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A shoyu/soy sauce question for all of you Asian cooks out there

I'm slowly working my way toward making some dongpo rou (http://tinyurl.com/5ab9ob), so I went to the market to pick up some Shao Xing wine, and while I was there I also picked up a couple of bottles of Koon Chun thin soy sauce and double black soy sauce. My question is this: should they be refrigerated after opening?

My primary experience is with Kikoman and Yamasa shoyu, and they will lose tons of flavor if not kept refrigerated. The Koon Chung labels don't offer a clue! Any help is appreciated! Thanks.

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  1. Hmm..I don't put mine in the fridge. Growing up in S.E.Asia, we just leave their soy sauce in the pantry or kitchen countertop (away from sunlight). But, I can't vouch for other type of soy sauce (I've never use Kikoman or Yamasa) - since I am sure some of their ingredients or process of making are slightly different. :) Hope it helps a bit!

    6 Replies
    1. re: ceciel

      It does, and thanks. But I also suspect that a bottle of soy sauce didn't last nearly as long in your childhood kitchen as it does in mine! My meal planning is like playing a game, "Where In The World is Caroline Eating Tonight?" If the indecision lasts too long, I sometimes give up and just have peanut butter and jelly! '-)

      1. re: Caroline1

        Haha. That's just too hilarious!! :) But you are right though, I cook almost everyday, and even that, a bottle of soy lasts me way way much longer than the same size bottle in my mom or grandmas' kitchen! Everything with soy! ;) Out of topic here, but we even eat boiled, half boiled, sunny side up, scrambled eggs with soy! Not salt. My husband thought it was weird, until I got him converted, that is. Double black soy is yum!

        1. re: ceciel

          I'll have to give that a try. I usually use the green Tobaso liberally in my omlettes. But beware. Green Tobasco is addictive.

          1. re: ceciel

            My house too! I used to be so embarrassed to eat eggs with my friends after sleepovers. Also potatoes are good with soy.

            1. re: ceciel

              Exactly...that's egg foo yung. Great to add greens and scallions to eggs, top with soy. yum.

              1. re: ceciel

                We love poached soy sauce eggs up at our house, we add a little water and a tiny bit of sugar to the soy sauce.

                As for the soy sauce question, I guess we use it often so we never have an issue putting it in the lower cabinet (dark, light & regular) but I have used to have the same issue with rice vinegar going off, or just changing flavor (film at top, slight change in color, or scent) so I now keep it in the fridge, and lasts just fine now. maybe this might work best for your soy?

          2. Hey Caroline, I don't refrigerate any of my soy sauces. Oops, take that back, the one that I use for serving at the table, a small bottle with holes...that one yes. But for years I've never refrigerated the big bottles. I haven't noticed any flavor loss, or maybe I should pay closer attention. Yummy stuff the double black, very rich and flavorful. Kikkoman is so light anyway, I guess that I expect that its not going to be a full bodied soy.

            I use Kikoman,because I can get a big jug at Costco. I much prefer Pearl River.

            3 Replies
            1. re: chef chicklet

              I don't think I've ever seen Pearl River, let alone tried it. If your refrigerator bottle of Kikoman isn't refilled from the big bottle, try a taste test. If it is, try the taste test the next time you buy a new bottle. I can really taste the difference. Similar to wine, but it holds true under refrigeration MUCH longer!

              I only use Yamasa as a "finishing" shoyu because it looses its unique flavor in cooking. Kikoman stays pretty true. This will be my first home experience with Chinese soy sauce Or it will be if I can ever find really great pork belly for the dongpo rou. '-)

              1. re: Caroline1

                Never mind the Kikoman taste test! I've been using it for over thirty years, and obviously haven't kept reading the labels. It now contains sodium benzoate as a preservative. DAMN! And the Yamasa uses alcohol, which is better than sb, but still... <sigh> But the Chinese stuff *IS* preservative free. Gonna have to do some shoyu label reading next time I'm at May Hua market! :-(

                1. re: Caroline1

                  May Hua (and every other self-respecting Asian market) should stock Pearl River Bridge; it's the quintessential Chinese style (open fermented) light soy sauce.

                  The PRB gold label "Superior Light Soy Sauce" is very good, but I much prefer the purple label "Premium Light Soy Sauce." Ingredients are water, soya beans, wheat flour, and salt. The bottle says to refrigerate after opening. The only problem is that not every place carries the purple label.

              2. Hi Caroline1,

                Look at the ingredients of the soy sauce and see if it has preservatives. If it doesn't, then it is better to put it in the fridge. If it does, you probably don't have to do so. Most of kikoman and yamasa shoyu do not have preservative, so it is better to put them in the fridge. Chinese soy sauce tends to have preservatives in it, so it may not be necessary.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kobetobiko

                  BINGO! So why didn't I think of that? Thank you soooo much! It makes sense. Both of the Chinese soy sauces I bought are preservaive free (Koon Chun brand from Hong Kong). The thin soy sauce only contains water, soy beans, salt and wheat flour. The double black has that plus molasses.

                  For my next trick, I want a refrigerator with five or six of those slide-out verticle pantry shelves that are only one bottle wide. If I got all of the jars and bottles out of my refriterator, boy, would I have more room for food...! '-)

                2. I use the small Pearl River brands of Soy Sauce and I don't refridgerate. Since the salt content of soy sauce is so high I guess I don't worry about it. If you can get your hands on Pearl River they are great. Dark soy sauce is for color, light is for flavor. Were you able to get a decent brand of Shao Xing? Preferably Pagoda brand. The cheapest has very little alcohol and added salt and is not really even Shao Xing. It should be at least 16% alcohol with no added salt. Let us know how your Dong Po turns out!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: scoopG

                    The Shao Xing is Lily brand, 15% alcohol, and cheap, therefore I'm sure not the best brand. It is salted (for cooking) and I grabbed it because I wasn't sure what the shelf life would be for a more expensive "drinking wine." Figured wine is wine and what doesn't work for a Burgundy shouldn't work for a Shao Xing.

                    As for the Dong Po, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm EVER going to get to taste it. I refuse to go to all that trouble without a really great slab of pork belly with at least three luscious layers of fat cushioning two seductive layers of lean. Nothing I've looked at so far has been singing the Lorelei song. <sigh>

                  2. I have never put any type of soy sauce in the fridge and I've never had soy sauce go bad on me, despite the fact that on occasion, a bottle will last me a year. I buy all types, including Kikoman. I don't know if extensive 'aging' in an open bottle changes the flavor, but I do know that it doesn't go bad in the sense that it would make you ill to eat it for a very, very long time. Salt is a natural preservative.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: cimui

                      I didn't mean "go bad" in the sense of not being safe to eat. Time was when Kikoman (which now contains sodium benzoate as a preservative) was a naturally brewed preservative free shoyu, and if not refrigerated the flavor changed and was simply not as pleasing and full flavored as when newly opened or kept in the refrigerator to preserve that original flavor.

                      I think kobetobiko provided the best answer: if it contains preservatives don't worry about refrigeration, if it's preservative free then refrigerate after opening. Thanks.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        ah, fair enough, caroline. sorry, i didn't read your posting as closely as i ought. i do think you (and kobetobiko) are right that some brands seem to become fainter tasting after a time and that it would make sense if this were related to lack of preservatives.

                        good luck with the dongpo rou. the pics with that recipe look delectable!

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          if you're interested in using kikkoman withough sodium benzoate, try buying the imported version from japan at a japanese or korean grocery store. i buy mine at one of these groceries and it has alcohol versus the sodium benzoate. (i would assume alcohol is a byproduct of the natural fermentation process and not an additive.) the bottles mainly have japanese writing and come in plastic bottles instead of glass. i don't refrigerate it and it tastes fine.

                          1. re: trishyb

                            Thank you! I'm on my way!

                            hmmmm... My bottle of Oregon-brewed Yamasa implies alcohol as an added ingrendient with "(to preserve freshenss)" following "alcohol," then also adds the same warning on the label as Kikkoman: Refrigerate after opening.

                            Both of the Hong Kong brewed Koon Chun soy sauces are naturally brewed and preservative free, but neither says to refrigerate after opening, unless it's in Chinese. Which is why I formulated my original question never imagining I was stirring up such a snake's nest!

                            Guess I shoulda known Americans never read labels or directions. I know I don't. Hey, my kids are 39 and 40, and I've STILL got a bag full of nuts, bolts, screws, clamps, and doo-hickeys left over from assembling their toys on Christmas Eve when they were little! What's a bottle of warm soy sauce among friends, right?

                            Next time you buy a fresh bottle, grab a spoon and do a side by side tasting to see how much the flavor has migrated in the opened and stored at room temp sauce.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              I just purchased the Koon Chun double black soy sauce this week, and my bottle says refrigerate after opening, if that helps.

                              1. re: smtucker

                                Very interesting! I have the same brand, and it says nothing about refrigeration in English, so I gotta ask! Do you read Chinese?

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  Not a single character. This is written in English. I admit though, my fridge isn't big enough to hold all the soy sauces I now own, so they live in the pantry.

                                  1. re: smtucker

                                    Then obviously my bottle is older than yours since it has no such instruction in English. Lots in Chinese with no translation though! Thanks.

                      2. Okay, after FINALLY reading the whole Kikoman label, apparently the preservative (sodium sulfate) that Kikoman uses does NOT mean it will not go off flavor if left unrefrigerated. The bottle's label clearly says, "Refrigerate after opening." <sigh> Then WHY the damned preservative???? Did somebody rescind the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" law?

                        EDIT: For the record, the Koon Chun soy sauces are now stored in the refrigeraor, the (unopened) cooking wine and vinegar are not, and I feel like such an idiot for even starting this confusing thread! Sorry. '-)

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Caroline1

                          if soy sauce isnt tightly capped it will evaporate over time, which changes its character too. Ive never refrigerated soy but I keep them in a dark place. I think the dark thick sweet versions store better - for table use I buy the top grade kimlan soy sauces from taiwan - wonderful, if you have never tried, you should.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            Some of the Chinese restaurants here serve it as well as include small packets of it in take out, but I never use Kimlan. You might want to read this New Zealand government information, specifically the fourth iten under "Timeline."

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              Just to clarify, Im NOT talking about the industrial grade stuff you would get in packets or a restaurant would serve! Im talking about the special naturally brewed varieties that you can buy in small (maybe 1 pt bottles). - I-Jen, Super Special and another in a bottle with a black and white chinese painting on the label - these were never covered in any of the product warnings.

                        2. I've never put in soy sauce of any kind in the fridge.

                          At home, we usu. went through the bottles of soy sauce quickly enough that it was probably never an issue.

                          But as I think about it now, even at our restaurant when we would buy soy sauce by the tub-full, we've never refrigerated them.

                          Just my 0.02.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Never refrigerated here either. Also probably never an issue as we go through lots of soy sauce.
                            The soy sauces in Korea were never refrigerated (when I was stationed there).
                            I put one bottle in the fridge just after I married my wife. My MIL came to stay with us the same day and gave me a very vocal lesson about storage of soy sauce, something about it's supposed to sit out and "intensify", and for the next 3 years she would grouse about it at least twice a week. She still brings it up once in a while 28 years later. Always kept out of direct sunlight though.

                            1. re: hannaone

                              Indeed, sometimes MIL do know best.

                              After all, soy sauce is basically just fermented bean juice right?

                              1. re: hannaone

                                Hi hannaone,

                                I think that's true for high quality soy sauce, actually hand-crafted ones. However, what we get nowadays are mostly commerical with some additives in them, and I doubt it will intensify the flavor like what artisan soy sauce does. It may become more "intense" only because of the loss of water content.

                                1. re: kobetobiko

                                  It was definitely hand crafted. My MIL used to make her own soy sauce when she made the Korean Miso paste.
                                  A few years ago I tried to explain to her that many commercial soy sauces are aged by the makers before they hit the store shelves, but she wouldn't believe it until one of her cronies "discovered" this in some Korean cooking journal.

                            2. Just want to clarify. When I was in Asia and home cooking is mainly Asian food, I never refridgerated my soy sauce either. One main reason being that we used it up very quickly and there wasn't any noticeable difference in quality or taste. However, after I moved to the US and in NYC, I ended up eating out a lot of the times (and that when mom isn't here I really don't cook much). What I found was that a lot of those soy sauces (various kinds in large bottles) were sitting in the kitchen cupboard for more than 6 months to a year, and the quality changed noticeably. There was a lot of residue sitting at the bottom of the bottles, and the taste was not "fresh" (I know this is vague but that's as good as I can describe it). It didn't taste completely off, it just didn't taste fresh. And I found that refridgerating the soy sauce definitely eliminated the issue even if I have some of these for more than a year.

                              I have many many types of soy sauce in my house - Chinese, Japanese, dark, light, premium hand crafted, just for sushi, flavored, thick, first "brewed", you name it. So even if I buy small bottles most of them still sit in my kitchen for a long time. I have them all lined up in my fridge, except for some that stated clearly with preservatives.

                              For Caroline, I guess it will really depend on how long you think it will take you to use up the soy sauce. If it is going to be used quickly, putting it on the pantry should be fine. If you are going to keep it for a while, put it in the fridge if you have space.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: kobetobiko

                                Well, this whole thing has been interesting. When I wrote my original post, I assumed (always a mistake) that the majority of people store their shoyu and soy sauce in the refrigerator. SURPRISE! And it even says to do that on the Kikoman label. LOL!

                                But here's something else to consider. Both wine and soy sauce are the products of natural fermentation. (I'm not talking about La Choy and such.) Don't know about everyone else after this discussion, but when I have a half a bottle of wine left over from dinner, I recork and store it in the refrigerator. And I store natural soy sauce in the refrigerator for the same reason. It is true that wine will eventually turn to vinegar while the salt content of soy prevents that, but they BOTH suffer deterioration of original flavor when not refrigerated.

                                Maybe some people prefer it that way, but if you don't believe the flavor "migrates south," try picking up a small new bottle and compare it with your old bottle. If you like it better opened and aged, that's fine. Hey, I happen to absolutely love Dom Perignon that has been opened, half drank, and stored in the fridge until flat. It's delicious. But I'm sure the old monk would cringe. '-)

                                1. re: Caroline1


                                  Part of the reason for the no fridge rationale is that soy sauce tastes better at room temperature. So if you stick in the fridge you have to wait for the temp to decrease.

                                  Also, cooking with cold soy sauce is not a good idea -- either in woks or as a seasoning.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Ooops! Been doing it for about 48 years now with a happy wok and delicious food. What am I doing wrong? '-)

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      No, no. Didn't mean to imply that it was wrong.

                                      As for as for cooking, at our restaurant we usu. wanted to get the wok really hot (as well as the oil), and if you splashed in some cold soy sauce ... well, you can only imagine.

                                      As for using as a dipping sauce, cold temps dull the taste and flavor, but it's nothing that an hour or two on a granite counter top couldn't rectify.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        hmmm... How large a dish/bowl do you use for dipping sauces? I use small "nut dsh" size dishes for most, or maybe an undersuzed mini-rice bowl. For a true dipping "sauce," the other ingredients help raise the shoyu temperature, or if I'm just putting pure shoyu in the dish as for sushi, the porcelain dish warms it enough. Or if I put the bottle on the table for people who think I'm not a good cook <g> the food is hot enough and the amount of sauce is small enough that nothing reaches the mouth chilled.

                                        For wok cooking, I can't remember ever adding soy sauce/shoyu directly to the wok. It's always mixed with something, usually a slurry.

                                        I test whether my wok is hot enough by flicking a few drops of cold liquid into it before adding oil. If the water dances around and vanishes, as opposed to settling into a boiling drop on the surface, then the wok is hot enough to add oil and get cooking!

                                        As for cold soy sauce splashing into really hot oil in a really hot wok... Doesn't matter what temperature the liquid is, or even what it is -- ice cold soy sauce or boiling hot broth -- the resultant steam explosion is going to be nasty if it can reach you. I only add liquids to a hot wok when there is food in it to mitigate the circumsances. '-)

                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                      I go through about 3-4 pint bottles per year of my high priced soys which I dont use in cooking- Id say they keep their fresh bright flavor really well in my cabinet. With refrig space scarce, Im hardly inclined to refrigerate things that dont need it. If I took a year to use up a bottle, I might consider refrigerating. the cooking soys (light and ddark) stay in a cabinet too and dont get used as fast - I do notice some changes, but I dont think they affect the result of my dishes.

                                2. Never, ever, put soy sauce in the fridge when I was kid. We always had those 1 gal. Kikkoman cans in the pantry. Lasted for a couple of years, and there was never any change in flavor (OK, I was a kid in elementary school, so maybe may taste buds were not well developed, but we had soy sauce so often that I think I would have noticed that storage for 1 year+ did anything to the flavor).

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jerry i h

                                    Come to think of it, my mom never even put mayonnaise in the refrigerator when I was a kid. My god, we must have had cast iron stomachs and kevlar immune systems!