subtleness would be lost once cooked, according to Serious Eats, and is suited for raw applications like dipping sauces, rather than cooking purposes like your traditional Kikkoman or Yamasa. With over 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, it makes for a near-perfect addition to nightly sushi and sashimi nights.