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Soy Sauce: Does the Brand Matter?

Is soy sauce one of those products where you get what you pay for, or is there not much difference between the cheapo stuff and the dear? I've never done a taste test, but I recently purchased Roland soy sauce, which is almost 50 percent cheaper than Kikkoman, and it seems pretty good to me.

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  1. I think that if it doesn't make a difference to your enjoyment, then it doesn't make a difference. They definitely taste different, but whether it's a difference you appreciate is the thing that matters. :)

    1. It matters. The cheaper soy sauces are water, caramel coloring and flavoring. Real soy sauce starts with beans which are fermented over time. Time costs money. Time makes for flavor. I think Kikkoman as the minimum baseline. Much pricier stuff out there.

      1. I'm one that doesn't notice much difference between the fancy stuff and the cheap stuff, so I actually buy a cheap store-brand low sodium (gasp) version. I don't do a lot of extensive asian cooking either though. I usually just use soy sauce in marinades or for a quick pan sauce. I would think if you're wanting to do authentic asian cooking, then it matters.

        1. Definitely makes a difference.
          And

          Japanese soy sauce is different than Chinese and usually better in my opinion...but that opinion aside, most serious cooks agree that the two are different enough to not really be interchangeable.

          But stay away from the cheap crap, definitely. Though to be fair, there are ones far, far worse than Roland.

          7 Replies
          1. re: The Professor

            it makes a difference to me in taste and it also makes a difference if you have any friends with celiac - only tamari marked "no wheat" can be used - all cheap soy sauces and many expensive ones have wheat added. there are also many different soy sauces if you are seriously cooking asian food, from thin to thicker, lighter to stronger, so you might want to experiment based on your recipes on your taste. But I do believe you will find the taste of good quality soy is deeper, richer, more nuanced, and worth investing in.

            1. re: The Professor

              So what is the salient difference between Chinese and Japanese? And is there a Korean soy sauce?

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  And yes, there are Korean soy sauces. In the early 80s there was a small scandal in Korea when they discovered that some of the big manufacturers in Korea were adulterating their soy sauces with salt water and carmel coloring.

                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    Yes, there is Korean soy sauce. It's called Kamjang and it tastes quite different than Chinese and Japanese SS's

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      The Korean word for "soy sauce" is kamjang. It's not specific to Korean soy sauce though - any soy sauce is called that.

                      1. re: Shazam

                        It's actually gan-jang. Translates into..um...season sauce/paste?

                        It's typically differentiated into:

                        Josun/gook Ganjang (Josun being the old term for Korea, gook being the soup)

                        Wei/jin Ganjang (Japanese style).

                        Yangjo Ganjang (not sure what it means :D).

                2. "Soy Sauce: Does the Brand Matter?"

                  Not to me.

                  1. It matters to me. I recently changed to Lee Kum Kee Double Fermented Soy Sauce for regular use. It's the only soy sauce I've used that's tasty straight out of the bottle, so I'm sticking with it.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: GH1618

                      < Lee Kum Kee Double Fermented Soy Sauce for regular use>

                      That is a good one. I like that one as well.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        I use this one too. Used to think it didn't matter but a nice brand (or just one you like) really helps.

                      2. Yes, it matters.

                        First the different kinds of soy sauce are themselves very different:

                        1. Japanese: I strongly prefer tamari over more common koikuchi (standard Kikkoman in US groceries). San-J is a good brand, but it has a spectrum of tamari offerings, and the ones with the gold or platinum labels are best IMO.

                        2. Chinese light: Pearl River Bridge Superior is a good benchmark easily found in Asian markets in the US.

                        3. Chinese dark: Ditto.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Karl S

                          btw what about Maggi vs Soy?

                          maybe another thread?

                          I made this recipe more than once and it comes out wonderfully (it took a lot longer than 15 minutes for me anyway)

                          http://www.steamykitchen.com/164-15-m...

                          1. re: madeliner

                            Maggi sauce stopped including soy sauce as an ingredient in 2000. A lot of people really like the flavor that it adds dishes. I don't think I would use it instead of soy sauce. I would probably use it in addition to soy sauce.

                        2. I wasn't that aware of the difference until I was out with a friend one night who insisted the waitress bring out the "good stuff" from behind the counter. The standard they served was good old Kikoman. Not fantastic, but certainly decent. I don't know what the other one was, the bottle wasn't labeled, but it had a depth and richness totally lacking in the Kikoman.

                          1. To answer your question in many ways, and probably more than you want.

                            First, it is not so much that brand matters. It that what matters is often reflected by the brands. Or simplistically speaking, yes, it matters. :)

                            Second, there are many kinds of soy sauces. It is kind of like wine or beer. You cannot really compare an Ale to a Lager and ask which is better. They are judged differently within their own category.

                            Kikkoman (龜甲萬) is a Japanese brand, and it makes great Japanese soy sauce/shoyu. However, when I want Chinese style soy sauce, I don't buy Kikkoman. I often buy Koon Chun (冠珍), which happens to be much cheaper as well.

                            1. what about superior soy? that is the only brand I can get in an asian market around here

                              is kikkoman a better choice?

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: madeliner

                                <what about superior soy? that is the only brand I can get >

                                There is a brand of soy sauce called "superior soy"? I have never heard of it. Are you sure it is the name of a brand, and not a classification?

                                1. re: madeliner

                                  Your asian market doesn't sell Kikkoman?

                                  I've never had Superior Soy, but Kikkoman is a lot better than the many bad soy sauces that one can buy. There are some products that are better than regular Kikkoman, but those differences are less obvious than Kikkoman vs generic brand.

                                  1. re: madeliner

                                    I'm pretty sure that's a Chinese soy sauce. I haven't used it in a long time, so I don't recall its flavor.

                                    1. re: madeliner

                                      I believe you're referring to Pear River Superior Soy Sauce. It's an okay sauce. Lee Lum Kee and Koon Chun is much better.

                                      Between superior and kikkoman, I would pick kikkoman. For my taste buds, kikkoman has more flavor while superior taste like salty water.

                                      1. re: madeliner

                                        Thanks

                                        the asian market sells kikkoman but I wanted to try something different-the soy is made by goldensmell (what an awful name!) looks like they make a lot of Asian products

                                        I may return the 2 bottles I bought for 1.79 each

                                      2. Soy sauce is a complex, fermented product with wildly varying levels of quality, just like wine. If you are just using a couple tablespoons here and there for marinades or sauces, perhaps the you can get away with the soy sauce version of Sutter Home. But if you are making recipes where soy sauce is a star player like teriyaki, adobo or bulgogi, the brand and quality of your soy sauce will matter tremendously.

                                        Luckily you don't have to spend as much on quality soy as you do on quality wine. I buy a well-regarded Chinese brand of soy sauce that is also cheaper than Kikkoman, but lacks the harsh, chemical flavor of cheap domestic brands like La Choy.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. IMO yes it does. Because there a many different types of soy sauce (dark sweet - dark thick - thin) some brands offer a superior product. For example, for dark sweet and dark thick - I prefer Healthy Boy brand. For thin - Pearl River Bridge. Healthy Boy also has an excellent mushroom soy sauce. These all come from Asian grocery stores in MSP. All are available online as well.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: Maggie19

                                            I second these brand suggestions and would add Kimlan, a Taiwanese sauce, I think, and my go-to general-use one for Chinese. Japanese sauces are lighter and more refined and good for marinades, in my limited experience (I seldom cook Japanese).

                                            Shop for soy sauces at an Asian market--they're better and cheaper, and you can get recommendations for a good light Chinese, dark Chinese, mushroom sauce, and a Japanese sauce. That would be my basic panoply of soys. When people talk about prices, most often it's only a matter of a few dollars (except for some artisinal Japan stuff, I suppose).

                                            It's like fish sauce: almost invariably, even the pricier versions are still cheap (under $10) and last a long time. Think of how casually people drop $4 on a box of breakfast cereal!

                                            1. re: Bada Bing

                                              I bridle mightily at 4-samolian cereal, and am equally reluctant to drop many clams on soy sauce, unless there is a marked quality difference that correlates with price. And I must say, that soy sauce goes quickly in my kitchen. It is one of my more heavily used ingredients.

                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                Probably much easier for you to find a good Mexican grocery than a good Asian grocery where you are, but I think you would be surprised at the difference in taste among the different varieties, and how using one instead of another can affect the taste of the final dish. Sometimes its not a big price difference, just a flavor difference between light and dark soy, or Chinese vs. Japanese. And what you cook with might be different from what you have on the table as a condiment. Yamasa is one I particularly like to use on sushi.

                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                  What I really need to do is attend a soy sauce tasting. Alas, they do not occur with great frequency in these parts.

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      I'd sit in on something like that. KoonChun has been my go-to favorite for 40 years or more for both flavor and value, and while I've sometimes used others in a pinch, I was always able to pick up on the differences.

                                                      But it would indeed be interesting to do a side by side controlled tasting. Maybe served over a bit of rice...but what would one use to cleanse and refresh the palate inbetween, given the umami and other flavors usually present in soysauce (salt, fermentation byproducts, etc.)?

                                                      1. re: The Professor

                                                        Koon Chun. High quality, unpretentious, inexpensive, traditional formulation.

                                          2. Depends on the application. My mom used soy sauce a lot in marinades, and for this she'd use Kikkoman as the main ingredient (along with rice wine, vinegar, spices, etc). In dressings and for dipping veggies, she used Lee Kum (Sp?) which I remember as being thick as molasses. That said, she used the sauces maybe 6-8 times a year, at most.

                                            1. Have a cute little Asian market in my neighborhood. When I knew I would be needing soy sauce soon, stopped in there for the first time. They have "K" products but also SEVERAL other brands of soy, tamari, mirin, etc. People who own the store are SUPER nice and helpful. I asked which brand (NO English on label) should I try first. Just have to remember what I've already tried. Haven't had a recommendation I didn't like.

                                              1. Soy sauce has many general formulations and uses. The brands differ in quality. If you use soy sauce a lot, the differences will be clear.

                                                An analogy would be like me asking: "Wine: Does the Brand Matter?" There are many types of wines with their distinct qualities. If someone is unfamiliar with wines, they may think that all wines taste the same, so the cheapest would be best.

                                                Try a few different versions: Japanese, Chinese, double-fermented, light, dark, etc.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: raytamsgv

                                                  I understand the analogy, but there are some products--yellow, ballpark mustard, for instance--where the brand makes little difference. I thought perhaps soy sauce might be one of those products.

                                                2. I don't generally notice much of a difference, but I think some of the really cheap soy sauce packets (the ones from cheapo Chinese places, not the kind that comes with sushi) taste like crap.

                                                  1. Even the 200 yen (~around two bucks) bottles of 正田 (Shoda) soy sauce I get at Narita Airport are better than the stuff Kikkoman and Yamasa offer in many US sushi restaurants.

                                                    Now, higher end sushi places are a different story, but these days, anything less than Shoda is anathema to the cause...

                                                    https://buildingmybento.wordpress.com/
                                                    http://collaterallettuce.com/

                                                    1. I use a gluten free tamari because I have a lot of friends and family who are gluten free at one time or another. I don't want to exclude anyone. My fave right now is Eden gluten free tamari

                                                      1. l use two types for different purposes, for marinating or cooking in general l use Koon Chun double. For sushi and sushi preps as well as a finishing soy l use one of the rotating pricey handmade ones available from Darrel Corti in Sacramento.
                                                        When l returned from a long stay in Japan l brought back some of the handmade ones and the differences are very apparent.

                                                        1. If I were going to drink a quart of soy sauce, I would go with the low sodium variety.

                                                          "After chugging a QUART of soy sauce on a dare, college student first to survive salt overdose without brain damage
                                                          "
                                                          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/artic...

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Antilope

                                                            <If I were going to drink a quart of soy sauce....>

                                                            True.

                                                            It is like: "if I were to going to drink one quart of vodka, I would go with the lower alcohol content variety"

                                                            <college student first to survive salt overdose without brain damage>

                                                            First, his brain must have been damaged before he did this stunt. Second, I am surprised that nothing happens to his heart and circulation system.

                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                              "First, his brain must have been damaged before he did this stunt."
                                                              Yep ;)

                                                          2. I'm a confirmed fan of Wuan Chuang, a Taiwanese variety.

                                                            Still keep a bottle of Kikkoman around to accompany sushi and Japanese food. And a spray bottle of Bragg's Liquid Aminos, which to my taste seems to hit the same approximate spot as tamari.

                                                            1. Here is what is in a cheap soy sauce, easily distinguished by the ingredients on the label. Now, it is up to you if you don't mind eating these "ingredients" but personally, I think a few extra bucks is worth real food. From On Food and Cooking:

                                                              Nowadays, defatted soy meal, the residue of soybean oil production, is broken down—hydrolyzed—into amino acids and sugars with concentrated hydrochloric acid. This caustic mixture is then neutralized with alkaline sodium carbonate, and flavored and colored with corn syrup, caramel, water, and salt.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: AmandaCA

                                                                Here's what's in my "cheap" soy sauce:

                                                                Water
                                                                Wheat
                                                                Soybeans
                                                                Salt
                                                                Sodium Benzoate (Less than 1/10th of 1%)

                                                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                  There's a brand called China Lily that, IMHO, makes some of the most vile soy sauce on Earth, if you can even call it that. It's full of weird stuff. I think it's getting less popular because as it turns out you can buy decent soy sauce for $2 as opposed to the $1 China Lily costs.

                                                                2. re: AmandaCA

                                                                  I highly recommend Koon Chuan Soy sauce. It is relatively inexpensive and tastes great. It also has a very simple ingredient list:

                                                                  Water, soy bean, salt and flour.

                                                                  http://www.shoptheeast.com/1906-2740-...

                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                    Plus they offer, soy sauce, double soy sauce, double black soy sauce, ketjam manis, thin soy sauce, and others.

                                                                3. KimLan was probably the best I had found before I had to shun anything with wheat. San J black label (gluten free) is what I use now. I consider it better than most of the cheap soy sauces.

                                                                  1. Someone at the office brought in a bottle of Buillard's Louisiana Supreme Soy Sauce, that he picked up at the dollar store, and I was amazed at how good it was. And I'm picky about my soy sauce. No Kikkoman's in my cupboard, ever!

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: AngelaID

                                                                      Many decades ago our family would go a Chinese restaurant in Calgary twice a year or so.
                                                                      I remember so well how delicious and exotic the whole experience was. We were served little side bowls of dark soy sauce and bowls of toasted sesame seeds. The delicious joy of taking the fork and gently submerging it in the sauce then carefully into the sesame seeds!
                                                                      That soy sauce back then had to be pretty special. Our family was the only caucasian one in the restaurant as far as I could remember. (Circa 1950's)
                                                                      Does anyone dip their fork etc?
                                                                      Does anyone here know what brand/type etc soy sauce would be served to say the President/Chairman of China when he goes to the best Chinese restaurant in China? Same question for the Japanese Prime Minister.
                                                                      Surely someone knows.
                                                                      THOSE brands/types are what I'd like to source.
                                                                      I assume the soy sauces would be a special in-house varieties but maybe someone here knows some inside info about how close some commercial brands are to the 'best of the best'.
                                                                      Here's hoping.

                                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                                        It would most likely be an aged soy sauce. When soy sauce is aged for a long time, day fifty years, it loses some of its saltiness and becomes for nutty and unami. The feeling is more viscous and smooth too. Also, it would be a soy sauce that is made in small batches and traditionally fermented. One brand I would recommend is Nama Shoyu. They use a traditional fermentation method of cedar casks and the soy sauce is full of good bacteria because it is heated at a low tempature for pasteurization. The flavor is wonderful and I use it mostly as a finishing soy sauce. Less salty.

                                                                        Another thing to look for is the ingredients. Some people swear by all soybean which is traditional but soy sauces that are 50/50 soy and wheat seem to have a rounder flavor and better balance.

                                                                        So I suspect high ranking Japanese would be served something like this. Cedar casks, 50/50 mix, traditional, raw, aged 50 years.

                                                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                                                          Here is an interesting article on the production of preimum sauces, including soy, in China. Wish we could get some of these recipes.

                                                                          http://m.scmp.com/article/697334/sauc...

                                                                      2. A few years back, we discovered tamari sauce - similar to soy sauce, but different. We now prefer it.

                                                                        Tamari sauces can be wheat free, but not necessarily. We like Asian Gourmet which lists water, soybeans, wheat and salt as its ingredients.

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Clams047

                                                                          Found 'I Ho Yuan' on Google. $21.00 for 125 ML!
                                                                          I've put it on my Birthday/Christmas 'wish-list'.
                                                                          If one of my family gets it for me I will let you all know what it tastes like.

                                                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                                                            To me, the brand matters. I'm not a Kikkoman fan, despite having grown up on it. For Japanese soy sauce, I prefer the Yamasa imported from there with the gold label:

                                                                            http://www.yamasausa.com/wp-content/u...

                                                                            For Chinese, I use the Superior Light Soy Sauce from Pearl River Bridge which is widely available and reasonably priced. This comparison between good and bad soy sauce from their website is rather intriguing: http://america.prb.com.cn/other/qa5.html

                                                                            1. re: grayelf

                                                                              Kikkoman makes a really good organic soy sauce. It isn't widely distributed in the US but Mitsuwa carries it, along with some specialty stores:

                                                                              http://www.amazon.com/Kikkoman-organi...

                                                                              1. re: ferret

                                                                                I find the regular Kikkoman too dark and caramelly. How does the organic one compare?

                                                                        2. I would say yeah brand matters but also reviews. I usually base my purchases off of reviews of a product then work my way from there. I will try the best reviewed product then if I liked it I am good to go. If not move on to the second best. As with everyone I used Google or Amazon, however the top listing is most of the time not the best. Just from the largest company. When I was researching soy sauce(note I have celiac disease) I ordered the three top rated products which were Kikkoman, San-J and Little Soya. I am glad I ordered all three so I could get a good grasp on which one I really like and Little Soya was sooooo much better. No salt taste, which was a huge plus and it went well with anything I put it on. Plain rice and the soy sauce was an excellent snack to satisfy my hunger. Hope this helps you. Cheers Perilagu

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: ICUNVME

                                                                            This thread reminds me that years ago local restaurants would give you a packet of soy sauce with takeouts. I recall it came in a small square glass bottle that was tapered. It was very black, extremely salty and the taste was dense and quite vile. The brand may have been Chun King or something similar. Some restaurants were foolish enough to have a bottle at every table. If you were not on your toes whatever it got onto immediately became inedible. I trust it is either gone or has been re-vamped. I can't imagine anyone ever cooked with it.

                                                                            1. re: chilibeanpaste

                                                                              We most often get bad soy sauce packets with "cheap and cheerful" sushi takeaways. Kimlan is pretty vile.