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We’re all familiar with soy sauce from the little packets that arrive with carry-out and the bottles that are always on the tables of Chinese restaurants. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the soy sauce story. Just like hot sauces or mustards, there are a wide variety of soy sauces with different flavors and different uses. They can be paired with specific dishes, or you can just pick your favorite one—or two or three—to keep on hand for cooking, for dipping, and for drizzling over foods. From mass-market brands to artisanal, there’s a soy sauce for everyone.
Here, the best soy sauces on the market.
Best Overall: Yamaroku 4 Years Aged Kiku Bisiho Soy Sauce
This soy sauce is fermented and aged in 100-year-old barrels to produce a rich, complex flavor that's smooth and mellow, without sharp notes that would overpower a dish. It's aged for four years, and while it’s more expensive than your favorite grocery store version, it’s not prohibitively expensive if you want to upgrade for a special occasion recipe.
Because it’s an 18-ounce bottle, you’ll have plenty to work with, even if you’re cooking for a large crowd or family.
Best Dark Soy: Lee Kum Kee Dark Soy Sauce
Dark soy sauce is intense in both color and flavor—think of the difference between white and brown sugar—so you won’t need as much of this soy sauce to get the flavor you’re looking for. It's also slightly thicker than your typical soy sauce, so it clings to food a little better, making it perfect as a drizzle over vegetables or as an ingredient in a dipping sauce. This one comes in a 16.9-ounce bottle, so you’ll have plenty to use for all your favorite recipes.
Best Low-Sodium: Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is so delicious, but it’s easy to get carried away using it. Unfortunately, it's also incredibly salty. If you need to watch how much sodium you’re consuming, regular soy sauce might be off the table. The good news is that this lower-sodium version is available from a popular grocery store brand. The sauce has the umami flavor that you love, just with less sodium. You can get it in a 10-ounce bottle to see if it suits your needs without committing to a huge bottle.
Best Tamari: San-J Tamari Gluten-Free Soy Sauce
Tamari is a type of Japanese soy sauce that's made with little to no wheat. This pick falls under the "no wheat" category, which means it's safe to eat for people on a gluten-free diet.
Some reviewers mentioned that this tamari has less of the salty flavor that they expect from soy sauce, and in general tamari is a little milder than Chinese-style soy sauces. It also tends to be a little thicker, making it perfect as a dipping sauce. This San-J pick comes in a 10-ounce bottle for you to try in stirfry, coleslaw, or even as part of a marinade for meat.
Best Mushroom-Flavored: Lee Kum Kee Mushroom-Flavored Soy Sauce
While mushroom flavored soy sauce might seem like a specialty product, it's actually super versatile. You probably won't be able to pick out a specific mushroom flavor when you taste it, but you will get a healthy dose of umami—that rich, savoriness that's considered the fifth flavor that we taste.
This dark soy sauce has more body than your usual grocery store sauce—and it packs a lot of flavor, so you won't need to use as much. It comes in a 16.9-ounce bottle that provides plenty of opportunities to try it in any recipe you would use an unflavored soy sauce.
Best Shoyu: Gold Mine Natural Food Co Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu
Shoyu is another Japanese-style soy sauce that's similar to Chinese-style ones you're probably familiar with. This one is aged for two summers in cedar kegs, which adds to the complex flavor. It's also unpasteurized, so it retains the enzymes from fermentation, and it is naturally lower in sodium since the process used to make it involves less salt. This soy sauce is also organic, kosher, and has no added preservatives.
Best Soy Alternative: COCONUT SECRET Soy-Free Sauce
Soy is a common allergen, which means a lot of people can’t use soy sauce in recipes. Made from coconut tree sap, coconut aminos add the same savory, salty, rich flavor that you’d get from soy sauce. This one is totally organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher, vegan, and free of MSG. It’s also much lower in sodium than typical soy sauce, so it's a good option if you're watching your sodium intake.
Most users find that coconut aminos are very similar to soy sauce, although some noted that this sauce tastes slightly sweeter, but not so much that it was off-putting. This pick comes in an 8-ounce bottle, so it’s enough to try, but not a huge commitment if you aren’t sure you’ll love it.
Best Ponzu: Kikkoman Ponzu Sauce
Ponzu is a citrus-flavored soy sauce that's used in dressings, as a dipping sauce, and as a marinade. It adds a tangy, acidic element to soy sauce and can really brighten up a dish. Ponzu works especially well with delicate flavors like seafood, tofu, and chicken where all of the different flavor notes can really shine, but you can absolutely use it with pork or beef dishes, as well.
What to Look for in Soy Sauce
Soy sauce, like barbecue sauce, comes in a wide range of styles. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sample the soy sauce at the local market, paying attention to the type of soy sauce will help you choose the one you like. Typical soy sauces are made in either Japan or China, although some are made in other countries, including the United States. Styles range from light to dark, with plenty of variations. The good news is that soy sauce is an inexpensive condiment (until you move on to the artisan styles) so it’s simple to pick up a few different bottles at the grocery store to hone in on the ones you like the best.
Like wine or fine liquors, soy sauce may be aged. Longer aging creates deeper more complex flavors, but also adds to the cost. When the soy sauce will be mixed with other ingredients, used in a small quantity, or used primarily for the salty flavor, just about any sauce will suffice, whether it has been aged or not. If the soy sauce will be used as a dipping sauce or its flavor is a major part of the recipe, it might be worth splurging on a sauce that was aged longer. Traditional soy sauces are aged for 5-8 months and are suitable for most uses, but for a real splurge, there are a number of soy sauces that are aged for up to 4 years.
Soy sauce is very salty, but there are some that are lower in sodium or that have a much richer flavor so less can be used. If someone is monitoring their salt intake, it’s important to check the sodium content.
Does soy sauce go bad?
Eventually, it might. While it’s unlikely, it could develop mold. The good news is that an unopened bottle of soy sauce is good for 2-3 years, and possibly longer. Most opened bottles of soy sauce are safe for at least a year thanks to the high salt content. However, the flavor may change over time, so if the soy sauce doesn’t seem as good as it used to be, it may be time to splurge on a fresh bottle.
Does soy sauce need to be refrigerated?
Soy sauce is perfectly happy to hang out in a dark, cool cabinet. However, once the bottle is open, it’s fine to stash it in the fridge, particularly if it takes you longer than a year to finish the bottle.
How is soy sauce made?
While the exact ingredients and process differ depending on who is making it, traditional soy sauce is made from soybeans, wheat, and a fermenting agent—typically a mold—along with salt and water. The sauce is aged for 5-8 months, although some artisan sauces are aged much longer. There are also very inexpensive soy sauces that are made using a chemical process, while others are fermented for just three weeks instead of the more traditional several months.
What is a good substitute for soy sauce?
Depending on the role of soy sauce, there are a number of substitutes. If the goal is the salty flavor, plain salt can be added. Coconut aminos, miso paste, or even fish sauce can add umami flavor. In some cases where a tangy flavor is a plus, Chinese black vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or Worcestershire sauce may also work well.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a writer and product tester for The Spruce Eats, specializing in product reviews and recipes. She is constantly experimenting in the kitchen and knows what to look for in a sauce.