the difference between soy sauce

Soy sauce (しょうゆ, 醤油, shoyu) is a standard seasoning in Japan and so many people consider it to be there favorite seasoning.

Soy sauce is  the liquid which is squeezed out from fermented mixture of soybeans and wheat. Today, we can find it even at a local market all over the world.

In this page, we will learn the difference between Japanese soy sauce, and useful information to compare the similar products.

Table of Contents

Categories and Tastes of Soy Sauces

As stipulated by JAS(Japan Agriculture Standards),there are 5 categories of Soy Sauce in Japan. What is the difference between them?

Koikuchi Soy Sauce (こいくちしょうゆ)

kikkoman regular soy sauce

About 80% or more of Japanese Soy Sauce on the market is this type. Even local supermarkets carry this type of soy sauce in USA (Well known brand is “Kikkoman”). If the bottle of Japanese soy sauce doesn’t say anything about categories, basically this is it.

Low sodium Soy Sauce is also in this category. It’s a Koikuchi Soy Sauce that has removed a part of sodium.

Ingredients Ratio ( Soybean : Wheat ) is 1 : 1. This type of soy sauce is most common in Japan and it’s suitable for dipping and cooking.

Usukuchi Soy Sauce (うすくちしょうゆ)

The color and flavor of this soy sauce are lighter than Koikuchi Soy Sauce,so some people call Usukuchi Soy Sauce “Light Soy Sauce”. However, Usukuchi Soy Sauce contains about 2% more sodium than Koikuchi Soy Sauce.

When using this soy sauce for cooking, the color of dish will be way lighter than the one using Koikuchi Soy Sauce. This sauce is also suitable to keep some delicate flavor of ingredients themselves.

Kanto Style Noodle Soup
Kanto Style Noodle Soup(using Koikuchi Soy Sauce)
Kansai Style Noodle Soup
Kansai Style Noodle Soup(using Usukuchi Soy Sauce)

Usukuchi Soy Sauce was born in Kansai Area in Japan and most of cooks in Kansai using not only Koikuchi Soy Sauce but also Usukuchi Soy Sauce. That’s why, the color of Noodle Soup in Osaka (city in Kansai Area) is light and one in Tokyo (city in Kanto Area) is dark.

 Where is Kansai? “Kansai” is not official region name!

Tamari Soy Sauce (たまりしょうゆ)

kikkoman tamari soy sauce

This is a darker soy sauce that tastes unique and rich. Some people prefer Tamari Soy Sauce over Koikuchi Soy Sauce for Sashimi and Sushi. It feels slightly thicker than Koikuchi Soy Sauce but sodium content may be same or a little lower than Koikuchi Soy Sauce.

color difference

The ingredients ratio (Soybean : Wheat) is from 9 : 1 to 10 : 0. Because umami comes from soybeans and sweetness comes from wheat, Tamari soy sauce has stronger umami and weaker sweetness. To compensate for sweetness, some maker add glucose to Tamari soy sauce.

Japanese Rice Crackers
Japanese Rice Crackers (煎餅 , せんべい)

If you are looking for gluten free foods, I recommend Tamari Soy Sauce which is made without wheat.

Additionally, Tamari Soy Sauce turns nice reddish brown when heated. So, it is particularly suited for making Teriyaki and Rice Cracker.

Saishikomi Soy Sauce (さいしこみしょうゆ)

It’s very dark soy sauce which was born in the Yamaguchi prefecture. Saishikomi(再仕込み) Soy Sauce is translated “re-fermented” or ” twice-brewed” soy sauce. Because soy sauce is one of the ingredients to make Saishikomi Soy Sauce. (To make other type of soy sauce, salty water is used.)

This sauce is suitable for dipping. It’s hard to find Saishikomi Soy Sauce outside of Japan.

Shiro Soy Sauce (しろしょうゆ)

Shiro(White) Soy Sauce is pale amber-colored soy sauce which was born in Aichi prefecture. It’s even lighter than Usukuchi Soy Sauce. It’s a good option when making clear soup.

The ingredients Ratio (Soybean : Wheat) is from 1 : 9 to 0 : 10. That’s why, White Soy Sauce has a unique sweet flavor. It’s hard to find White Soy Sauce outside of Japan.

The Information You Find on the Bottle of Soy Sauce

Understanding information on the label of the bottle is very important to pick the best soy sauce for you. Especially, on the products at oriental markets, it’s hard to find correct translations. In this section, you also can learn some Japanese letters to compare soy sauces.

The Ingredients of the Soy Sauce

maroyaka soy sauce
The Label of Pure Soy Sauce without Additives

The ingredients of standard soy sauce are “soybeans (大豆)”, ”wheat (小麦)”, “salt (食塩)” and “water (水)”. This means that all other stuff on the ingredients list are probably additives.

The examples of additives:

  • Alcohol (アルコール): a Preservative
  • Sodium Benzoate (保存料): a Preservative
  • Lactic Acid (乳酸): a PH Regulator
  • Glucose (ブドウ糖, ぶどう糖): a Sweetener
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (果糖ぶどう糖液糖): a Sweetener
  • Nucleic Acid (核酸): a Umami Seasoning
  • Amino Acid (アミノ酸): a Umami Seasoning
  • Vinegar (酢): a Seasoning
  • Kelp (こんぶ): a Seaweed for flavor
umakuchi soy sauce
The Label of Soy Sauce with Additives 1
additives in the soy sauce
The Label of Soy Sauce with Additives 2

Soybeans and Defatted Soybeans

The word 大豆 means “soybeans” in Japanese. However, I bet that you see the word “脱脂加工大豆” more often, in the ingredients list of the Japanese soy sauce. 脱脂加工大豆 means “defatted soybeans”.

When the maker translate the ingredients, they usually write just “soybeans” both of “soybeans” and “defatted soybeans”. But there is a difference.

In the traditional brewing process of soy sauce, the fat is removed from soy sauce. On the other hand, the new method using defatted soybeans has become common in recent years.

To distinguish soybeans from defatted soybeans, usually the manufacture uses the word ”丸大豆 (Whole Soybean)” The soy sauce made out of defatted soybeans, tastes sharp and clear. And the soy sauce made out of whole soybeans, tastes mild and mellow.

marudaizu-whole soybean soy sauce-front
The Label of Soy Sauce using Whole Soybean

Non-GMO and Organic Ingredients

If you see this note “遺伝子組換えでない” in the ingredients list, the ingredient is Non-GMO.

ex. 小麦(遺伝子組換えでない) Non-GMO wheat

organic-jasThe picture left is the organic seal by JAS(Japan Agriculture Standards). If you see this mark on the bottle, all ingredients of the soy sauce are organic.



The Label of Pure Soy Sauce without Additives
The Label of Soy Sauce using Organic Ingredients

FAQs about Soy Sauce

How does soy sauce taste like?

The taste of soy sauce is very rich and complicated. And soy sauces from different manufactures taste different.

Soy sauce professionals describe the taste of soy sauce as well balanced flavor of 5 elements “Umami”, ”Saltiness”, ”Sweetness”, ”Acidity” and ”Bitterness”.

Does organic soy sauce taste different?

Yes. Organic Soy Sauce taste more clear and delicate when comparing products of same bland. But the difference is very slight. It’s hard to judge whether extra cost is worthful only for that slight difference of the taste.

How much sodium does soy sauce contain?

Soy Sauce contains about 16% of salt (equivalent to 315mg sodium per 1tsp). That’s because it meets traditional manufacturing standards such as the prevention of bad bacterial growth during fermentation. The estimated percentage of salt contains are below.

      • Koikuchi Soy Sauce: 16-17%
      • Usukuchi Soy Sauce: 17-19%
      • Tamari Soy Sauce: 15-17%
      • Saishikomi Soy Sauce: 14-16%
      • White Soy Sauce: 17-18%

How can I reduce sodium intake from soy sauce?

You might be shocked by the sodium contents of soy sauce. However, there are some common tips which Japanese people know to reduce sodium intake from soy sauce.

1. Don’t drink soup of Nimono (煮物).

Example of Nimono
Example of Nimono : 豚の角煮(Butanokakuni) Stewed Chunky Pork Belly

Usually, Nimono is a stewed dish to eat only solid part. We see some liquid on the bottom of the plate or bowl. But that is just the extra seasoning like the extra dressing on the bottom of a salad bowl. It’s not considered to drink.

2. Drip soy sauce over the food at the table.

Japanese people use a soy sauce dispenser at the table. So, they can control the amount of soy sauce putting on the dish. For example, a couple of drips of soy sauce are enough to season a hard boiled egg. If you pour soy sauce over it too much, the taste would be overpowered and you take way more extra sodium.

how to drip soy sauce
Soy Sauce Dispenser: How to Drip

To get 1 drip of soy sauce, you can hold tight on one hole of the dispenser and shake it. A Dripping type dispenser also exist, like a picture below.

Soy Sauce Dispenser: Dripping Type (just press the top to get a drip)

3. Dilute soy sauce for dipping.

You can dilute soy sauce for dipping by mixing Japanese Soup Stock “Dashi” or citrus juice in. However, we need to make sure we use up dilute soy sauce as soon as possible.

 How to Make Natural Dashi Easily

What is the best way to preserve soy sauce after I open it?

After opening the lid of soy sauce bottle, the oxidation starts. As time goes on, soy sauce gets darker and its flavor gets poor. Thanks to the salt content, soy sauce doesn’t go bad so easily, but if you want to enjoy your soy sauce in best condition, keep the bottle in the fridge and finish it up in a month if it’s possible.

soy sauce in the fridge

Why does lower sodium soy sauce cost more money?

Lower sodium soy sauce can’t be brewed. Because proper sodium content is necessary to make any kind of soy sauce for the prevention of bad bacterial growth during fermentation. Therefore, to make reduced sodium soy sauce, manufactures need to conduct an extra process which is removing some sodium from regular soy sauce. That’s why, low sodium soy sauce is a little more expensive than regular soy sauce.

Related Videos

Learn about Japanese Products


    • Soysauce Information Center (しょうゆ情報センター)
    • MAFF Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (日本農林水産省)
    • Kikkoman Corporation (キッコーマン株式会社)
    • San-J Sanjirushi Corporation (サンジルシ醸造株式会社)