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products listed on that site are not the “best” because saying something is the best is subjective, although they also do not cite what their criteria are in their evaluation, which may or may not be based on product quality (ingredients), taste, or price.
The other articles online have Chinese and Japanese brands all thrown together, but I will focus strictly on Japanese soy sauces which has a very distinctive taste and style compared to Chinese soy sauces.
The products listed 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.”
What I Plan on Providing You Is an Overview To Japanese Shoyu and All the Major Brands and the Types
Keep in mind, asking “which is the best soy sauce” is like asking “which is the best beer.” So I have the biggest Japanese soy sauce brands listed, along with the “craft” soy sauces at the bottom link/article.
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:
- Koji (Aspergillus oryzae)
- Soybeans (steamed and roasted)
- Crushed wheat (except for tamari which contains little to no wheat although the inclusion of wheat gives Japanese soy sauces a deeper flavor.)
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.
Tamari has little to no wheat and it is one of the five types of Japanese soy sauces although the most popular type is koikuchi (1:1 wheat and soy beans).
The 5 Types of Japanese Soy Sauces
1. Koikuchi, 2. Usukuchi, 3. Shiro, 4. Saishikomi, and 5. Tamari
- 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
The largest and most dominant Japanese brands are:
1. Kikkoman with 2. Yamasa and then 3. Marukin following.
“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
“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.
“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
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 shoyu producers in japan.
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.
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.