During your grocery shopping in the nearest Asian supermarket, you might find multiple choices of Japanese soy sauce. Thin, thick, tamari, it can be very confusing. So, how do you choose the best Japanese soy sauce?

Well, It depends on what kind of flavor profile you’re looking for and what kind of cooking you’re making.

If you want to experiment with Japanese cooking, we recommend you to use Japanese soy sauce. Japanese soy sauce has special characteristics that make them one of a kind. They tend to be a tad bit sweeter compared to Chinese soy sauce. They also come in many varieties so you can choose the right one to match your cooking ingredients.

Soy sauce is a staple seasoning in Japan and many asian countries. As you know, nearly all Japanese cuisine uses soy sauce as a taste defining condiments along with mirin and sake. Cooking Japanese food without soy sauce is almost like cooking italian food without olive oil. That is why it’s important to know which Japanese soy sauce works best for your cooking. Some recipes call for light soy sauce, some call for dark soy sauce, and some recipes are best made with tamari sauce.

Soy Sauce And Soybeans


Now, if you’re ready to take a shot at Japanese cooking (or just want to cook with Japanese soy sauce in general), you might want to know about what kind of Japanese soy sauce is best for your recipe.

Types of Japanese Sauce

Soy Sauce


Before choosing the right Japanese soy sauce, we need to understand different types of Japanese soy sauce and what makes each of them unique. Most people would think that Japanese soy sauce comes in one type, but turns out there are more than you thought.

White Soy Sauce ・ Shiro

Color: clear light yellow
Ingredients: Wheat percentage is higher than the soybean

Though it has the thinnest color, shiro soy sauce is the most salty type of all Japanese soy sauce.

White Soy Sauce


Thin Soy Sauce ・ Usukuchi

Color: clear burnt orange or clear brown
Ingredients: 50% soybeans 50% wheat

This soy sauce also will not add much color to the cooking. Usukuchi soy sauce have saltier taste than thick soy sauce. Very popular in Kansai region like Osaka or Kyoto.

Thin Soy Sauce


Sweet Soy Sauce ・ Amakuchi

Color: dark brown, sometimes clear dark brown
Ingredients: Soybean, wheat, sweetening, vegetable protein

It has a sweet taste, but unlike Southeast Asian sweet soy sauce, amakuchi soy sauce still have the sharp flavor of Japanese soy sauce.

Sweet Soy Sauce


Thick Soy Sauce ・ Koikuchi

Color: Dark brown
Ingredients: 50% soybeans 50% wheat

This soy sauce is an all purpose sauce. When someone says Japanese soy sauce, usually this type is the one that comes to mind. Koikuchi soy sauce is a very versatile condiment because the taste goes well with almost anything.

Thick Soy Sauce


Saishikomi Soy Sauce

Color: Dark Brown
Ingredients: double amount of 50% soybeans and 50% wheat

Saishikomi soy sauce goes through a long brewing process. Because of that, it has great umami flavor. This type is also more fragrant than Tamari.

Saishikomi means re-brew. Shikomi is the process where the salted water is added to the soy solution (moromi). During shikomi process, saishikomi soy sauce is brewed not with salted water, but with an already finished soy sauce batch. Hence, the rich flavor.

Saishikomi Soy Sauce


Tamari Soy Sauce

Color: Dark brown to black
Ingredients: soybeans with less to no wheat

Tamari sauce has been gaining popularity lately because it can be a great alternative for people who cannot tolerate wheat products. Some even say that this type is healthier than regular soy sauce because it contains less sodium and more protein.

Brewed for a long time, tamari has a thick and complex flavor profile. It also has a prominent umami.

Tamari Soy Sauce

How To Choose The Right Japanese Soy Sauce

Tips On Choosing A Good Soy Sauce

The best soy sauces are usually the ones that have been fermented for two years or longer. The maturation of soy sauce give so much dimension and complexity to its taste. When soy sauce is brewed naturally, it will have a pleasant umami flavor, not just sharp saltiness.

Soy Sauce


Each soy sauce is different, so one type of soy sauce might suites your ingredients better than the other. For choosing the right soy sauce according to your cooking, you can read the details on the next part.

Pairing Japanese Soy Sauce With Your Cooking

When you cook, it’s always good to make sure that your soy sauce is suitable for your ingredients.

Cooking With Soy Sauce


Good pairing of soy sauce will not only add flavor to your dish but also enhance the natural taste of the ingredient itself. Here is the guide to choose the best soy sauce for your cooking.

Type of Japanese Soy Sauce Best Used For Cuisines Like
Shiro (white) Tofu, chawanmushi (steamed silk tofu), white fried rice, salad dressing
Usukuchi (thin) Soup, Japanese omelette, simmered dishes
Amakuchi (sweet) White fish sashimi, onigiri, broiled fish
Koikuchi (thick) Goes well with almost anything
Saishikomi Red fish sashimi, red meat steak, Japanese curry
Tamari Chicken teriyaki, red fish sashimi

Soy Sauce to Avoid

Soy sauce comes in many forms, especially outside Japan. If you happen to be choosing between many soy sauces, just remember to never use chemically brewed soy sauce. They usually don’t taste very good. Aside from the questionable ingredients, chemically brewed soy sauce is usually artificially salty.

To identify which soy sauce is chemically made or not, you can check out the ingredients on the packaging. Natural-brew soy sauce is mainly made from soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. If you found corn syrup or food coloring on the ingredients, it should be a noticeable red flag.

Recipes That Uses Soy Sauce

First time cooking Japanese food? Don’t worry, you can use these recipes as a guide or inspiration for your next cooking.

Nikujaga (Stewed Beef And Potato)

If you're familiar with Japanese cuisines, you've probably heard about this dish before. Nikujaga is a simple yet tasty heartwarming dish that's great to eat during cold weather. For this recipe, we will use thin soy sauce (usukuchi soy sauce). If you don't have sliced beef, you can replace it with sliced pork.
Ingredients2Servings
Cooking Time30Minutes
Nikujaga

Ingredients

Thin Beef Slices
150g
Potatoes
2
Carrots
1
Onion
1
Konyaku Noodles
80g
Snap Peas
8 Pieces
Usukuchi Thin Soy Sauce
2 tbsp
Sugar
1 tbsp
Cooking Sake
2 tbsp
Dashi Stock
(You can also use store bought dashi powder mixed with water or use your favorite kind of stock.)
100ml
Vegetable Oil
½ tbsp

Steps

1
Cut potatoes and carrot into bite sized pieces (about 1 inch)
2
Cut onion into 4 wedges
3
Remove the string part from pea pods
4
Cut konyaku into small pieces and hard boil it for 1 minute
5
Heat oil on the frying pan and start cooking the beef slices until brown. After it’s done, pick up meat and leave it on a tray. We don’t want to overcook the beef.
6
With the oil and the meat grease still on the frying pan, add potatoes and carrots on the fry pan and stir fry until the ingredients is half cooked.
7
Add onion and konyaku. Continue to stir fry until all ingredients are coated with oil
8
Put the cooked sliced beef back to the frying pan and mix with all ingredients
9
Add dashi stock, sugar, sake, soy sauce. Mix well and close the fry pan with a lid. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or until the potato is soft. After that add the snap peas
10
Let the nikujaga simmer again for about 2 minutes before serving

Japanese Chicken Wings

Looking for new ways to spice up your chicken wings? Try cooking it with Japanese style! You can also add your own twist by adding chili powder to make it spicier, or you can stick with the sweet and savory classic. This recipe can use koikuci, saishikomi, or tamari soy sauce.
Ingredients2Servings
Cooking Time25Minutes
Japanese Chicken Wings

Ingredients

Chicken Wings
6 Pieces
Salt
¼ tsp
Pepper
¼ tsp
Potato Starch
4 tbsp
Oil
For frying
Soy Sauce
4 tbsp
Cooking Sake
2 tbsp
Mirin
2 tbsp
Sugar
1½ tbsp
Ginger
1cm grated
Toasted Sesame Seeds
For garnish

Steps

1
Turn on the stove and heat the oil until about 150-160˚C
2
Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge with potato starch until all surface is covered
3
Fry the chicken wings until crispy and golden brown. After done, set the wings aside
4
Make the chicken wing glaze by mixing soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar in a small bowl
5
Heat a frying pan, toss the fried chicken wings and the glaze mix, make sure the wings are coated with the glaze
6
Stir until the sauce simmer and thicken
7
Chicken wings are ready to be served. You can garnish them with toasted sesame seeds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I substitute Japanese soy sauce with something else?
Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to substitute soy sauce in Japanese cooking. Soy sauce has that aromatic sharp saltiness that is hard to replace with other condiment. Although, if you’re looking for gluten free option, some brands actually produce gluten free soy sauce (some people who chose to avoid gluten can use tamari soy sauce as well)

These days, a lot of soy sauce brands have accommodate people with special needs. For example, one brand in Japan even make ‘soy’ sauce from fava beans to accommodate those who are allergic to soy.
Is soy sauce good for your health?
Soy sauce contains a high amount of salt, it’s best if you consume soy sauce moderately. If you’re worried about your salt intake, there are multiple soy sauce that is produced with less sodium

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