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The “Best” Japanese Soy Sauce (Shoyu) Brands

Main image by Dom Pates via Flickr.

My title is such B.S., just like the post by a website that rhymes loosely with “Bruce’s Feet” (I hope this doesn’t attract people with a foot fetish, although if your name is Bruce, welcome).

If you Google the “best soy sauce,” a shiesty post titled “The 8 Best Soy Sauces of 2020” pops up, and if you think I’m throwing shade for no reason, let me explain. The products listed on that site are not the “best” because saying something is the best is subjective, although they also do not cite what their criteria are in their evaluation, which may or may not be based on product quality (ingredients), taste, or price.

Soy Sauce Bottle Icon

The other articles online have Chinese and Japanese brands all thrown together, but I will focus strictly on Japanese soy sauces, which have a very distinctive taste and style compared to Chinese soy sauces.

Soy sauce was invented by the Chinese, and if you want to know the history from China to Japan, this Japanese site soysauce.or.jp has the history of soy sauce.

The products listed in other articles are chosen to merely promote their Amazon or Instacart affiliate links. So in my eyes, their content is completely useless in regards to being “the best” because they have a clear agenda which has nothing to do with finding you the best of anything. The article should be retitled to “the best way to put some money into our pockets sucka foo.”

Photo Description: two Japanese men dressed in traditional attire that are off white clothing and white headbands. They are in a room made completely out of wood with several large round holes which are large vats for brewing soy sauce. The two men are using large wooden paddles to most likely stir the concoction below.
Yuasa in Wakayama is called the birthplace of soy sauce which is a big flex on the rest of Japan because who doesn’t use soy sauce? Image courtesy of Yuasa soy sauce.

The history of soy sauce

Beyond the Japanese website with their history of soy sauce from China to Japan, Samuel Wells Williams, and his book “the Middle Kingdom, published in 1848 (original by Harvard University), A Survey of the Geography, Government, Education, Social Life, Arts, Religion & of the Chinese Empire and Its Inhabitants ; with a New Map of the Empire · Volume 2” can be read free of charge via Google Books.

EDIT: 9/23/22: I had to add this, a portrait of Samuel Wells Williams in 1854 by Hibata Osuke who nailed it with the Spy vs. Spy vibes.

What I Plan on Providing You Is an Overview To Japanese Shoyu and All the Major Brands and the Types

Soy Sauce Bottle Icon

Keep in mind, asking “which is the best soy sauce” is like asking “which is the best beer.” So I have the 3 biggest Japanese soy sauce brands listed, along with the “craft” soy sauces at the bottom link/article.

I swear tho, most beer drinkers think an IPA is the end all, be all of beers tho.

You will be more than happy using any of the top three brands listed in this article (according to Kikkoman, there are 1,300 soy sauce producers and Kikkoman owns 30% of the domestic market) although if you want to try products from regional producers in Japan, you will want to try all the craft soy sauces.

The Inclusion of Wheat in Japanese Shoyu Is What Makes It Distinctive From Other Soy Sauces

Japanese soy sauces are fermented and are comprised of:

  • Water
  • Koji (Aspergillus oryzae)
  • Soybeans (steamed and roasted)
  • Crushed wheat (except for tamari which contains little to no wheat although the inclusion of various ratios of wheat gives Japanese soy sauces a nuanced flavor.)
  • Salt

Compared to other non-Japanese soy sauces, Japanese shoyu is commonly non-GMO and does not contain corn syrups, artificial caramel, to hydrolyzed vegetable protein or hydrochloric acid.

Soy Sauce Bottle Icon

Tamari has little to no wheat, and it is one of the five types of Japanese soy sauces, but the most popular type is koikuchi (1:1 wheat and soybeans), whereas tamari has only a 1% market share in Japan.

Tamari is the Japanese version of Chinese soy sauce which was originally a way to stretch the highly prized salt.
Photo Description: a man's hand holds several soybean pods (edamame) as the sunlight shines and highlights the outer edges of he leaves and pods.
Oh you magical beans, and if you wonder what beans Jack and the Beanstalk were using, it was soybean because this bean is the reason we have edamame, tofu, miso, natto, to soy sauce.

The 5 Types of Japanese Soy Sauces

Soy Sauce Bottle Icon

1. Koikuchi, 2. Usukuchi, 3. Shiro, 4. Saishikomi, and 5. Tamari

Japanese soy sauce contain various ratios of soybeans and wheat to a double brewing process.
  • Koikuchi, general purpose soy sauce (strong flavored): the most popular/common (upwards of 80%) soy sauce which consists of 1:1 of soybeans and wheat.
  • Koikuchi, genen shoyu (low-sodium): 20-40% less salt.
  • Koikuchi, marudaizu (whole bean): uses whole soybeans and takes longer to ferment so it is generally more expensive.
  • Usukuchi (lighter colored and saltier): lighter colored but utilizes more salt than koikuchi (so quit buying this one thinking it’s a low sodium soy sauce you morons, I’m talking you Amazon buyers/review section).
  • Shiro (white): is primarily composed of wheat with very little soybeans.
  • Saishikomi (double brewed): a stronger and deeper flavored soy sauce great for dipping.
  • Tamari: is mostly to all soybeans and is not that popular and only accounts for low single digit market share in Japan. Except, if you love every health focused buzzword because you think it’ll make you feel better about yourself, have at it.

3 Major Japanese Soy Sauce Brands

Soy Sauce Bottle Icon

The largest and most dominant Japanese brands are:
1. Kikkoman with 2. Yamasa and then 3. Marukin.

Kikkoman is the largest soy sauce producer in the world.
Photo Description: the Kikkoman (top), Yamasa (middle), and Marukin (bottom) logo.
The logos of the 3 largest Japanese soy sauce brands in order of market share (Kikkoman, Yamasa, to Marukin).

KIKKOMAN

www.kikkoman.com

The Kikkoman/shoyu plant is the highest producing facility in the world is located in Walworth, Wisconsin.

if you want to read more, check out the article on the Shepherd Express

Founded: Kikkoman was founded on December 7th, 1917 and is based in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. The company itself is comprised of eight family-owned businesses which were founded as early as 1603 by the Mogi and Takanashi families.

About Kikkoman: it is the most popular brand of soy sauce in Japan and the United States and is the largest shoyu manufacturing company in the world which is also the company responsible for introducing shoyu to the West.

Photo Description: Kikkoman soy sauce 1 gallon tin. The text on the iconic packaging design looks like a honeycomb pattern that is black and red. The labeling has a green and gold accents with the copy saying "over 300 years of excellence" along with Kikkoman SHOYU, brewed in USA, Net Contents 1 gl (3.79L) and Walworth, WI, 53184 USA.
This tin can has got to be one of the most iconic products in a Japanese and Japanese American home (it does come in smaller plastic bottles, but my family goes big).

Kikkoman, the #1 Soy Sauce Brand

TYPE OF
SOY SAUCE
PRICE/
VENDOR
Kikkoman
Koikuchi
Tin/128 oz
$51.32
Amazon
Kikkoman
Koikuchi
1 Gallon
$18.53
Amazon
Kikkoman
Japan Made
Soy Sauce

33.8 fl oz
$8.00
Amazon
Kikkoman
Smooth
Aromatic

Soy Sauce
6.8 fl oz
$3.58
Amazon
Kikkoman
Usukuchi

Soy Sauce
33.8 fl oz
$8.31
Midoriya

NYC
After year, I finally have become an Amazon Associate, and I earn from qualifying purchases although I will always provide links to businesses with better pricing/availability (if you find a more competitive source, I will add it and cite you for it).

YAMASA

www.yamasausa.com

Soy sauce manufacturers use different kinds of Koji mold, and we use a unique strain of mold called YAMASA Aspergillus that we have nurtured over hundreds of years, since the Edo era.”

– Yamasa

Founded: Yamasa was founded in 1645 and the head office is located in Choshi, Chiba, Japan.

In their words about their products:we insist on making our products through traditional methods. Our soy sauce has a delectably rich flavor with a crisp, spicy aroma and brilliant red color. The preferred brand selected by many of Japan’s finest restaurants, YAMASA produces a slow-brewed soy sauce that is fermented and free of all artificial flavorings.” – Yamasa

Photo Description: Yamasa Shoyu koikuchi 33.8 fl oz bottle.
I have a picture of the Yamasa bottle because it helps if you know what it looks like.

Yamasa, the 2nd Largest Soy Sauce Brand

TYPE OF
SOY SAUCE
PRICE/
VENDOR
Yamasa Japan
Koikuchi
Imported

34 fl oz
$28.99
Amazon

(2 pack)
Yamasa
Organic
Marudaizu

Soy Sauce
34 fl oz
$18.99
Amazon

(1 item)
$24.99
Amazon

(2 pack)
Yamasa
Usukuchi
Soy Sauce
34 fl oz
$6.20
MTC

Kitchen
After year, I finally have become an Amazon Associate, and I earn from qualifying purchases although I will always provide links to businesses with better pricing/availability (if you find a more competitive source, I will add it and cite you for it).

MARUKIN

www.moritakk.com

“The Shodo Island production brewery includes a natural fermentation “cellar” dating back to the early 1900’s where the soy sauce is produced in approximately 300 wooden barrels made of Japanese Cedar. This facility-one of Japan’s largest natural breweries-has a production capacity that comprises around 30% of the naturally brewed soy sauce made in wooden barrels in Japan.”

– Marukin

Founded: soy sauce manufacturing came to the Shodo islands around the 1600’s, but the Marukin brand was established in 1907.

In the words of Marukin about their products: Marukin enjoys a sterling reputation as one of the top five soy sauce brands in Japan. Along with its namesake soy sauce Marukin offers a range of soy-related seasonings as well. It is based on Shodo Island, among Japan’s top four soy sauce production areas. In testimony to its high profile and popularity throughout Japan, Marukin is beloved across the country for its delicious flavor and high quality.” – Moritakk

Photo Description: The Marukin Koikuchi (general purpose) soy sauce 33.8 fl. oz. bottle.
The Marukin Koikuchi (general purpose) soy sauce bottle.

Marukin, the 3rd Largest Soy Sauce Brand

TYPE OF
SOY SAUCE
PRICE/
VENDOR
Marukin Dark
Koikuchi
Soy Sauce
1 LTR
$10.00
SakeInn
Marukin
Koikuchi
(genen) 50%
Reduced Salt
Soy Sauce
16.66 fl oz
$9.95
Milk

Street
Marukin
Premium
Koikuchi

Soy Sauce
6.66 fl oz
$9.90
Japanese

Taste
I do not make a single cent from these links, but I provide it to support the businesses and to make it easier on you to purchase the product.

Photo Description: the Kikkoman headquarters seen from the street, a 3-story, glass building with a horizontal design element.
The Kikkoman Corporation (the view from the outside because I highly doubt I will ever see the interior).

There Are a Number of Small To Artisanal Producers in Japan (This is Like Craft Beer vs. Commercial Beer)

Beyond the major soy sauce breweries, there are supposedly over 1,300 soy sauce/shoyu producers in japan.

Soy Sauce Bottle Icon

If you are willing to pay $$$, this is the list for the best artisanal and craft soy sauces and where you can buy it from.

Or if you want a Japanese American creation, I have all the OG teriyaki sauces from the Japanese and Japanese American Community right here.
Photo Description:
20+ Craft and big bottle soy sauces you can purchase online from your couch while in your underwear.

Just a few of the companies are (think of these like your craft beer companies): Choko, Daitoku, Fujikin, Inoue, Kishibori, Marunaka, Marushima, Mitsuboshi, Suehiro, Yamashin, Yugeta.

If You Want To Learn More, This Dude Has an Interesting Read

I am more than happy to promote others and one such individual is Tom Schiller who has an in-depth blog article on shoyu, and I highly suggest you check out his blog OishisoJapan.com.

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