A soy sauce tasting


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I've read a number of recommendations in cookbooks over the years for Koon Chun's Thin Soy Sauce. I picked some up the other day to use in some comparison cooking and eating. Off hand, it's been recommended in books by Barbara Tropp, Eileen Yin Fei Lo and Bruce Cost.  On line, I mostly see recommendation for Pearl River Bridge and Kim-Lan.

Now, there have been plenty of taste tests of various soy sauces over the years by many people and groups. So here's some extra reading on that if you're interested.

http://www.flavorandfortune.com/dataaccess/article.php?ID=306 is interesting reading, but I wish they'd given more information from the testing. But it backs up what the owner said to me while buying the Koon Chun sauce. Everyone's taste is different. She prefers Kikkoman as it's not so salty.

In 2007 Cook's Illustrated did a soy sauce tasting and gave Lee Kum Kee's table soy their top rating for cooking http://www.cooksillustrated.com/tastetests/overview.asp?docid=10119. They don't let you link to the winners,  but I think it was the Oshawa that won for table and dipping use. In their 2000 tasting, Eden won

But based on some of the Chinese recipes they've printed, I'm not sure Cook's Illustrated is an opinion I trust on this topic. Further, their list of soy sauce is full of Japanese style soy sauces with only two Chinese style, the Pearl River Bridge and the Lee Kum Kee.  The La Choy is sort of an statistical outlier. There's certainly taste differences in the different styles used in different cuisines. And there are good arguments to be made for using a soy sauce of the right style for the dish you're cooking.  For a foodie this might meant stocking a number of soy sauces. This doesn't work for my storage options and I mostly use soy sauce for Chinese style dishes. And that's where my taste preferences lie.

Wikipedia has a good starting discussion of regional differences in soy sauce. 


My mother used La Choy soy sauce, probably because it was about all she could find on the grocery store shelves. I don't have particularly fond memories of it. Which leads me to my personal taste biases.

As mentioned, I grew up on La Choy. As my interest in food grew, I switched to Kikkoman in the later 80s, then used a fair bit of Wei Chuan, particularly their "pure" label. Switched to Low Sodium Kikkoman as my Meniere's kicked in. As I learned more about Asian cooking in the early 2000s I moved to Pearl River Bridge yellow label  it's about half as much sodium as normal Kikkoman or Wei Chuan but with what I thought to be a better flavor for the Chinese food I cook. It's been my standard sauce for about 10 years and is my baseline for judging these sauces.

This tasting is not particularly wide ranging as it's based in what I have on hand at home. That happens to be Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy in the yellow label, Kikkoman reduced sodium soy sauce is here because I recently picked some up when cooking on short notice at a friend's house. And the newly purchased Koon Chun.

A Pearl River Bridge note. In the standard 16 oz glass bottle, the yellow label superior light soy is rated at 800 mg sodium/tablespoon. In the larger volume commercial containers, the same label is 1500 mg sodium/tablespoon. I don't know if its' just double strength or what the difference is.

Tasted Straight

This may sound horrifying but it wasn't bad really. Of course, i was working with samples of about 1/4 teaspoon each and took a few tiny drops of each to compare,then finished each spoon for a stronger comparison taste.

Kikkoman Low Sodium

Contains: water, wheat flour, soybeans, salt, lactic acid, sodium benzoate  575 mg sodium/tablespoon
Mellow, gentle meatyness, wheaty in the finish.

PRB Yellow Label

Contains: water, soybeans, wheat flour, salt, potassium sorbate  870 mg sodium/tablespoon
mellow, more complex flavor, not as much wheatyness , but it has a good balanced flavor.

Koon Chun Thin

Contains: Wather, soybeans, salt, wheat flour 1400 mg sodium/tablespoon
Stronger initial impact, salty, other complex flavors. Certainly the salt taste is very forward in this sauce to me as I don't eat or season at this level of salt. That aside, it has complexity I don't notice in the other two but could be an artifact of the sodium on me.

It's interesting to me as I typed in those ingredients after tasting them. Kikkoman has more wheat than soybeans, the Koon Chun more salt than wheat. And that's clearly reflected in their tastes.

Next up was used in a dipping sauce for pot stickers base in black vinegar, soy sauce and ginger with a little sugar I've developed this sauce with Pearl River Bridge over the years. I kept the ratios the same in each batch of the sauce.  I tasted the sauce straight before using with the pot stickers.

Dipping Sauce straight

Kikkoman: Fruitiness of vinegar and ginger is  pronounced

Pearl River Bridge Balanced complexity but it should be as I developed the ratios for this sauce with PRB.

KC saltier impact, stronger finish with greater complexity in the finish

Dipping sauce with the potstickers. The family participated in this part of the tasting and they were tasting blind.

Kikkoman. I thought it was just OK, a little insipid against the potsticker. My wife thought it just tasted weird. Kids thought it was off.

Pearl River Bridge is the baseline for this group. Everyone liked it better than the Kikkoman but were not as vocal or clear about it.

Koon Chun was given the better marks, Comments were more flavor, awesome tang, better. I think this was the most interesting sauce of the three though not the best taste which I'd give to the PRB sauce. But I wasn't tasting blind.

Which leads me to my caveat for the dipping sauce test. As a cook, I've learned to season to taste. I would not have left the Kikkoman nor the Koon chun dipping sauce at those levels of seasoning. As they taste different, they need a different ratio of the other flavors to come into the proper balance. The Kikkoman needs less vinegar and ginger and sugar to balance. The Koon chun needs more. And Kikkoman's at a further disadvantage as it's the wrong style of soy sauce for this dish.  So looking back at the taste tests links in the beginning of this post, I question the validity of those taste tests particularly the Cook's Illustrated one. It's not fair to  the ingredients to ignore their flavor qualities and not correct the seasoning. Whatever sauce was used to develop the recipe will usually be the one that tastes best. 

So, what's my result?  Koon Chun is a good tasting sauce with increased complexity. You'll need to adapt your dishes to account for the shift in flavor, particularly the higher sodium. If you already use a high sodium sauce, Koon Chun is definitely worth trying. For me, it's just too much additional sodium because of health limitations and Pearl River Bridge is a good tasting soy sauce for Chinese style dishes.

And like the flavor and fortune link or the advice of my local store owner, it's worth tasting different soy sauces and finding one you like.

I'll need to try some Kim-Lan when the Koon Chun bottle is almost empty to broaden this taste test.
Joined Mar 21, 2008
To be fair you should have tested regular Kikkomans also. So far it is my favorite but getting other brands out here is hard.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Like you, Phil, I grew up on La Choy, and later switched to the Kikoman's. There's something about the La Choy which doesn't appeal to me; sort of a thinness if you will.

Then I discovered tamari. Have no details because I buy it from the bulk container at the health food coop. For years it was my go-to soy sauce. Then they stopped carrying it. Lately I've been using Yamasa, which I get at the Oriental market. True, it's Japanese style. And wouldn't work for you because of the high salt content (940 mg). Frankly, I don't pay much attention to sodium levels, because of the small quantities we use. Soy sauce, for me, is a salt substitute among other things.

Lately I've been subbing about half the soy in a recipe with fish sauce (Three Crabs brand Nuoc Mam Nhi). To my tastebuds, the fish sauce provides more of the complexity I'm looking for, a greater sense of umami.

Keep in mind that, while I enjoy Asian foods, it's not a passion, and many of the nuances you discuss may be lost on me.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
To be fair you should have tested regular Kikkomans also. So far it is my favorite but getting other brands out here is hard.
I don't claim this as a comprehensive taste. Just to discuss soy sauce and point out some issues and vagaries of taste testing. And it's what i had on hand, which is admittedly geared to a lower sodium style of cooking overall.
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Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
My friend is a Yamasa fan. She's of Japanese heritage so perhaps that's not surprising.
Joined Apr 3, 2008
I have a dark soy I use, found it in my semi-local asian market. It's actually gluten free according to it's ingredients , not sure how much sodium it has but like KYH,  I use it as a salt substitute and really love the rich flavor it has. I am currently out and been meaning to get down to the market but the name is something like Jeet Kueng So or some such. it comes in a variety of flavors but I use the dark. I like my soy like my beer, dark, rich and hearty.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
  phatch, thanks for the review and all the work you put into the article............I though you might enjoy the Hawaiian version..........this is a picture of Shoyu Chicken plate lunch I had at the Rainbow Drive-in restaurant on Oahu  ,,,,,,,,,,,ChefBillyB

Shoyu Shimmy............I just got back from Hawaii and Shoyu is on the table in every restaurant. Aloha Shoyu was the pick in Hawaii, I didn't see any other one used. I liked Aloha Shoyu, it was mild in taste and less salty..................  Phatch            This is the Shoyu Chicke
Joined Apr 24, 2011
Oh My!  How did I miss this thread? (I think we were away)

ChefBillyB, brah!  You know where it’s at; Aloha Brand Shoyu (soy sauce) is THE one

Though I did grow up in Hawaii, my Mother was not from Hawaii and would buy whatever was on sale when she needed more Soy Sauce.  So for me, I’ve tried MANY different brands over my life time, I couldn’t sit down and list them, but ever since I established my own household, it’s been Aloha.  My husband, who is from PA, agrees and he never had any “Asian” dishes until he met me, not even steamed rice.  Since moving to the “mainland” it’s been a chore to find this brand, but I now buy the gallon size low-sodium, as we age certain things do need to change, right?

Aloha Lower Sodium Soy Sauce Details:

Per 1 tbsp (15ml) serving

Calories 0

Fat 0g

Cholesterol 0g

Sodium 620 mg

Carbs. Less than 1g

Protein 0g


Water, Wheat Gluten, Soybeans, Salt, Sugar, Caramel Coloring, and Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, a preservative



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Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I revisited this issue recently.  Pearl River Bridge (hereafter PRB) has changed their label for their Superior Light Soy bottled product. Now it matches the bigger jugs of PRB soy in having a sodium per tablespoon rating of 1160 instead of 870 as on the old label. That's not a huge difference, but I'm on a sodium restriction so it matters to me. Also, this reflects Chinese style cooking. Soy sauce from Japan, Korea, Viet Nam and so on reflects taste preferences of those cuisines so no one soy sauce is right for all cuisines. Note the Japanese influences in the hawaiian dishes above.

Tasting side by side from a bottle with the lower rating to the new label with the higher rating they taste the same. So PRB has probably been a higher sodium sauce all along and they just got caught or maybe they got honest. Who knows.

So I've been looking at some new options and we did another round of taste testing. This time we tried:

PRB  This was actually eclipsed in the testing this time.

Lee Kum Kee Less Sodium Sauce  This is 600 mg/tablespoon and just as wierd tasting as the low sodium kikkoman. Intentionally low sodium soy is a bad idea. Good soy can be low sodium as shown below, but to make a point of low sodium, usually means it tastes funny.

Lee Kum Kee Double Fermented Premium Soy Sauce 1000 mg/tablespoon (so close to PRB, so why try? Because it's had some good reviews--My sodium philosophy is to use the best tasting sodium I can)

Amoy First Extraction Soy Sauce 940mg/tablespoon

VE Wong Anka XO Soy Sauce 570 mg/2 tablespoons  If accurate, it's a VERY low sodium soy sauce, using premium yeast cultures. The most expensive of those tested. It is decidedly less salty in flavor, but quite good.

Koon Chun Thin Soy Sauce. I like this in the first taste test. It's high sodium 1400 mg/tablespoon, but I wanted to have something at full strength to compare against.

Price seems to reflect quality, at least to my family's taste buds. The Double Ferment and First extraction performed pretty closely, the Double Ferment edging out the First Extraction. The Ve Wong did well too, and I like having the ability to add salt to my taste if I want it saltier.  

Because I have a sodium restriction, I'll be using VE Wong where I can, but I'll keep some Lee Kum Kee Double Ferment on hand because the sodium isn't bad and it's a very good soy sauce.   Ve Wong has two XO style soy sauces. Both have the same sodium rating. Both use Monascus yeast, but the Red label  also uses a Molaconin K varietal yeast.  I didn't try the brown label yet.

If I had no sodium restriction, the Double Ferment would probably have a place at my table and for dips and dressings. For cooking, the Koon Chun is very much worth exploring if sodium doesn't matter.
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Joined Oct 29, 2008
To me, good soy sauce shouldn't taste only salty. It should taste like soy beans, among other things, just like how good miso and tofu should have the soy bean taste - unfortunately, tofu gets a bad reputation for having a rather bland taste, but that's only because most factory made tofu does not contain enough soy beans (and let's not even mention the quality), but this is another story. I only use soy sauce that has nothing but salt, water, and soy beans. This usually means they took time to age the sauce properly, rather than rushing it by adding other ingredients. Also, in Asian cooking, salt, soy sauce, and fish sauce (or any other fermented fish/seafood based sauce) have all different roles, and should be used accordingly; one can never substitute another, but then again, this, too, is another story. 
Joined Sep 18, 2012
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[h3]Some Soy[/h3][h3]From my personal experience, soy sauce saltiness can vary from 11% to 65%; the flavor varies by brand and style. “Thin” or “light” style, refer to consistency, not the amount of sodium. Dark soy is aged much longer than light soy, giving it a brownish-black color and much thicker texture. Soy sauce is made in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma, Philippines and many other countries.[/h3]
When I cook, I often combine two or more soy sauces to give the desired effect.
[h3]  [/h3][h3]Shrimp Flavored Soy Sauce[/h3]
Popular in Eastern China (Suzhou), in this case the soy sauce is infused with the brine from dried shrimp (dried prawns) or made with fish roe. It is less salty than fish sauce. It can be made at home by infusing Soy Sauce with fresh shrimp and other spices. You will not find this at your regular grocery store.
[h3]Thai Black Soy Sauce[/h3]
Thick, salty, sweet from added molasses, strong flavored. I use Healthy Boy brand. (middle bottle in picture below)
[h3]  [/h3][h3]Mushroom Flavored Soy Sauce[/h3]
This is a dark soy sauce that is infused with either dried straw mushrooms or (less common) dried Chinese black mushrooms. It is used in place of dark soy sauce to add an earthy flavor to dishes, and as a table condiment.
[h3]Japanese Tamari or Hawaiian Shoyu[/h3][h3]A by-product of making miso, tamari is thicker than other Japanese soy sauces, with a rich color and flavor. Japanese soy sauce contains wheat labeled tamari. Today, both wheat-containing and wheat-free varieties of tamari are sold. Aloha Shoyu Company is one of today's market leaders in soy sauce sales in Hawaii. There are many Asians in Hawaii; and, living there, I soon found my self eating sushi and sashimi. The Aloha Shoyu brand of shoyu was very good on sushi.[/h3]
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As I mentioned above, combining soy sauce with other ingredients or varieties of soy sauce can further the desired effect and compliment what is being served. A hint of sweetness may be added using Marin and or sake wine that are steeped with toasted nori. The excess alcohol can be evaporated off and filtered leaving only the transformed dipping or coating sauce. Nagiri is often painted with this shoyu just before serving.

For potsticker, I like a combination of three shoyu: mushroom, Tamari, and shrimp with fermented black beans, minced garlic, minced ginger, crushed red pepper and a touch of seasoned rice wine vinegar. Start with Tamari (San-j brand), fermented black beans, minced garlic, and minced ginger then add the other ingredients a bit at a time to taste.

Click to enlarge picture
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Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Yeah, but what does this have to do with this thread? Wouldn't this be better in its own thread?
Joined Nov 5, 2007
Yesterday's lunch was a quick pork and onion in hot bean sauce. Ran out of my standard Lee Kum Kee, used some Kroger branded soy sauce. Now I remember why the Kroger stuff rarely gets used.

Joined Jun 2, 2015
To be fair you should have tested regular Kikkomans also. So far it is my favorite but getting other brands out here is hard.
I do agree that would of been fair as the difference in taste between regular and low sodium is rather different. I grew up on Kikkoman and it was my favorite for quite some time actually. However I did want to start using a little less sodium in my meals so I attempted Kikkoman's low sodium version. Honestly, did not like it one bit. My first though was it might be because I was so used to using the regular stuff, so I gave it a chance for two weeks. Just couldn't get passed the taste though. I soon after switched back and looked for alternatives. After searching and searching for something low sodium I came across a Houston company called Little Soya which was a chinese soy sauce but it was low sodium so I went for it. Found out later it was gluten-free also, which didn't really matter to me but thought it was worth mentioning. Soooo much better than Kikkoman's low sodium. I was hooked and after a few weeks I switched back to regular Kikkoman just to compare. I actually wasn't a huge fan of it anymore. The salt taste was way to strong, while Little Soya's was there but a lot lighter in that department. Moral of my story is try them all! You never know what you will find.
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