MICHIKO is a professional seasoning sommelier and is the Executive Director of the Seasoning Sommelier Association of Japan, where she actively hosts lectures and corporate seminars. In addition to being a seasoning sommelier, she's also a vegetable sommelier, a curry meister, and a nutritional and environmental education fragrance expert.
mybest US' editing team consists of experienced members who have backgrounds in writing, editing, translation, and more. We are dedicated to researching what makes a product or service the best to users in the US in order to create top-quality articles. From skincare, to kitchen appliances, and to DIY supplies, our mission is to find the best ones for you.
The expert oversees the Buying Guide only, and does not determine the products and services featured.
The products and services listed are ranked independently by the editorial team based on 6 Best Japanese Soy Sauces (as of 11-04-2022).
Table of Contents
Generally speaking, soy sauce is made from soybeans, wheat, salt brine, and alcohol, which is used as a preservative. A seed mold is added to the soybean and wheat mixture and allowed to mature, resulting in koji, similar to malt. The salt brine is added in later, completing the fermentation process.
The seed mold is not usually included in the ingredients list, but it’s essential to the art of soy sauce brewing, and most brands will have a proprietary mold. Temperature and humidity also influence how soy sauce turns out, so most factories will have strict controls in place.
There are two main ways soy sauce is brewed; one is the traditional honjozo method and the other is the kongo or mixed method. The kongo method adds liquid amino acids and sweeteners to the soy sauce to bring out more umami, and you should try it if you like deep, complex flavors. On the other hand, stick with honjozo if you enjoy the straightforward taste of classic soy sauce.
While most of us just have the one bottle of Kikkoman that we use for everything when cooking Asian cuisine, did you know that some soy sauces pair better with certain dishes?
Similar to how you'd pair wine with specific dishes, soy sauce is best enjoyed when paired with the appropriate dishes. There are all kinds of soy sauces that match different dishes, including not just sashimi, tofu, and other typical Japanese dishes, but also some combinations that might surprise you, like toast and ice cream!
Note that throughout this article, we'll be using words like umami and dashi to explain certain things. If you're unfamiliar with these terms, here's a brief primer.
We’ll get into how we tested and compared all the bottles of soy sauce, but before that, we want to introduce four things you should look out for when picking out a Japanese soy sauce.
Most soy sauces taste pretty good, both when you cook them and when you use them as a dip or sauce. But if you take time to consider how and in what dishes you usually use soy sauce and then choose a sauce that’s especially suited to that purpose, you’ll likely discover new sides to the seasoning you’d never even imagined.
For example, soy sauce that is sweet and dark in color will not only deepen the flavor of braised and stewed foods, but also give them a beautiful glaze. Savory and fragrant soy sauce enhances the natural flavors of grilled foods. White or light soy sauces will add saltiness to your food without disrupting the flavors of your ingredients, making them perfect for milder dishes.
In our tests, we found that the standard dark Kikkoman soy sauce works for most situations, but if you want to find the best soy sauce to pair with your food, remember the following six types.
Dark soy sauce has a good balance of salinity and sweetness and is the most common type of soy sauce available in Japan.
Dark soy sauces pair well with most types of food, so if you don't know what to get, this is always a good place to start.
As the name implies, sweet soy sauce is sweeter than it is salty. Although it pairs well with all kinds of foods, similar to dark soy sauce, since this soy sauce is already sweet, you won't need to add any extra sugar to your dish to create authentic Japanese flavors.
In our tests, we found that sweet soy sauce pairs well with simmered dishes. You can make a sweet and salty simmered dish with just the bottle of sweet soy sauce. Additionally, you can brush some sweet soy sauce onto onigiri rice balls and grill them to make a sweet and salty snack.
Sweet soy sauce used to be exclusive to the Kyushu and Hokuriku regions but is now readily available in the Kanto region.
Additionally, sweet soy sauce that used to be sold in the Kanto region wasn't very sweet, but in recent years, they've been replaced by sweeter, more authentic sweet soy sauces.
Double-brewed and tamari soy sauce have strong flavors and can suppress the fishy smell found in seafood. These soy sauces also pair excellently with marbled steaks like wagyu, adding extra flavors. They also pair surprisingly well with ice cream and toast, drawing out rich flavors.
In our tests, we found that these soy sauces were particularly praised for their aromas. They have a strong, salty, and satisfying smell, and are great for those who really want to enjoy the flavor of the soy sauce itself.
Double-brewed and tamari soy sauce have strong umami, or savoriness, and can remove the fishy smell from seafood. They're thicker in consistency, making them easier to use with raw fish, and are sometimes called sashimi soy sauce.
The umami found in these soy sauces pair well with the umami found in fish, and complement each other well. If you like sashimi, consider these soy sauces.
Light and white soy sauces have a sharp saltiness and a refreshing aftertaste. These soy sauces don't get in the way of the flavors of your ingredients, while still adding the fragrance of soy sauce.
Since these soy sauces have a very pale color, they can add flavor to your foods without changing the color too much.
If you're trying to reduce your sodium intake, consider low-sodium soy sauce. Low-sodium soy sauces are required to only have nine grams of sodium or less for every 100 grams of soy sauce, or 0.3 ounces of salt or less in 3.5 ounces of soy sauce, which is half of the standard amount of salt found in normal soy sauce.
However, to make up for the loss in umami, some low-sodium soy sauces will mix in preservatives and other chemical additives, so if you’re worried (and can read Japanese), scan the ingredients list for anything fishy.
Additionally, if you're looking for organic soy sauce, consider a soy sauce that uses soybeans that have been certified organic by the Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS). These products will have the Organic JAS stamp on the label, making it easy to recognize.
There are many ways to reduce the amount of sodium in soy sauce, but major manufacturers will usually remove the salt from regular soy sauce while leaving the flavors and umami. If you're looking for a flavorful low sodium soy sauce, I recommend trying one from a major brand like Kikkoman first.
Major Japanese soy sauce manufacturers like Kikkoman have recently shifted their main products to bottles which form an airtight seal each time you close them. While they aren't available in large sizes, they excel at keeping soy sauce fresh and can be used to pour soy sauce directly from the bottle, making them great for those who live alone or don't use soy sauce very frequently.
For the freshest soy sauce flavor, consider soy sauces that come in a glass bottle. Compared to plastic bottles or cartons, soy sauce in glass bottles won't absorb any smells and is less prone to oxidizing. However, soy sauce in large bottles needs to be transferred to a smaller soy sauce bottle or dispenser before it's used.
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Light Soy Sauce
Slightly Sweet and Easy to Use
Inoue Traditional Soy Sauce
Strong and Rich Flavor, Best Served with Tofu
Tokusen Marudaizu Soy Sauce
A Standard, Versatile Soy Sauce
Tokusen Umakuchi Soy Sauce
Sweet and Salty Flavor Great With Simmered Dishes
Cho Tokusen Sashimi Tame Bottle
Fragrant Soy Sauce That Pairs Well With Sashimi
Organic Tamari Soy Sauce
Organic Soy Sauce Made From Fragrant Aged Soybeans
Kaneyo Shoyu's Light Soy Sauce is a versatile soy sauce made traditionally in the Noto Peninsula region of Ishikawa Prefecture.
This soy sauce has a slightly sweet, appetizing fragrance. When tasted, we noticed its sharp saltiness immediately followed by sweetness. However, it's worth noting that this sweetness wasn't as rich as sweet soy sauces and was fairly easy to use.
This soy sauce highlighted the flavors of the tofu when paired. It also complemented our simmered radish well, enhancing the sweetness of the root vegetable.
Inoue Traditional Soy Sauce from Inoue Shoyu is a dark soy sauce that offers a mild and refreshing taste and is known for its rich aroma and flavor.
It's gentle on the palate, but has a salty taste that is typical of soy sauce and the flavor lingers in the mouth, and also had a fragrant, aged scent.
It paired well with tuna sashimi as well as simmered daikon radish, but it was exceptional with tofu, where the mild taste of soy sauce enhanced the flavor and aroma of the dish.
Some testers commented that it has the taste of old-fashioned dark soy sauce, which is ideal for those who want to enjoy a straightforward, standard soy sauce or for those who prefer a soy sauce with rich flavors.
Kikkoman's Tokusen Marudaizu Soy Sauce uses 100% whole soybeans and is aged slowly during the brewing process to fully extract the umami of the soybeans.
The soy sauce has the gentle taste of whole soybeans and a mild saltiness. This is a standard soy sauce that has no lingering aftertaste with a slightly fermented fragrance.
It paired excellently with tofu but, but where it really shone was with sashimi, where it brought out a unique, strong flavor while eliminating the smell of the raw fish.
This versatile soy sauce can be used for many kinds of dishes and is a must-have for every household.
Nibishi Shoyu's Tokusen Umakuchi Soy Sauce is a dark soy sauce that has noticeable umami and sweetness. This soy sauce is popular with those from Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, where sweeter soy sauces are more popular.
At first, we tasted the saltiness and umami, but what followed was a sweet taste that slowly spread in our mouths. Its fragrance was also sweet and savory, whetting our appetites.
It was great with tuna sashimi and simmered daikon radish, with one tester commenting that the simmered dish soaked up the flavor so well and brought out the sweetness of the radish with this one seasoning so you don't really need to add sugar to the dish with this soy sauce.
The soy sauce is still relatively light and adds just the right amount of sweetness without being too much, making it a great option for those who want a slightly sweet soy sauce.
Ichibiki's Cho Tokusen Sashimi Tame Bottle is a soy sauce with intense, rich flavors and deep umami. Not only does this pair with sashimi, but it also works well as a teriyaki sauce base.
When we poured the soy sauce into a small plate, we found that this soy sauce was powerfully fragrant. The flavor of the soy sauce was equally strong, showing a deep and rich saltiness and umami.
When tested with our tuna sashimi, we found that the strong flavors of the soy sauce removed the fishiness of the tuna without being overpowering, allowing the umami of the tuna to come through. We recommend this soy sauce for raw fish dishes.
Marumata Shoten's Organic Tamari Soy Sauce is a gluten-free tamari soy sauce made exclusively from soybeans and salt.
We liked the fragrance of aged soybeans common to tamari soy sauces. As for its taste, this soy sauce had a full-bodied saltiness and mellow flavors, with no unwanted lingering aftertastes.
This soy sauce paired with tuna sashimi, tofu, and simmered radish well, but the standout from the three was the tuna sashimi. This soy sauce eliminated any fishiness from the tuna and added extra umami. If you're looking to fully maximize a dish that heavily relies on soy sauce, give this a try.
We tested the top-selling soy sauces on Amazon, Rakuten, and Yahoo! Shopping to find out the best ones on the market.
We tested each soy sauce for the following:
First, we tested how delicious each soy sauce is.
We enlisted the help of professional seasoning sommelier MICHIKO, as well as six male and female testers from mybest's Japanese editorial team, including one who has been training his sense of taste through practice recognizing the five flavors of sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness and umami, to thoroughly evaluate each product.
They compared the taste of soy sauce by pouring soy sauce onto a spoon and tasting it by itself.
Next, we tested each soy sauce's fragrance.
The more well-made a soy sauce is, the more rich its fragrance is. We smelled all the soy sauces and then evaluated each product on a five-point scale ranging from one to five.
Finally, we compared how compatible each soy sauce was with various ingredients.
Soy sauce isn't something you enjoy on its own - it's intended to be used with a variety of dishes. In a perfect world, soy sauce should be compatible with any kind of food.
For this test, we tasted the soy sauces with tuna sashimi, tofu, and simmered daikon radish, and evaluated how well the soy sauce paired with these foods. For the simmered daikon radish, we pre-boiled the radish, then simmered it for five minutes with a broth made from three tablespoons of soy sauce and 13 tablespoons of water.
In Japan, the preferred type of soy sauce differs depending on the region. Although we mentioned that dark soy sauce is the most common type of soy sauce in Japan, if you go to a different region, you'll often find that different types of soy sauce are more popular, oftentimes based on differences in regional cuisine.
In our tests, we found that regionality played a huge role in how our testers evaluated the soy sauces, with testers from Hokkaido preferring dashi soy sauce, and testers from Kyushu preferring sweet soy sauce, for example.
Here's a breakdown of what regions prefer what type of soy sauce:
Have you ever heard of soy sauce jelly? It's sometimes served at high-end sushi restaurants and is a new and interesting alternative to your standard soy sauce. Unlike normal liquid soy sauce, soy sauce jelly won't get absorbed by your food, making it perfect as a garnish and seasoning combination. So, how do you make it?
It's actually really easy to make, and only takes three steps:
And that's it! This simple recipe can elevate your dishes, allowing you to have a fine-dining experience right at home.
We found that dashi soy sauce and oyster soy sauces were rated higher than standard soy sauces, mostly since our testers found them to be more delicious on their own in comparison. These soy sauces will also pair well with lighter dishes to add extra flavor.
However, dashi soy sauce isn't as salty as other soy sauces, and when paired with foods that have strong flavors, like tuna sashimi, the flavors will clash and won't work. So, dashi and oyster soy sauces aren't as versatile as the other types, so we've separated them from the main list of products and featured them in their own list of products.
Dashi soy sauces usually use kelp or bonito, but also occasionally use flying fish for stock. However, these are just the most common ones, and there are many other types of dashi soy sauce that use different ingredients.
Dashi soy sauces pair well with Japanese, Chinese, or even Western cuisine. I personally recommend seasoning pasta with dashi soy sauce.
No. 1：Kaneyo Shoyu｜Light Soy Sauce
No. 2：Inoue Shoyu｜Inoue Traditional Soy Sauce
No. 3：Kikkoman｜Tokusen Marudaizu Soy Sauce
No. 4：Nibishi Shoyu｜Tokusen Umakuchi Soy Sauce
No. 5：Ichibiki｜Cho Tokusen Sashimi Tame Bottle
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