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, dipping, and drizzling over foods. From mass-market brands to artisanal ones, there’s a soy sauce for everyone. Here are our favorites.
Yamaroku 4 Years Aged Kiku Bisiho Soy Sauce
Large quantity will last for awhile
Made via the kioke method
Clear expiration date on the bottle
On the pricier side
This soy sauce made from water, soybeans, wheat, and salt is fermented and aged for four years in 100-year-old wooden barrels via the traditional kioke method. When the cedar barrels typically used for this aging became expensive and harder to find, many companies stopped using this process, but not Yamaroku for its Kikubishio Soy Sauce. It brews its product on the warm and dry Shodo Island in Southern Japan.
This soy sauce is more expensive than your favorite grocery store version, but it’s not prohibitively expensive if you want to upgrade for a special occasion recipe. The cost evens out, too since it’s an 18-ounce bottle, you’ll have plenty to work with, even if you’re cooking for a large crowd or family. We love that the bottle has a big, clear “Best By” date underneath the nutritional info, so you know exactly how long it will be good for.
You won’t need a lot to give a dish some flavor, either—while it is characterized as mild, the fermentation process of the four ingredients in kioke barrels produces a deep, complex flavor that's smooth and mellow, without sharp notes that would overpower a dish. The brand recommends trying it as a dipping sauce for things like sushi and seafood and as an ingredient in fried rice, but also as a topping for vanilla ice cream. Sounds strange, right? But it is said to create a caramel flavor!
Price at time of publish: $42
Size: 18 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 910 milligrams | Aging: 4 years
"Soy sauce provides a lot of depth of flavor and umami richness derived from naturally occurring MSG." — Harrison Smith, General Manager at UNI
Best Dark Soy
Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce
Slightly thicker viscosity helps it cling to food better
May be overpowering
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 to get the flavor you’re looking for. It's aged longer than light soy sauce, and is also slightly thicker, so it clings to food a little better, making it perfect as a marinade for things like beef, 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. It is produced in Hong Kong by the Lee Kim Kee brand which has been in business for 135 years. We love its Dark Soy Sauces, but the brand makes over 200 other types of traditional sauces and condiments including teriyaki sauce, abalone sauce, chili oil, hoisin sauce, peanut sauce, rice vinegar, and more.
It is high in sodium, but you don’t need a lot to taste the sauce’s flavor, so unless you add a lot, there’s not anything to worry about.
Price at time of publish: $14
Size: 16.9 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 1180 milligrams | Aging: Not listed
Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce
Helpful alternative for those watching sodium intake
38 percent less sodium than the regular version
Less salt means less of an umami punch
Soy sauce can be 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.
This soy sauce has the umami flavor that you love, just with less sodium. It is made with the same ingredients as regular soy sauce, like water, soybeans, wheat, and lactic acid, and is brewed the same way, but has 590 milligrams of sodium per 1 tablespoon serving. The math shows that this is almost 40 percent less than other leading options. You’ll find it isn’t as deep in taste as dark or premium soy sauces, but this does allow you to use a bit more if need be.
You can get it in a 10-ounce bottle with a special cap to help with pouring if it suits your needs, and at a good price, too. However, if you have a soy sauce-loving house, this low-sodium soy sauce is available in a 2-quart jug and a gluten-free 2-quart jug.
Price at time of publish: $4
Size: 10 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 590 milligrams | Aging: Not listed
San-J Tamari Gluten-Free Soy Sauce
Flavor stays during cooking
Not the same taste as 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 gluten-free.
This tamari is made slightly differently than soy sauce and is fermented for six months. When comparing the taste, in general, tamari is a little milder than Chinese-style soy sauces, and this one is no exception. 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. It has a higher soy protein concentration so you won’t miss the wheat at all. This also means the flavor won’t evaporate during cooking, making it a great option for stir-frying or as part of a marinade for meat. However, it also is a great gluten-free flavor enhancer in things like coleslaw, soup, or as a dip for sushi or sashimi.
Price at time of publish: $5
Size: 10 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 980 milligrams | Aging: Not listed
Gold Mine Natural Food Co Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu
Naturally lower in sodium
Retains enzymes from fermentation
Unpasteurized sauce may not be suitable for all consumers
Shoyu is a Japanese-style soy sauce that's similar to Chinese-style ones you're probably familiar with. However, a few big differences exist. Shoyu is a bit sweeter, with a lower sodium content that makes it less pungent and possibly a better option for those who want to add a lot of flavor without saltiness. This makes it a wonderful option for dipping—anything from veggies to sushi to pot stickers. It also is the perfect soy sauce to use when making teriyaki sauce, a quick blend of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and some optional ingredients like ginger, garlic, and corn starch.
This one is aged for two Japanese 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. It is also organic, kosher, and has no added preservatives.
Price at time of publish: $13
Size: 10 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 720 milligrams | Aging: 2 years
"The first sushi was fermented fish and rice designed to store through the winter — this created lactic acid, which provided a tart, sour flavor profile to the fish. As sushi evolved, it started to be served with miso, and now the preferred method of soy sauce. So it’s layered in tradition, but also soy sauce helps provide richness and acidity to dishes." — Harrison Smith, General Manager at UNI
Lee Kum Kee Mushroom-Flavored Soy Sauce
Mushroom adds super-intense extra umami flavor
Creates a deep caramel color
Mushroom flavor may not be suitable for all dishes
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. Because of this you may not want to add it into dishes you simply don’t want an earthy, mushroom flavor in. (For example, if you want to try vanilla ice cream with soy sauce!)
This dark soy sauce is made in China and has more body than your usual grocery store sauce. It packs a lot of flavor, so you won't need to use as much. It contains regular soy sauce as well as ingredients for a deep caramel color and natural and artificial mushroom flavor. 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. About 1 or 2 tablespoons is all you need in most instances.
It will add a deep flavor to any dish, but it will also create a dark brown color, especially in things that contain white rice or lighter-colored broth or noodles.
Price at time of publish: $4
Size: 16.9 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 1050 milligrams | Aging: Not listed
Kikkoman Ponzu Sauce
Tangy citrus flavor
Not for certain recipes
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 thanks to the lemon and orange-like yuzu fruit juice that is often used.
Ponzu works especially well with delicate seafood flavors like shrimp and salmon. However, it pairs deliciously with tofu and chicken, too, where all of the different flavor notes can really shine. You can absolutely use it with pork or beef dishes, as well.
This one is from Kikkoman, a popular brand 20 generations strong that is known for its soy sauces. In addition to soy sauce and lemon juice, this ponzu contains sugar, vinegar, a bonito fish sauce, and salt. It may sound like it is full of sodium, but it has 480 milligrams per tablespoon serving—much less than regular soy sauce, making it a great option if you are watching your sodium intake.
Price at time of publish: $4
Size: 10 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 480 milligrams | Aging: Not listed
Best for Gifting
Mikuni Wild Harvest Haku Japanese Shoyu
Five flavor options
Size and price varieties
Made in Japan
Not available in a set
Other pantry staples like vinegar and olive oil are common gifts to give any seasoned or amateur chef, but soy sauce is a unique idea that is sure to please. There are five options of the Mikuni Wild Harvest Haku Japanese Shoyu soy sauce—all with different characteristics not found in typical soy sauces.
The Smoked Shoyu is cold-smoked to give it a deep ashy flavor. The Mizunara Whisky Barrel Aged Shoyu is aged for just over a year in Japanese whiskey barrels and the Sakura Cherry Blossom Shoyu is aged with cherry blossoms. The Matsutake Shoyu contains matsutake mushrooms and the Black Garlic Shoyu has a distinct caramel, umami flavor.
We don’t love that the five options can’t be purchased together in a complete set, but are sold individually instead. Nonetheless, the Matsutake Shoyu and the Black Garlic Shoyu come in large, 16.9-ounce dark black bottles with beautiful labeling. The other three come in smaller 12.6-ounce glass jars with similar labels but different pastel colors and cork tops. You really don’t even need to wrap these, as they stand out from other bottles and look extremely high-quality.
Price at time of publish: $28-$32
Size: 12.6 and 16.9 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: Not listed | Aging: Not listed
Best Soy Alternative
Coconut Secret Soy-Free Sauce
Gluten-free and organic
Lower in sodium
Does not taste "coconutty"
Slightly sweeter flavor than typical soy 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.
Price at time of publish: $6
Size: 8 ounces | Sodium Per Serving: 90 milligrams | Aging: Not listed
Fermented and aged in 100-year-old barrels, Yamaroku 4 Years Aged Kiku Bisiho Soy Sauce is an all-around good choice—perfect for everything from fried rice to marinades. Looking for a low-sodium option? Go with Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce.
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. It's a good idea to check the label.
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.
What's the difference between dark and light soy sauce?
Most soy sauces you may encounter are types of light soy sauce—takeout packets and the soy sauce at restaurants are usually this versatile type. It is thin and brown, may contain things like sugar and wheat flour, and takes a few months to make. Dark soy sauce is, of course, darker, but also thicker, sweeter, and less salty than light soy sauce. Swapping one for the other in recipes isn't recommended, as they do have vastly different flavors and textures.
How We Researched
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best soy sauces on the market, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, size, and price—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.
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.
The Spruce Eats writer Alyssa Langer is a registered dietitian and foodie, always curious about the next food or ingredient craze and hungry to learn and try more. Having worked in cookbook publishing, CPG label data, nutrition writing, and meal kits, her diverse background and varied interests provide a unique perspective that fosters clear, well-researched, and trustworthy reviews. She updated this story to include the best available soy sauces and the most accurate info.
Amanda McDonald is an editor at The Spruce Eats and has over seven years of experience researching, writing, and editing about all things food — from what new products are at the grocery store to chef-approved hacks that keep tricky leftovers fresh for days. She also updated this article to include the most up-to-date information.
- Harrison Smith, General Manager at UNI in Boston, Massachusetts
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United States Department of Agriculture. Labeling organic products.
Cleveland Clinic. Soy allergy.
Food and Drug Administration. How GMOs are regulated for food and plant safety in the United States.
FoodSafety.gov. FoodKepper App: Soy Sauce or Teriyaki Sauce.