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Soy Sauce: Does the Brand Matter?

Perilagu Khan Jun 5, 2013 12:54 PM

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.

  1. eclecticsynergy Jun 8, 2013 08:15 PM

    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. Antilope Jun 8, 2013 02:05 PM

      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

      2 Replies
      1. re: Antilope
        Chemicalkinetics Jun 8, 2013 02:23 PM

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


        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
          enbell Jun 8, 2013 09:25 PM

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

      2. Delucacheesemonger Jun 8, 2013 07:19 AM

        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. k
          Kalivs Jun 7, 2013 08:30 PM

          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. b
            BuildingMyBento Jun 7, 2013 05:42 PM

            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...


            1. l
              layerlessonion Jun 6, 2013 10:30 AM

              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. raytamsgv Jun 6, 2013 09:11 AM

                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
                  Perilagu Khan Jun 6, 2013 11:30 AM

                  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. k
                  kseiverd Jun 6, 2013 08:01 AM

                  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. pinehurst Jun 6, 2013 07:57 AM

                    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. m
                      Maggie19 Jun 6, 2013 07:53 AM

                      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
                        Bada Bing Jun 6, 2013 04:57 PM

                        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
                          Perilagu Khan Jun 7, 2013 07:59 AM

                          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
                            KaimukiMan Jun 7, 2013 07:13 PM

                            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
                              Perilagu Khan Jun 8, 2013 07:11 AM

                              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: Perilagu Khan
                                KaimukiMan Jun 8, 2013 11:20 AM

                                maybe you need to organize one, LOL.

                                1. re: KaimukiMan
                                  The Professor Jun 8, 2013 12:21 PM

                                  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
                                    Chemicalkinetics Jun 8, 2013 02:02 PM

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

                      2. JungMann Jun 6, 2013 07:38 AM

                        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. re: JungMann
                          Perilagu Khan Jun 6, 2013 08:10 AM

                          A sensible answer.

                        2. m
                          madeliner Jun 5, 2013 10:09 PM

                          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
                            Chemicalkinetics Jun 5, 2013 10:22 PM

                            <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
                              calumin Jun 5, 2013 10:33 PM

                              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
                                raytamsgv Jun 6, 2013 09:11 AM

                                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
                                  dave_c Jun 6, 2013 12:00 PM

                                  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
                                    madeliner Jun 6, 2013 04:36 PM


                                    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. Chemicalkinetics Jun 5, 2013 10:02 PM

                                    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. KaimukiMan Jun 5, 2013 09:45 PM

                                      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. Karl S Jun 5, 2013 05:22 PM

                                        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
                                          madeliner Jun 5, 2013 10:12 PM

                                          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)


                                          1. re: madeliner
                                            Kalivs Jun 7, 2013 08:44 PM

                                            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. g
                                          GH1618 Jun 5, 2013 05:20 PM

                                          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
                                            Chemicalkinetics Jun 5, 2013 10:03 PM

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

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

                                            1. re: GH1618
                                              Hobbert Jun 6, 2013 08:03 AM

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

                                            2. carolinadawg Jun 5, 2013 05:02 PM

                                              "Soy Sauce: Does the Brand Matter?"

                                              Not to me.

                                              1. The Professor Jun 5, 2013 01:45 PM

                                                Definitely makes a difference.

                                                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.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: The Professor
                                                  teezeetoo Jun 5, 2013 02:00 PM

                                                  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
                                                    Perilagu Khan Jun 6, 2013 08:12 AM

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

                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan
                                                      wattacetti Jun 6, 2013 09:20 AM

                                                      Soybean to wheat ratio.


                                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan
                                                        KaimukiMan Jun 7, 2013 07:05 AM

                                                        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.

                                                    2. juliejulez Jun 5, 2013 01:43 PM

                                                      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. b
                                                        Bkeats Jun 5, 2013 01:24 PM

                                                        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. inaplasticcup Jun 5, 2013 12:57 PM

                                                          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. :)

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