Uncover the Different Types of Soy Sauce: A Complete Guide

Ken Adam
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choosing soy sauce

Introduction to the World of Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is used everywhere! From busy streets in Southeast Asia to little sushi bars in Japan, soy sauce is a favorite seasoning all around the world. People love it because it tastes so good on all different kinds of food. But did you know there are actually many different types of soy sauce? In Japan there is Shoyu. In Indonesia, there is Kecap Manis, which is a sweet soy sauce. In this guide, we will learn about the different soy sauces used around the world. We will go on a tasty trip to learn about Japanese Shoyu, Indonesian Kecap Manis, and other soy sauces. So get ready to explore the yummy world of soy sauce!

Soy Sauce Ingredients: What Goes Into Their Making?

Soy sauce might taste complex, but it only has a few simple ingredients – soybeans, water, salt, and grains. It’s the fermentation that magically transforms these ingredients into an incredibly flavorful sauce!

The soybeans, water, and salt get mixed with either wheat, barley, or rice. Then the mixture ferments for months or even years! This long fermentation gives soy sauce its signature rich, aromatic taste.

Different types of soy sauce vary based on the grains used or how long it ferments. For example, dark soy sauce gets its thick, molasses-like texture from adding a little sugar during fermentation. But essentially, humble soybeans, water, salt and grains are the core ingredients in every soy sauce. To learn more about how these qualities are reflected in different brands, check out our detailed look at the top 8 soy sauce companies.

Spotlight on Japanese Soy Sauce: Shoyu Varieties

If we’re to dive into the soy sauce world, starting from Japan feels just right. Known for its clean flavor profile with just the right hit of umami, Shoyu, or Japanese soy sauce, is a pantry staple for many. And within the Shoyu family, some siblings are more renowned than others – Koikuchi Shoyu (dark soy sauce) and Usukuchi Shoyu (light soy sauce).

Koikuchi Shoyu: The Dark Soy Sauce of Japan


Coming from the Japanese vocabulary where ‘koi’ refers to dark and ‘kuchi’ means mouth, Koikuchi signifies the dark, rich taste it imparts. Produced from an equal blend of soybeans and wheat, this rich soy sauce undergoes a fermentation process that results in a full-bodied, slightly sweet flavor, a trademark of Japanese cuisine. An absolute superstar in the land of the rising sun, Koikuchi accounts for approximately 80% of domestic soy sauce consumption. It’s known for its versatility, from serving as a dipping sauce for sushi to subtly enhancing dishes by blending in the background. Compared to its cousins across Asia, Koikuchi Shoyu is more balanced and less salty, making it a must-try essential if you’re in the mood for experiencing different types of soy sauce.

Usukuchi Shoyu: The Lighter Side of Japanese Soy Sauce

kikkoman usukuchi 1

If Koikuchi Shoyu is the dark, profound character in the soy sauce drama, Usukuchi Shoyu symbolizes the lighter, more mysterious side. Despite common misconceptions, ‘light’ doesn’t imply less salty but refers to its lighter color. Surprisingly, it contains more salt than its darker counterpart. The lighter color is attributed to a shorter brewing process and the addition of a sweet rice wine called mirin. Because of its distinct taste, Usukuchi Shoyu is mainly used in the Kansai region of Japan and is popular in dishes where the color of ingredients needs to shine through. Think of dishes like a light broth or a glaze for grilled fish.

Usukuchi is less common outside Japan but fear not, you might find it in Asian grocery stores or even on Amazon. Most traditional soy sauces (such as your standard soy sauce or the famous Japanese brand Kikkoman) utilize a mix of soybeans and grains (wheat, barley, or rice). The concoction is then fermented, resulting in a complex flavor spectrum that’s often hard to put into words, think of it as a dance between salty, sweet, tangy, and umami notes.

Yet, there’s an outlier in this grain-based family: Tamari. Originating as a byproduct of miso fermentation, Tamari employs soybeans as its main ingredient, skipping grains entirely. This gives Tamari an incredibly rich and smooth texture, free of gluten. This is a dream come true for the gluten-intolerant among us, right? And also not forget about the lesser-known cousin, Kecap Manis, an Indonesian specialty that tosses palm sugar into the mix for a dose of thick, syrupy sweetness.

Shiro Soyu: A Janpanese Unique White Soy Sauce


One special Japanese soy sauce that deserves the spotlight is Shiro Shoyu. This delicate, pale soy sauce hails from the historic soy sauce town of Yuasa in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture.

Shiro Shoyu, which translates to “white soy sauce,” gets its light golden hue from its unique ingredient ratio – it contains 80% wheat and only 20% soybeans. Most other soy sauces are brewed with equal parts wheat and soybeans. The high wheat content gives Shiro Shoyu a sweeter, mellower taste than regular soy sauces. It has a mild, rounded flavor with hints of caramel and vanilla. The light color also makes it perfect for dishes where you don’t want to dull or darken the ingredients.

Unveiling Chinese Soy Sauce: Light Soy Sauce and Dark Soy Sauce

Venture a bit west from Japan, and we land in China, another country with a rich soy sauce tradition. Light soy sauce and dark soy sauce, a standard in Chinese cooking, are staples in every Chinese household.

Chinese light soy sauce, or ‘Sheng Chou’ is a primary sauce used for seasoning and adds a mouthwatering umami flavor and bright, glossy sheen to dishes.

light soy sauce
PRB light soy sauce

Chinese dark soy sauce, often called ‘Lao Chou’, is darker, sweeter, and thicker due to the addition of sugar and, sometimes, molasses. This Chinese recipe staple is mostly used for color, with its intense darkness painting beautiful hues onto the dishes.

PRB Mushroomed Flavor Dark Soy Sauce
PRB Mushroomed Flavor Dark Soy Sauce

Exploring Korean Soy Sauce: Ganjang

koran Ganjang

Up next is Korea, where the soy sauce culture runs deep, infusing into a multitude of dishes from soups to side dishes. Here, ‘Ganjang’ can refer to both soy sauce and fish sauce, so don’t get confused! A unique aspect of Korean soy sauce is that it tends to be less salty than its foreign counterparts. Also, it’s aged, sometimes even for years. So Korean soy sauce is richer and has a solid, deeply satisfying flavor, and luxuriously fragrant.

Indonesian Soy Sauce: The Sweetness of Kecap Manis

Kecap manis

Out of all the soy sauce varieties, Kecap Manis has to be one of the most uniquely captivating. Straight from Indonesia, this sweet soy sauce cooks standard soy sauce, palm sugar, and a mix of ingredients including garlic and star anise, down to a thick syrup. A sweet, rich, molasses-like condiment, pronounced with an almost licorice-like flavor thanks to the star anise. This darling of Indonesian cooking can transform a dish, lending its sweetness and dark color to make unforgettable stir-fries and marinades.

A Look into Organic and Gluten-Free Soy Sauces

Organic Soy Sauce
PRB Organic Soy Sauce

Organic soy sauces are made from organic soybeans and grains, meaning they are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. They undergo traditional fermentation processes. Taste-wise, organic soy sauces have deeper umami flavors and aroma compared to non-organic varieties.

Gluten-free soy sauce typically comes in two forms – Tamari Shoyu( Janpanese soy sauce) and other gluten-free soy sauce. Tamari is a naturally gluten-free soy sauce made just from soybeans. It offers a rich, smoother soybean taste without wheat. Manufactured gluten-free soy sauces substitute wheat with gluten-free grains like rice or millet. They provide the soy sauce flavor experience while accommodating gluten intolerances.

Both organic and gluten-free varieties allow more people to enjoy the flavors of soy sauce. They open up its magic to those with specific dietary needs or looking for clean-label alternatives. Though the taste profiles may differ slightly, these options capture the essential heart and soul of soy sauce’s savory goodness.

Regions of Soy SauceTypes of Soy SauceHighlight Features
Japanese Soy SauceKoikuchi Shoyu (dark soy sauce)
Usukuchi Shoyu (light soy sauce)
Shiro Shoyu (white soy sauce)
Contains Mirin (Alcohol)
Chinses Soy SauceLao Chou ( (dark soy sauce)
Sheng Chou (light soy sauce)
Korean Soy SauceGanjang (Light soy sauce)Contains Alcohol
Indonesian Soy SauceKecap Manis (sweet dark soy sauce)Alcohol-free
Organic/ Gluten-free Soy SauceTamari Soy Sauce (Janpense called)

Light vs Dark Soy Sauce: Understanding the Difference

Deciding between light soy sauce vsx dark soy sauce can be a head-scratcher, especially when faced with multiple rows of bottled sauces at your local Asian market. Let’s simplify it.

Light soy sauce, or ‘thin’ soy sauce, owes its name to its lighter color. Clocking in with a higher salt content and a thinner consistency, it’s usually used during the cooking process or as a base for dipping sauces, imparting an umami flavor without overpowering the dish.

Dark soy sauce, often denoted as ‘black’ or ‘thick’ soy sauce, is well darker and thicker! The characteristics come from a longer fermentation and the addition of caramel or molasses. Dark soy sauce plays the role of a colorist, tinting dishes with a beautiful dark hue and offering a fuller, slightly sweeter flavor. It’s your go-to for stews, braises, or dishes where a rich color is desirable.

Think of light and dark soy sauce as the Yin and Yang of the Asian culinary world, complementing and balancing each other to create overall harmony.

For more in-depth learning, look at the difference between light and dark soy sauce.

How to Use Different Types of Soy Sauce in Cooking?

Exploring how to use different types of soy sauce is like unlocking a world of flavors. A dash of light soy sauce can elevate a hot pot or stir-fry, while a drizzle of dark soy sauce can bring a beautiful caramel color to your slow-cooked meat dish.

On the other hand, Kecap Manis brings its sweet flavor to satay and noodle dishes. Tamari, with its full soybean flavor and gluten-free properties, is excellent for dipping sauces. Then there are specific soy sauces like white soy sauce (Shiro Shoyu), which is great for marinades or soups as it enhances taste without darkening the color.

Storing Soy Sauce: Best Practices for Longevity

Equipped with different types of soy sauce now, the question arises, how do you keep them at their best?

Unopened, most soy sauces can be stored in a cool dark place, like your pantry. But once opened, consider keeping soy sauces, especially natural brewed ones, in the fridge. This helps maintain their flavor and extends their shelf life. So, the next time you aim to bring out your deliciously thick dark soy sauce or your bottle of Tamari for that spur-of-the-moment sushi night, rest assured they’re ready and at their best to complement your dishes!

Identifying Quality: Recognizing High-grade Soy Sauce

Now that you’re no stranger to the depth and diversity of soy sauces, how can you spot the high-grade ones? Here’s a tip: look at the ingredients. Premium sauces often have no preservatives, are naturally fermented, and are made with traditional methods. Renowned brands like Kikkoman are known for their quality brews. Additionally, regions such as Japan and China have specific denominations for their high-quality, artisanal sauces, each offering its unique characteristics and flavor profiles to be savored.

Learn more: How to choose the best soy sauce

Conclusion: Enhancing Your Culinary Journey with Various Types of Soy Sauce

Like aromatic spices in a dish, understanding, and using different soy sauces can heighten your cooking experience and palate. Whether you are aiming for a flavorful stir-fry using a light soy sauce, a rich braise with a touch of the dark variety, or perhaps a sweet addition with Kecap Manis, each bottle offers a world of flavors waiting to be explored.

I hope this guide has not only answered your questions about the likes of ‘what is dark soy sauce?’ or ‘how many different soy sauces exist?’ but also inspired you to experiment more with the plethora of options out there. After all, cooking is about exploration, and what better way than with a companion as versatile and flavorsome as soy sauce!

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