• Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces in 2020 - Tried and True! (Kikkoman, Marunaka, and More) 1
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces in 2020 - Tried and True! (Kikkoman, Marunaka, and More) 2
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces in 2020 - Tried and True! (Kikkoman, Marunaka, and More) 3
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces in 2020 - Tried and True! (Kikkoman, Marunaka, and More) 4
  • Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces in 2020 - Tried and True! (Kikkoman, Marunaka, and More) 5

Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces in 2020 - Tried and True! (Kikkoman, Marunaka, and More)

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

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

This article's specialists

Megumi Yoshida
Etsuko Makino
Takayo Ishikawa
  • Last updated: 07-15-2020
  • 17,258 views
Table of Contents

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.

Top 9 Best Japanese Soy Sauces

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+.
1

Daitoku ShoyuWhole Soybean Soy Sauce

$6.57

Japanese大徳醤油 丸大豆醤油
TypeDark
Brewing methodHonjozo
Main ingredientWhole soybeans
Savoriness4.0
Sweetness2.0
Fragrance5.0
Umami5.0
Food compatibility5.0
Overall score4.2
2

Inoue ShoyuInoue Ancient Soy Sauce

$11.31

Japanese井上醤油店 井上 古式じょうゆ
TypeDark
Brewing methodHonjozo
Main ingredientWhole soybeans
Savoriness4.0
Sweetness2.0
Fragrance4.0
Umami4.0
Food compatibility4.0
Overall score3.6
3

Marunaka ShoyuMarunaka Soy Sauce

$15.02

Japanese丸中醤油
TypeDark
Brewing methodHonjozo
Main ingredientWhole soybeans
Savoriness3.0
Sweetness3.0
Fragrance3.0
Umami3.0
Food compatibility3.0
Overall score3.0
4

Marushima Soy SauceJunsei Soy Sauce Koikuchi

$7.92

Japanese丸島醤油 純正醤油 濃口
TypeDark
Brewing methodHonjozo
Main ingredientWhole soybeans
Savoriness3.0
Sweetness2.0
Fragrance3.0
Umami3.0
Food compatibility4.0
Overall score3.0
5

Fujikin ShoyuLight Soy Sauce (Usukuchi)

$3.59

Japaneseフジキン醤油 うすくち醤油
TypeLight
Brewing methodKongo
Main ingredientDefatted soybeans
Savoriness3.0
Sweetness3.0
Fragrance3.0
Umami3.0
Food compatibility3.0
Overall score3.0
6

KikkomanShiboritate Nama Soy Sauce

$3.35

Japaneseキッコーマン食品 いつでも新鮮 しぼりたて生しょうゆ
TypeDark
Brewing methodHonjozo
Main ingredientWhole soybeans
Savoriness3.0
Sweetness2.0
Fragrance4.0
Umami3.0
Food compatibility2.0
Overall score2.8
7

ChokoChotokusen Murasaki

$6.95

Japaneseチョーコー 超特選むらさき
TypeDark
Brewing methodHonjozo
Main ingredientWhole soybeans
Savoriness3.0
Sweetness3.0
Fragrance2.0
Umami3.0
Food compatibility3.0
Overall score2.8
8

KikkomanRich Tasting Low Sodium Soy Sauce

$2.42

Japanese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
TypeLow sodium
Brewing methodHonjozo
Main ingredientDefatted soybeans
Savoriness3.0
Sweetness3.0
Fragrance2.0
Umami2.0
Food compatibility2.0
Overall score2.4
9

Fujikin ShoyuUmakuchi Soy Sauce

$3.59

Japaneseフジキン醤油 大野うまくち醤油
TypeDark
Brewing methodKongo
Main ingredientDefatted soybeans
Savoriness3.0
Sweetness4.0
Fragrance3.0
Umami3.0
Food compatibility3.0
Overall score2.4

Compare the Best Japanese Soy Sauces

Image
1
Daitoku Shoyu Whole Soybean Soy Sauce 1

Daitoku Shoyu

2
Inoue Shoyu Inoue Ancient Soy Sauce 1

Inoue Shoyu

3
Marunaka Shoyu Marunaka Soy Sauce 1

Marunaka Shoyu

4
Marushima Soy Sauce Junsei Soy Sauce Koikuchi 1

Marushima Soy Sauce

5
Fujikin Shoyu Light Soy Sauce (Usukuchi) 1

Fujikin Shoyu

6
Kikkoman Shiboritate Nama Soy Sauce 1

Kikkoman

7
Choko Chotokusen Murasaki 1

Choko

8
Kikkoman Rich Tasting Low Sodium Soy Sauce 1

Kikkoman

9
Fujikin Shoyu Umakuchi Soy Sauce 1

Fujikin Shoyu

Name

Whole Soybean Soy Sauce

Inoue Ancient Soy Sauce

Marunaka Soy Sauce

Junsei Soy Sauce Koikuchi

Light Soy Sauce (Usukuchi)

Shiboritate Nama Soy Sauce

Chotokusen Murasaki

Rich Tasting Low Sodium Soy Sauce

Umakuchi Soy Sauce

Features

Refined Flavor with a Crisp Saltiness That Enhances the Umami of Other Foods

Replete With a Strong Savoriness, a Mellow Fragrance, and Umami

Exquisite Balance Between Umami and Salty and Sweet Elements

Flavorful and Easy to Use but Lacks That Extra Oomph

Has a Depth of Flavor Similar to Stock and a Lingering Sweetness

Gentle Umami and Mild Flavor Means it Can be Used Anywhere

Strong Salty, Sweet, and Umami Profiles. A Peculiar Soy Sauce that Has a Kick to It

A Bit Too Lacking for Most Dinner Tables

A Dark Where Sweetness Pushes Its Way to the Forefront

Price$6.57$11.31$15.02$7.92$3.59$3.35$6.95$2.42$3.59
Japanese大徳醤油 丸大豆醤油井上醤油店 井上 古式じょうゆ丸中醤油丸島醤油 純正醤油 濃口フジキン醤油 うすくち醤油キッコーマン食品 いつでも新鮮 しぼりたて生しょうゆチョーコー 超特選むらさきキッコーマン食品 いつでも新鮮 味わいリッチ減塩しょうゆフジキン醤油 大野うまくち醤油
TypeDarkDarkDarkDarkLightDarkDarkLow sodiumDark
Brewing methodHonjozoHonjozoHonjozoHonjozoKongoHonjozoHonjozoHonjozoKongo
Main ingredientWhole soybeansWhole soybeansWhole soybeansWhole soybeansDefatted soybeansWhole soybeansWhole soybeansDefatted soybeansDefatted soybeans
Savoriness4.04.03.03.03.03.03.03.03.0
Sweetness2.02.03.02.03.02.03.03.04.0
Fragrance5.04.03.03.03.04.02.02.03.0
Umami5.04.03.03.03.03.03.02.03.0
Food compatibility5.04.03.04.03.02.03.02.03.0
Overall score4.23.63.03.03.02.82.82.42.4
Link

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.

How We Tested the Soy Sauces

How We Tested the Soy Sauces

After gathering all 9 soy sauces, 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+.

Honjozo Soy Sauces had a Strong Savoriness; Kongo Had More Nuanced, Layered Flavors

Honjozo Soy Sauces had a Strong Savoriness; Kongo Had More Nuanced, Layered Flavors
Broadly speaking, honjozo soy sauces had a crisp, refreshing saltiness to them. They were more straightforward, 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 anyway.)

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+.

You Can Taste the Added Sweetness in Kongo Soy Sauces

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+.

Even Amongst Honjozo Soy Sauces, Naturally-Brewed Products Preserve the Fragrance of Soybeans

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+.

Daitoku Shoyu’s Soy Sauce Balanced Subtle Flavors Well

Daitoku Shoyu’s Soy Sauce Balanced Subtle Flavors Well
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+.

Savory and Full Soy Sauces Tasted Good in Any Form, with Any Dish

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.

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.

Decide on a Type of Soy Sauce

Decide on a Type of Soy Sauce
There’s five big types of soy sauce: dark, light, tamari, double-brewed, and white. 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.

Take Note of the Brewing Process

Take Note of the Brewing Process

There are two main ways soy sauce is brewed here; 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.
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.

Notice the Type of Soybeans Used

Notice the Type of Soybeans 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.

Choose a General Soy Sauce Flavor

Choose a General Soy Sauce 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)

Think About How and Where You Want to Use the Soy Sauce

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.

Consider Sodium Content (if You Need To)

Consider Sodium Content (if You Need To)
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.

Some More Seasonings to Spice Up Your Dishes

Some More Seasonings to Spice Up Your Dishes

Don't stop at soy sauce; there are so many delicious condiments and seasonings out there! Use our other articles as guidance to find ones that will work with your cooking.

Summary

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.”

Author: Yoshiko Ito/Translation: Jasmine Li/Photos: Eisuke Kurajima

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