Best Soy Sauce – Our Top 5

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

For the most part of my childhood I stayed with my grandma and grandma COCO as we often call her, was an amazing cook and also had a good eye for high-quality soy sauce.

As a matter of fact, she doesn’t joke with her soy sauces and if you are privileged to enter into her kitchen the first thing you will notice is her numerous bottles of soy sauce lined on the kitchen table.

How she’s able to identify the best type of soy sauce for each dish is something that practically took me a long time to learn. Although grandma is now of blessed memory, I will always remember her for her delicacies and more importantly her ability to identify top-notch soy sauces.

More so, growing up with her I would say made me sort of a master when it comes to identifying good soy sauce when I see one and over the years, I have had friends coming to me for advice whenever they want to buy soy sauce in the market. So, for today’s article, I will be focusing on some of the best soy sauces you can get in the market but first off let look at a thing or two about the soy sauce.

Soy Sauce – What are they really?

Soy sauce or soya sauce as it called in British English is a liquid condiment that is made from the combination of fermented soybeans, roasted grain, and wheat or barley, the soybeans are usually boiled until they are soft after which an even quantity of barley is added and then they are allowed to ferment, they are usually covered with water that has some amount of salt for a couple of weeks.

Soy sauce also happens to be one of the oldest condiments in the world as its origin dates far back as two thousand years ago if not even more. The soy sauce is reddish brown in color.

It has some element of salt and umami flavors.

In Asia the soy sauce is a very common seasoning ingredient. The soybean crop is known to be a very flexible crop and aside from the fact that they are usually ground to make soy milk, they can also be curdled to make tofu. More so the soybean is a key ingredient in making the famous soy sauce.

According to the history of China, the first appearance of soy sauce dates far back as 206 BC – 220 AD where it was considered in association with soy paste (a type of fermented paste usually gotten from soybeans). Officially though the soy sauce became a generally accepted liquid condiment during the era of the song dynasty at about 960-1279 AD

Just like the numerous salty condiments we have around, soy sauce was seen as a method of stretching out the salt and back then it was quite an expensive commodity.

However, during the Zhou dynasty of the now ancient China soybeans which was usually included in the fermentation process of fermented fish mixed salt which was often used as condiment was eventually replaced during the Han dynasty with the soy paste recipe and soy sauce as its by-product, using soybean as its major ingredient while the fermented fish-based sauces were developed separately as fish sauce.

In the 7th century, it was recorded that the Chinese Buddhist monk introduced the soy sauce to the Japanese people when they went there to study and they quickly adopted this recipe changing a thing or two about it. As a matter of fact, it was noted that they blended wheat and soybeans and this provided a sort of mellow flavor that made the taste of the sauce quite exceptional.

What is the Best Soy Sauce? We’ve selected 5!

It is more or less impossible to pinpoint one particular soy sauce as the best as there are many high qualities soy sauce but for the purpose of this article, we are going to be looking at five of the best soy sauces we have around.

1) San J Tamari soy sauce

First on our list is the San J Tamari soy sauce that is basically known for its fine quality. Aside from the fact that this soy sauce has around for well over three decades it also encourages the use of more soybeans compared to the others hence its richness in flavor.

This soy sauce is made from pure soybeans without the addition of wheat, its fermentation process is the good old traditional fermentation process and this makes it richer than the chemically induced soy sauces. More so this soy sauce is gluten-free and can be enjoyed by persons that react to gluten. It is the perfect soy sauce for cooking soups, marinades, and casseroles.

2) Pearl River Bridge soy sauces

This soy sauce happens to be one of the best sauces to come out of China. They are usually brewed in the open air and under the sun natural fermentation process which gives the soy sauce its unique flavor and amazing color that it is known for.  They are used for stir-frying and as a dipping sauce. The pearl river bridge soy sauce tends to be saltier than the regular soy sauce but with a distinctive sweet finish. It is additive free.

3) Kishibori shoyu

Next on my list is the one and only Kishibori shoyu is a very popular premium Japanese soy sauce. This soy sauce is usually known for its peculiar fermentation process that is often done in a hundred-year-old barrel which not only makes it quite distinctive from the rest but also very rich in flavor and an awesome addition to any dish.

It is safe to say that this soy sauce contains no form of additives or preservatives because of the super quality soybean used in producing it. The kishibori soy sauce is also known for its smooth taste and texture. You can decide to cook it depending on how you like it but mind you it is best used in its raw form.

4) Premium lite soy sauce

This soy sauce is an amazing product all the way from Thailand, it’s a multipurpose soy sauce that can be used to for your sushi, fish, pasta, grilled meat etc. The premium lite soy sauce is made from the mixture of wheat and soybeans but it may interest you to know that this amazing soy sauce is about 65-70% less sodium compared to the regular soy sauce.

Aside from the fact that the soy sauce is an essential ingredient that completes most spicy Thai dishes, its packaging is top notch as it stress-free getting the semi-liquid content out of the bottle. The soy sauce is also known for its ability to remove the foul smell from food and produces most of the best umami flavors that you can use for ice-cream.

5) Kikkoman soy sauces

Last but not the least on my list is the Kikkoman soy sauce which is traditionally brewed, has a full flavor that ranges from salt to water, wheat, and soybeans. They are usually a complex type of soy sauce in terms of flavor and it also has a fine aroma as well as an amazing color. More so it has a flavor that practically compliments most types of Asian dishes. The golden tin pack should be at the back of your mind when purchasing this soy sauce as it is highly recommended.

The Different Types of Soy Sauce

Basically, soy sauce is broken down into four major types and they include the following;

Light soy sauce

These types of soy sauce are usually thinner and are commonly used as a light seasoning and also as dipping sauces. More so, they are usually reddish brown in color, opaque and tend to be a little bit saltier than the other types of soy sauce.

This type of soy is common amongst the Chinese and Taiwanese, it is a very common sauce for cooking in China. As a matter of fact, it is said that if a Chinese recipe calls for soy sauce without any form of extra information it is safe for you to simply assume that it is light soy sauce.

Dark soy sauce

The dark soy sauce, on the other hand, is usually less salty compared to the light soy sauce. They are sweeter due to the addition of ingredients like molasses or caramel, they are darker and usually thicker than the light soy sauce in terms of texture. It contains a little amount of cornstarch and is used in dips, stews and on some occasion salad dressings.

Less sodium soy sauce

This type of sauce is known for having less salt but more chemicals. They are perfect for persons trying to cut down salt. Diluting the regular soy sauce can be used as a perfect alternative for the less sodium soy sauce.

Thick soy sauce

The thick soy sauce is a type of sauce is made by adding more wheat and cornstarch to the regular soy sauce to make it thicker. They are usually sweeter compared to the other categories of soy sauce and are used for numerous pork dishes.

Varieties of Soy Sauce

The varieties of soy sauces usually depend on the different cultures and regions they are made from, they differ in taste, fragrance, and saltiness despite their similarity in appearance. Some of the most popular varieties of soy sauce include the following:

Chinese soy sauce

The Chinese soy sauces or jiàngyóu as it is called in the Chinese native language or Yale in Cantonese is a soy sauce that is made basically from the combination of soybeans with an unusually low amount grain. They are basically classified under two major categories.

Brewed in the sense that their fermentation process involves the use of wheat, soybeans, salt, and water and also does not involve any additional additives.

Blended when additives that are usually associated with a sweet or savory taste are most times added to the already brewed soy sauce to alter its taste and texture.

Note: the brewed soy sauce is usually referred to as light soy sauce while when they are blended, they are now seen or referred to as dark soy sauce.

Filipino soy sauce

The Filipino soy sauce or toyo as they call it in their native language is a sauce made from the mixture of carefully selected ingredients like soybeans, salt, wheat, and caramel color. The Filipino soy sauce usually has similar characteristics to that of the Japanese variety probably because they are thinner in texture and a saltier taste.

It is often used as a condiment alongside other sauces like the fish sauce, as a marinade and also as the main ingredient in dishes like the famous Philippine adobo.

Japanese soy sauce

The Japanese soy sauce or Shōyu as it commonly called is a sauce that on most occasion has wheat as their major ingredient in terms of production, hence the Japanese soy sauce is usually sweeter in taste compared to the most of the other varieties of soy sauce. They also tend to have a sort of alcoholic flavor probably due to the fact that some amounts of alcohol are used as a preservative.

The Japanese soy sauces are also further divided into other varieties which includes the like of the Koikuchi, Usukuchi, Tamari, and Saishikomi. Other modern varieties may include the Gen’en and Usujio

Traditional and chemical methods of making soy sauce

Soy sauce is either produced by fermentation or hydrolysis, we can simply refer to the fermentation method to be the traditional method and hydrolysis to be the chemical method.

Traditional method

This method basically involves combining the soybeans, grain, aspergillus (a mold culture) and yeast with microorganism included which are either crushed or blended such that they form a mixture referred to as Koji. The mixture is then fermented under a regulated temperature and controlled humidity. The traditional method tends to produce the most organic soy sauce.

This method usually takes a couple of months to produce and it further involves the following steps:

  • The first step basically involves soaking and boiling the soybeans until they cooked and also crushing and roasting the wheat
  • For the second step, some quantity of the boiled soybeans is further mixed with the roasted wheat to form a sort of grain mixture. Aspergillus spore (a culture of it) is added to the mixture.
  • The grained mixture or Koji are further mixed into some certain amount of salt brine for fermentation after which they are left to brew. After a couple of months, the Aspergillus mold is seen to break down the proteins that usually arises from the grain into free amino acids and the starch into sugar. This reaction is often referred to as the amino-glycosidic reaction is responsible for the dark brown color of the sauce.
  • Next step the solids are separated from liquids by placing the fermented grain on a cloth-lined container. The liquid soy sauce is further processed while the solids are fed to animals or used as fertilizers.
  • For the final step of the traditional method, the soy sauce is then pasteurized and filtered in order to remove any form of active yeast and molds in the now fermented soy sauce.

The chemical method

This method basically involves a process called hydrolysis which is the modern way of producing soy sauce. It is faster compared to the traditional method.

For this method the mixture is soaked in hydrochloric acid for about 20 hours, this is done to remove any form of amino acids. The mixture is then allowed to cool after it has been acidified. The amino acid is basically neutralized using sodium carbonate after which they are purified by a filtration process involving the use of active carbon.

The end result of this method is a hydrolyzed soy protein which is further flavored and colored by the addition of salt and corn syrup (caramel corn syrup precisely)

Nutritional benefits

Aside from amazing ways these sauces complement our meals in terms of flavors, they also have some wonderful benefits to the human body, some of which are:

  • It provides the body with a reasonable amount of sodium which is a necessity for the effective functioning of the body system.
  • Healthy Soy sauces also contain antioxidants that help in lowering the risk of infections.
  • Enhances the flavor and color of our dishes.

Final thoughts

Storing the soy sauce is actually not a big deal as you can simply store them in a cool dry place. Soy sauces basically don’t easily go bad, they can last for as long two years when they are open this is because of the high level of sodium in it and as you know microorganism usually find it difficult to thrive in a sodium-induced environment but mind you the sauce will tend to reduce in quality for the period of that two years.

In conclusion, soy sauce is basically one of the best condiments for various dishes and it is of paramount importance that you are able to identify the best soy sauce that perfectly enhances the flavor of your dish. I sincerely hope that this post has done more than enough in equipping you with the knowledge you need to be able to get that perfect soy sauce you desire.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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