• Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True! 1
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True! 2
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True! 3
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True! 4
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True! 5

Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True!

Soy sauce※1 is the driving force behind flavor in a number of famous Asian dishes, be it stirfry, soup, or cold seaweed salad. That’s why there’s so many different kinds–each with a different color, depth, and flavor profile, some best when heated in a pan, some best when poured straight into a little sauce dish. Depending on the kind of soy sauce you use, you could completely rework a flavor.

And whether it’s because you love Japanese cuisine and want to be as authentic as possible or you live in Japan and need help navigating the supermarket, you’re interested in finding the ultimate Japanese soy sauce. Well, this time around, we ordered the 9 most popular bottles of soy sauce available in Japanese supermarkets and on e-commerce sites and tested them all.

We also invited three certified seasoning sommeliers and asked them to taste each product. (For those that are unfamiliar with seasoning sommeliers, they are professionals that have passed an exam proctored by the Japan Seasoning Meisters Association.) The three experts then compared the following:

1. Savoriness※2
2. Sweetness
3. Fragrance
4. Umami (or Fullness of Flavor)※3
5. Utility and Compatible Foods

This is how we tested and found the most exceptional Japanese soy sauces.

※1 醤油: soy sauce
※2 塩味: savoriness (here, used to indicate saltiness and flavors opposed to sweetness)
※3 旨味: umami (while often translated as savoriness, here we use it to mean a lush layering of flavors, like what you would find in a full-bodied wine)

This article's specialists

Megumi Yoshida
Etsuko Makino
Takayo Ishikawa
  • Last updated: 10-27-2019
  • 852 views
Table of Contents

Introducing the Experts Who Lent Us Their Knowledge

We invited three specialists, each known for her expertise in seasonings, to help us wade through all the soy sauce.
Introducing the Experts Who Lent Us Their Knowledge
{Left: Etsuko Makino}
She uses her knowledge as a vegetable sommelier pro and seasoning sommelier to develop new recipes and products, introducing the charm and flavor of fruits and vegetables to all generations. She's very active, making appearances on on NHK Radio's "Saitamazu" and Television Saitama's "Machikomi."

{Middle: Megumi Yoshida}
She's a food expert that's a certified vegetable sommelier pro and seasoning sommelier. She wears many hats, crafting and publishing family-oriented recipes, writing columns, teaching at a cultural center, running the Aomori Vegetable Marché, and making radio appearances.

{Right: Takayo Ishikawa}
She's a food expert that's a certified vegetable sommelier and seasoning sommelier pro. You may see her at workshops or nutrition lectures, elucidating the relationship between housewives and seasonings. She's also well-versed in kitchen appliances and oversees the development of various condiment-related items. And to top off her wide-ranging lists of accomplishments, she also helps craft recipes for condiment brands and pens food columns.

Let’s Go Over Some Soy Sauce Basics

Let’s Go Over Some Soy Sauce Basics
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 what we know as “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 largely influence how soy sauce turns out, so most factories will have strict controls in place.

How to Choose Japanese Soy Sauce – Buying Guide

We’ll get into how we tested and compared all the bottles of soy sauce, but before that, we want to introduce six things you should look out for when picking out Japanese soy sauce.

① Think about the Type of Soy Sauce

① Think about the Type of Soy Sauce
There’s five big types of soy sauce:
  • Dark※4
  • Light※5
  • Tamari※6
  • Double brewed※7
  • White※8

About 80% of Japanese soy sauces are dark. They’ve got a good balance of umami and acidity, and if you aren’t sure what to get, then go dark. Light soy sauce is what it sounds like; it’s lighter in color and in flavor and best for when you want to really preserve the flavor of your other ingredients.
Tamari soy sauce is made almost exclusively from soybeans and is rich but not as salty as your standard dark. Double brewed soy sauce is manufactured over twice the amount of time with twice the amount of steps and ends up more complex, viscous, and mellow. White soy sauce is paler than light soy sauce and counts a good amount of wheat flour among its ingredients.
There are other ways soy sauce can be processed or altered, giving us products like the popular “dashi” soy sauce, which is flavored with soup stock. If you cook a lot, trying collecting a few different kinds and switch them up depending on the type of dish you’re making or the flavor you’re creating.
※4 濃口: dark (note that Japanese dark soy sauce, or koikuchi, should not be confused with Chinese dark soy sauce, or lao chou, which is a whole other animal)
※5 淡口: light (likewise, Japanese light soy sauce, or usukuchi, is not be confused with Chinese light soy sauce)
※6 たまり: Tamari
※7 再仕込み: double brewed
※8 白: white

② Think about the Brewing Process

② Think about the Brewing Process
There’s two main ways soy sauce is brewed here; one is the traditional “honjozo”※9 method and the other is the “kongo”※10 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 straight-forward taste of classic soy sauce.
When it comes to Japanese soy sauces, the brewing method is always listed to the right of the product name on labels. If you do pick up a kongo soy sauce (and can read Japanese), try scanning the ingredients list to see what kind of flavor enhancers were added in.
※9 本醸造: honjozo (lit. original method of brewing)
※10 混合: mixed or combination

③ Think about What Kind of Soybeans were Used

③ Think about What Kind of Soybeans were Used
Soy sauce is made with either whole※11 or defatted soybeans※12. They both pack a different flavor, so think about which you’d like more.
Soy sauce made from whole soybeans contains glycerol, which is a product of the oil left behind in the beans. This lends the sauce a mellowness and depth of flavor that is characteristic of fat.
On the other hand, defatted soybeans have, well, no fat. Therefore, soy sauce made from these beans tastes crisp and light.
※11 丸大豆: whole soybean (often simply written as soybean, or 大豆)
※12 脱脂加工大豆: defatted soybean

④ Think about General Flavor

④ Think about General Flavor
Soy sauce is so common and so popular, it’s bound to have a wide range of flavors. You can get stuff that’s super salty or stuff that’s quite mellow.
Different regions, different households, and different people like different flavors and eat different foods, so when figuring out which soy sauce to buy, weigh the following elements against your own preferences.
  • Savoriness
  • Sweetness
  • Umami (or Fullness of Flavor)

⑤ Think about How and Where You Want to Use the Soy Sauce

⑤ Think about How and Where You Want to Use the 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.
Learn how to distinguish the main characteristics of each soy sauce, then choose the one that will best match your other ingredients and style of cooking.

⑥ If You Need to, Think about Sodium Content

⑥ If You Need to, Think about Sodium Content
Normal soy sauces are about 18% sodium, but a low-sodium soy sauce contains only about 9%–that is, half of the standard. If you’re watching your blood pressure and health or you cook for any elderly folk, then you can’t go wrong with low-sodium.
Of course, there’s less salt, so some might find it a bit lacking, but general flavor isn’t too different from that of a normal soy sauce.
To make up for the loss in savoriness, 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.

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them
Now to introduce the 9 most popular bottles of soy sauce that we ordered and the process by which we tested them.
{The Products We Tested}
1. kikkoman Always Fresh Freshly Squeezed Raw Soy Sauce (キッコーマン食品 いつでも新鮮しぼりたて生しょうゆ)
2. Inoue Shoyu Inoue Ancient Soy Sauce (井上醤油店 井上 古式じょうゆ)
3. Oono Umakuchi Soy Sauce (大野 うまくち醤油)
4. kikkoman Always Fresh Rich Tasting Low Sodium Soy Sauce (キッコーマン食品 いつでも新鮮味わいリッチ減塩しょうゆ)
5. Fujikin Soy Sauce Usukuchi (フジキン醤油 うすくち)
6. Daitoku Shoyu Whole Soybean Soy Sauce (大徳醤油 丸大豆醤油)
7. Choko Chotokusen Murasaki (チョーコー 超特選むらさき)
8. Marunaka Soy Sauce (丸中醤油)
9. Marushima Soy Sauce Junsei Soy Sauce Koikuchi (丸島醤油 純正醤油 濃口)
We then tested each for the following things:
Test ①: Savoriness
Test ②: Sweetness
Test ③: Fragrance
Test ④: Umami (or Fullness of Flavor)
Test ⑤: Utility and Compatible Foods

Test ①: Savoriness

Test ①: Savoriness
Soy sauce is all salty, right? Yes and no. Soy sauce is a savory condiment, but that saltiness can express itself in different ways: it can be strong or weak, biting, or round. The “best kind” of saltiness depends on what you’re making, how you’re cooking it, and, of course, your personal preferences.
If you’re worried about health, then you might want to browse low-sodium options. We, on the other hand, completely ignored our limits on daily sodium intake and tried all the soy sauces to see which best balanced salt with other flavor profiles. We then graded each product on a five step scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Honjozo Soy Sauces had a Strong Savoriness to Them, while Kongo Had More Nuanced, Layered Flavors

The Big Takeaway: Honjozo Soy Sauces had a Strong Savoriness to Them, while Kongo Had More Nuanced, Layered Flavors
Broadly speaking, honjozo soy sauces had a crisp, refreshing saltiness to them. They were more straight-forward, delivering the savoriness of soy sauce to you in its purest form. On the other hand, kongo soy sauces had other flavors mixed in. What you gained in sweetness or sourness, for example, you lost in saltiness.
All three of our experts agreed that Inoue Shoyu‘s soy sauce was the best example of a strong salty profile.
When we drank the soy sauce as is, it was pretty darn salty. However, when mixed it with other ingredients, it struck a wonderful balance; the clean savoriness of the soy sauce was always apparent, but never overpowering. (And you shouldn’t be drinking soy sauce on its own anyways.)
Takayo Ishikawa
Vegetable Sommelier, Seasoning Sommelier Pro
Takayo Ishikawa
Salt is the dominant flavor in Inoue Shoyu's soy sauce—there isn't much sweetness. However, it does have the umami of dark soy sauce. If you were to use it in your cooking, then that umami would spread to the rest of your ingredients, deepening their flavors.

Test ②: Sweetness

Test ②: Sweetness
Soy sauce has its own peculiar sweetness. You may be able to find some that are almost caramel-like, depending on the type and brand of sauce. Sweetish soy sauce may be even more of a dividing topic than extra-salty soy sauce; it has its ardent fans and fierce opponents.
We tried tasting the soy sauces and passing our own verdict on how well-balanced the sweet elements were. We graded each product on a five step scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: You Can Taste the Added Sweetness in Kongo Soy Sauces

The Big Takeaway: You Can Taste the Added Sweetness in Kongo Soy Sauces
So, honjozo gave us straight-up soy sauce saltiness; kongo had additives that pushed sweeter profiles to the forefront. It’s not like the soy sauce tasted like apple juice, but there was definitely a more sugary note rounding out the salt.
Oono’s Umakuchi Soy Sauce, in fact, was so sweet that we’d say that was its defining flavor profile. It was as round and nuanced as we’d expect an umakuchi soy sauce to be; there were sweeteners in the ingredients, and some thought the soy sauce gave off a smoky fragrance.
So what kind of sweetness did we like? We were partial to products that had the umami of soup stock and mellow sweetness that unfurled as you tasted the soy sauce. We also thought sweeter soy sauces were better for cooking foods, rather than for dipping or drizzling.
Megumi Yoshida
Seasoning Sommelier, Vegetable Sommelier Pro
Megumi Yoshida
Kongo sauces like Oono's Umakuchi Soy Sauce are quite sweet and might not be compatible with a lot of dishes, but they'd taste divine in teriyaki or stewed foods.

Test ③: Fragrance

Test ③: Fragrance
Smell is a huge part of your dining experience (it can either whet or kill your appetite, for one). So next, we sniffed all the soy sauces.
We were looking for soy sauces that retained the characteristic fragrance of soybeans; we also compared how the soy sauce smelled fresh out of the bottle to how it smelled when added to warm soup. We then graded each product on a five-step scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Even Amongst Honjozo Soy Sauces, Naturally-Brewed Products Preserve the Fragrance of Soybeans

The Big Takeaway: Even Amongst Honjozo Soy Sauces, Naturally-Brewed Products Preserve the Fragrance of Soybeans
Soybeans have naturally rich, warm scent; how much of this scent you can experience depends on how the soy sauce was brewed (namely, whether it’s honjozo or kongo). The more additives mixed into the soy sauce, the more it loses its original fragrance.
Out of the ten products we tested, only one earned an A from all three of our experts: Inoue Shoyu’s Ancient Soy Sauce.
It was a dark soy sauce, made with Japanese soybeans. Not only was it honjozo, it was naturally brewed, meaning that it kept much of the deep, earthy smell that is natural to soy sauce. Most products that did well on this test, actually, were fragrant with the smell of soybeans.
Etsuko Makino
Seasoning Sommelier, Vegetable Sommelier Pro
Etsuko Makino
I can smell the round, mellow fragrance of soybeans in Inoue Shoyu's Inoue Ancient Soy Sauce.

Test ④: Umami (or Fullness of Flavor)

Test ④: Umami (or Fullness of Flavor)
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if we called soy sauce the base of all Japanese dishes. Soy sauce has the important role of enhancing the flavor of all your other ingredients, so we mixed our soy sauces with soup made from dashi and tested for umami.
We then graded each product on a five-step scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Daitoku Shoyu’s Soy Sauce Balanced Subtle Flavors Well, Earning It an A for Umami

The Big Takeaway: Daitoku Shoyu’s Soy Sauce Balanced Subtle Flavors Well, Earning It an A for Umami
We found that honjozo soy sauces, which are brewed using an age-old method, had a pleasant fullness of flavor.
Daitoku Shoyu’s sauce stood out to us as having the most umami when mixed into soup, even though it earned only an overall score of B. It featured local (Japanese) ingredients and was made not at a factory but at a traditional cedar brewery, so it added to dishes an umami that bespoke of Japanese sensibilities.
Takayo Ishikawa
Vegetable Sommelier, Seasoning Sommelier Pro
Takayo Ishikawa
Even among soy sauces in general, Daitoku Shoyu's Whole Soybean Soy Sauce is notable for its refined taste and how it strikes a balance between flavors. It'll likely go well with any dish.

Test ⑤: Utility and Compatible Foods

Test ⑤: Utility and Compatible Foods
Depending on the characteristics of a particular soy sauce, it may be better had as is, in the form of a dip or drizzle, or better cooked into a dish.
We flavored kamaboko (processed fish paste) and soups with soy sauce and then had our seasoning sommeliers taste each dish. They considered the balance stuck between they soy sauce and other ingredients and graded each product on a five-step scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Savory and Full Soy Sauces Tasted Good in Any Form, with Any Dish

The Big Takeaway: Savory and Full Soy Sauces Tasted Good in Any Form, with Any Dish
Makes sense that honjozo soy sauce–that is, the standard soy sauce–would have a more neutral flavor, suited to a variety of different foods.
They had a nice, simple savoriness and tasted simply like… soy sauce. If you aren’t looking to get too adventurous with your flavors, then stick with honjozo. You can taste the soybeans and there’s still a bit of sweetness within the spice and salt, but because the flavor profile is comparatively simple, it won’t overpower or clash with other ingredients in your dish.
Etsuko Makino
Seasoning Sommelier, Vegetable Sommelier Pro
Etsuko Makino
Honjozo soy sauces have an almost spicy crispness to them. Because the fragrance does pack a bit of a bite, these soy sauces are great for dipping soba in.

The Final Verdict: Top 9 Best Soy Sauces to Buy Online 2019

Now to introduce the 9 best soy sauces available online. They were ranked by how well they did on our tests and given an overall grade ranging from D to A+.
TypeDark
Brewing MethodKongo
Main IngredientDefatted Soybeans
SavorinessB
SweetnessA
UmamiB
FragranceB
Compatibility with FoodsB
TypeLow Sodium
Brewing MethodHonjozo
Main IngredientDefatted Soybeans
SavorinessB
SweetnessB
UmamiC
FragranceC
Compatability with FoodsC
TypeDark
Brewing MethodHonjozo
Main IngredientWhole Soybeans
SavorinessB
SweetnessB
UmamiB
FragranceC
Compatibility with FoodsB
TypeLight
Brewing MethodKongo
Main IngredientDefatted Soybeans
SavorinessB
SweetnessB
UmamiB
FragranceB
Compatibility with FoodsB

5. Marushima Soy Sauce Junsei Soy Sauce Koikuchi

$5.95

TypeDark
Brewing MethodHonjozo
Main IngredientWhole Soybeans
SaltinessB
SweetnessC
UmamiB
FragranceB
Compatibility with FoodsA
TypeDark
Brewing MethodHonjozo
Main IngredientWhole Soybeans
SavorinessB
SweetnessC
UmamiB
FragranceA
Compatibility with FoodsC
TypeDark
Brewing MethodHonjozo
Main IngredientWhole Soybeans
SavorinessB
SweetnessB
UmamiB
FragranceB
Compatibility with FoodB
TypeDark
Brewing MethodHonjozo
Main IngredientWhole Soybeans
SavorinessA
SweetnessC
UmamiA
FragranceA
Compatibility with FoodsA

1. Daitoku Shoyu Whole Soybean Soy Sauce

$6.94

TypeDark
Brewing MethodHonjozo
Main IngredientWhole Soybeans
SavorinessA
SweetnessC
UmamiA+
FragranceA+
Food CompatibilityA+

Summary

We invited three experts, purchased the 9 top selling bottles of Japanese soy sauce, and tested them all.
You mustn’t dismiss soy sauce as something plain and common that you can get for two bucks at the supermarket. Not only in Japanese cuisine, but in other Asian and even international cuisine, soy sauce forms the base of all flavor. Be wise and picky when choosing, as the kind and amount of soy sauce you add can ruin a dish, or it can save one.
After all, as Rich says in The Joy Luck Club, “All this needs is a little soy sauce.”
Original by Yoshiko Ito; Translation by Jasmine Li

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    No spice rack is complete without salt. But there are so many kinds: processed salt, sea salt, table salt, himalayan salt, and so on. How are you supposed to figure which’ll suit your palate?Well, it’s important to know what features to consider when purchasing salt. Find out where it’s from, how it tastes, what it costs, what’s inside, and what people have said about it. Then flip through your recipe book, and figure out just how you use salt.
    Food and drinks
    721 views
  • Top 9 Best Sweet Japanese Sakes to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True!
    Top 9 Best Sweet Japanese Sakes to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True!
    Our editors and searched Japanese e-commerce sites (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and Kakaku.com) for the best sweet Japanese sakes. We then chose the 9 most popular products and tested them along with three sake specialists. We rated each sake's deliciousness by analyzing three factors: its level of sweetness, the strength of its aroma, and the strength of its flavor. We then compiled everything we learned into a buying guide about and list of the best sweet Japanese sakes available online.
    Food and drinks
    62 views
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