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5 soy sauces that deserve permanent spots in your pantry

We can shoyu the world. Salty, umami, splendid.
best soy sauces

If there is one East Asian staple that you can find in practically anyone’s refrigerator or pantry, it’s soy sauce. The salty condiment, hailing originally from China, is a meal-time must-have for dipping, seasoning, and/or marinating.

Australian chef Louis Tikaram is no stranger to the wonders of the fermented liquid. After all, he integrated it into his dishes at Tetsuya’s (Japanese), Lograin (Thai), EP&LP (Modern Asian) and now Stanley — his waterfront Cantonese gem, perched just above the Howard Smith Wharves in Brisbane.

“Soy sauce is such an incredibly diverse ingredient,” he says, alluding to its versatility of use, type and origin. While soy sauce is most commonly associated with Chinese and Japanese cuisines, unique variations can also be found in countries like Korea, Indonesia and Thailand.

Though picking a favorite may seem impossible (especially because different types are used for different dishes), Tikaram offers a few pieces of advice the next time you’re in the grocery store or perusing the internet:

  1. Identify its purpose. “Japanese use soy sauce (shoyu) more as a condiment. It is very subtle and delicate and it can be made to a very high quality from aging and using premium ingredients. Thai soy sauce is used to season curries and stir fries. It is very flavorful and rich. Chinese soy sauce is used for a lot of marinades and sauces. It is powerful and strong and perfect for the intense combinations of ingredients like chili and Sichuan peppercorns.”
  2. Pick between light and dark varieties. “Light soy sauce is saltier and adds a punch. Dark soy sauce is aged for longer, so it is much darker, sweeter, thicker and less salty, though fuller in flavor. I like to add a splash of dark soy sauce to my noodle dishes to give it that great gloss and deep color.” 
  3. Consider gluten-free options. “I like to buy soy sauce that is gluten-free so that it contains no wheat. The flavor is not so overpowering, as it’s usually aged longer and makes a good all-around soy sauce for dipping to stir-fries.” 

Check out our top picks below, as well as answers to frequently asked soy sauce questions after the jump.

Best Overall: Silver Swan Soy Sauce

The swan may be silver, but the medal is gold for Silver Swan soy sauce from the Philippines. Thanks to its versatility, balance and touch of sweetness, it can be used in endless Asian dishes, from sushi and stir-fry to adobo and ramen. Best of all, it’s available in family-sized jugs so that you can save on money and the inevitable trip to the grocery store after it’s used up in only a week or two.

Best Value: Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce

Kikkoman is proof that some classics can actually withstand the test of time. It’s also proof that a soy sauce with lower sodium content can taste as delicious as its saltier counterparts. America’s most popular bottle is brewed using the same techniques as any ol’ sauce, but nearly 40% of the salt is removed after fermentation. That means you get all of the body and characteristics found in a standard soy sauce, but with a blend that’s healthier for your blood pressure. Kikkoman recommends using the green bottle in the later stages of cooking to bring out flavors, but it’s just as good on its own or as the foundation of a dipping sauce.

Best Dark: Yamaroku Tsuru Bisiho Soy Sauce

Aged for four years to achieve its signature sweet and rich taste, Yamaroku’s Tsuru Bishiho has developed a cult-like following for those seeking a more gourmet soy sauce experience. By using the saishikomi method, which returns fresh soy sauce to the aging barrel after being fortified with additional soybeans and wheat, the result is a layered, umami-forward blend that demands to be poured on any noodle dish.

Best Light: Kishibori Shoyu Soy Sauce

Deep and complex, yet delicate and light on the tongue, Kishibori shoyu sauce remains one of the best on the market with its famously silky-smooth texture. While best consumed raw and paired with fish, a splash or two can accentuate the flavors of practically any dish, making it the condiment to have on stand-by as you’re preparing to serve a home-cooked feast. Its authentic paper packaging, adorned with Japanese characters, also makes it a thoughtful gift for the hard-to-please foodie in your life.

Best Gluten-Free: Megachef Gluten-Free Soy Sauce

Tikaram’s personal favorite hails from Thailand and has become a top choice among chefs for its ability to accommodate customers with gluten sensitivities. It is clean, aromatic and used primarily to enhance ingredients to create even bolder and more memorable flavors. Those on the hunt for a good oyster sauce will also enjoy Megachef’s beloved blue bottle that has won awards for its not-too-salty recipe with a base of smoked oysters.