Know the Different Types of Soy Sauces: Let’s Explore

Posted on Posted in Asian Restaurant Steamboat Colorado, Chinese Food Steamboat, Japanese Food Steamboat Colorado

What do wine and soy sauce have in common? The more they age the more flavorful and complex the taste. Soy sauce is a 2,500-year-old condiment, and over the years there has been a lot of variation. Let’s explore!


Soy sauce is a liquid made from soybeans, wheat, water, and salt. Generally speaking, it falls into two groups: naturally brewed or fermented, and chemically produced. Naturally brewed soy sauce is fermented for months or longer. The best soy sauce is actually two years or older. Chemical or non-brewed soy sauce is produced quickly within days, a mixture of hydrolyzed soy protein and flavorings such as corn syrup and caramel. Naturally brewed soy sauce has an aroma and complexity of flavor. Industrial soy sauce is one-note and super salty.


Among brewed soy sauces, there’s another split: the geographic style. While soy sauce styles vary among cuisines including Korean, Indonesian, Thai, Filipino, and more, the types you’re most likely to find at US grocery stores are either Japanese or Chinese in origin and/or style.

Japanese soy sauce, or shoyu, is brewed with roasted wheat. Chinese soy sauce, which traditionally left out the wheat, is nowadays brewed with wheat flour. In addition, Chinese sauce sometimes contains added sugar, according to Roberts.

This difference in ingredients, as well as brewing time, gives Japanese soy sauce a slightly sweeter, rounder flavor and Chinese soy sauce a denser, saltier taste. Chinese sauce also tends to be much thicker and darker than the Japanese style. With Chinese soy sauce, you’ll see it coats the bottle.


There’s a third distinction: light or dark. The difference is largely due to the length of aging. Both Japanese and Chinese light soy sauces are thinner and lighter in color (relatively speaking) but more intense in flavor than their dark counterparts. Dark Chinese soy sauce, which is aged the longest, also tends to be sweeter due to the addition of molasses or another sweetener.\

And here’s another wrinkle: Dark Japanese soy sauce is what’s most available and used, even if the bottle isn’t labeled as such, which it usually isn’t.

In Chinese cooking, it’s the opposite: light soy sauce is more common. Bottles will indicate light—sometimes labeled “thin” or “superior”—or dark. The latter is reserved for stews or as a flavor booster or finisher in sauces,

Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce brewed with soybeans and no wheat—but sometimes there is a trace amount. So, not all tamari is gluten-free. Check the label to make sure.

And not every bottle labeled “gluten-free” is considered tamari. For instance, Kikkoman’s gluten-free soy sauce is made with soybeans and rice instead of wheat.


The key words to look for on the bottle are “brewed” or “traditionally brewed.” That and a scan of the ingredients list will tell you what you’re getting. The fewer ingredients, the better, Young and Roberts said.

Beyond that, it’s up to your palate, as brands vary widely in sodium levels and nuances of flavor.


Soy sauce will last a long time unopened. The best-by date on the bottle should be a good year to two years out. But oxygen is its enemy, so you’re better off choosing a smaller bottle.

And once opened, keep it in a cool, dry place. It’s not necessary to refrigerate soy sauce, but doing so will extend its flavor and freshness.

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