Soy Sauce: What to Avoid, What to Buy


Soy sauce is a dark, rich, complex flavorful condiment that is good to just drizzle over rice or to add to a variety of dishes-that is, if you have the right soy sauce.

Like mentioned in my post Japanese Style Avocado, my husband is half Japanese. I was a little concerned over our different food likes and dislikes because you see, I didn’t like soy sauce before we were married. How could we coexist when one loved and one hated soy sauce?Ā  I was going to want bread and butter, he, rice and soy sauce!

My husband to be soon found the problem. My family was buying these huge half gallon containers of cheap soy sauce from Costco, and then most of it was going rancid before we could go through it (we mostly used it in recipes, rather then simply drizzling it on rice). No wonder we thought the stuff was awful! It was!

After we got married, we made to sure to buy naturally fermented soy sauce. WOW! What a difference! Most soy sauces are no longer made with a natural fermentation process, but are in fact chemically made.Ā  Look for soy sauces that are naturally fermented, sometimes they will even say something like “aged” on the bottle.


Our favorite soy sauce?

Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu Unpasteurized Soy Sauce

This soy sauce is made in Japan with the traditional fermentation process, aged in cedar wood kegs in small batches. It’s also unpasteurized meaning that all of those lovely enzymes and beneficial bacteria (like lactobacillus) are still alive.

This soy sauce was named the best tasting soy sauce by the Cooks magazine, and we think it’s the best tasting too. There are some great prices on Amazon, as well as many other places who sell it online. You can get a good deal (just watch that you aren’t overcharged for shipping!). This is my family’sĀ  number one choice. My second place choice would be a naturally fermented soy sauce, which you can find in many normal grocery stores.

All to say, don’t settle for cheap soy sauce. It’s nasty stuff.

The following two tabs change content below.
I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Latest posts by KimiHarris (see all)


  1. a1sauce3 says

    Thanks so much for this post. I was just shopping for some better soy sauce to have around at the house. Knowing fermentation was better but didn’t know what was wrong with the regular stuff . And the many brands to choose from-who knew choosing a soy sauce could be difficult:)

    • KimiHarris says


      I will! I should have a new recipe up tomorrow. šŸ™‚

      It can be frustrating, can’t it! Sometimes you feel that every little purchase you make has to be researched! Glad this post was helpful to you. šŸ˜‰

  2. Amara says

    Hi Kimi,

    I’ve been a longtime reader of your blog, and this is my first post. I have been thinking about buying some soy sauce for a while now. Do you think the San-J brand, specifically the tamari, is a good option? The Ohsawa brand looks really great–but it’s so expensive! San-J is cheaper and it’s naturally fermented for six months.

    KH: Thanks for the comment! šŸ™‚ I always appreciate questions and comments from you all. We actually have used the San-J brand in the past, and I think it’s just fine. I finally made the switch when I realized that I would actually save money if I bought the Ohsawa brand from It’s only 12 dollars for a 32 ounce jar! But you do have to buy thirty dollars worth of goods to order from them (my mother-in-law and I split an order). But if you just need to pick something up from the store, I am sure that that San-J brand will be just fine.

  3. says

    How long will a bottle keep and how do you know when it is rancid? Most people keep it in a cupboard but should it be refrigerated?

    KH: It should at least be kept cool. I keep mine refrigerated.

  4. Jessica says

    Just wondering your thoughts on Braggs Liquid Aminos. We try to avoid wheat in our family and almost all commercial (read:cheap) soy brands use wheat as a thickener.

    KH: For a wheat free version of soy sauce, buy Tamari, traditionally fermented. If I remember right, Bragg’s isn’t fermented. I only recommend fermented soy, so we don’t use it. Hope that helps!

  5. says

    We have used Bragg’s for the longest time, and while I still find its taste superior to any “soy” sauce we’ve tried, I’m now in the process of looking for a fermented product – thank you for this post! šŸ™‚ Came just in time, as always.

  6. Jeannie says

    Hi Kimi. I also would like to know your thoughts on Bragg’s. I have been reading your blog for awhile and really enjoy your thoughtful insights on nutritional foods. I purchased Nourishing Traditions and am taking steps, one at a time, towards healthy and nutritional foods but I thought Bragg’s was a leader in the field??

    KH: Hi Jeannie, there is always another step to take, isn’t there?! Believe me, I am still in that process too. šŸ™‚ Bragg’s is like soy sauce but it is not fermented. The time-honored fermentation process actually reduces a lot of anti-nutrients in soy beans that can be harmful to us. So while Bragg’s amino acids could have seemed like a great idea, and it doesn’t contain any of the yucky preservatives that some soy sauces contain, the traditional method of fermenting soy sauce is much superior. Does that help?

    • says

      Cheap, fake or low salt soy sauce, can contain as much as 5,000 times the amines, which can trigger migraines & health emergency. If someone is taking MAOs (depression medicine) , there is enough tyramine in cheap fake soy sauce to cause serious health problems and death in sensitive people. (Search Tyramine & your medication for more info) Look for studies, search for this one to start, it provides a lot of information. SEARCH: “Bioactive amines in soy sauce: Validation of method, occurrence and potential health effects” … 10mg CAN CAUSE HYPERTENSIVE REACTION

  7. says

    Great post! I have not tried this brand of soy sauce but I have heard of it and will order some soon.

    I have been buying Eden soy sauce which is also naturally fermented — but I’m excited to taste this brand! I think they sell this on the Goldmine Natural Foods site.

    I love bread and butter but I also love rice and soy sauce. And teriyaki, sushi, tamago, miso soup, daifuku, oshinko, etc. etc. etc.

    I fell in love with Japanese food when I was in college studying the Japanese language — and I’ve loved it ever since.

  8. says

    We usually sanjay tamari because it’s easier to find and it’s wheat-free, unlike the oshawa brand. I think I ought to try the oshawa brand, though, the depth of flavor is probably amazing.

  9. says

    Thanks for this post. I have been checking my labels much more carefully over the last year. But honestly I never thought to check soy sauce. I knew there was some difference in taste, but never really thought much about it. I checked my bottle of soy sauce and it contained corn syrup. It will now be going in the trash and I am switching to naturally fermented soy sauce. Thanks.

  10. says

    I usually look for tamari that does not have alcohol listed as an ingredient. Would you agree with that being a good idea? That said, the only brand I regularly find at the store is Miso Master and it’s much much more expensive than anything else. I’ll look into your reco too!

  11. TrailGrrl says

    Thanks for this! I was just looking at soy sauce at the store and ended up not buying anything because of all the crap ingredients. I will look for this brand at our local store that has stuff from every country imaginable. We also have some good Asian markets now.


  12. Susan says

    Just want to comment on the wheat/gluten concerns. I have been happy with San-J tamari for a long time. When I learned that I was sensitive to gluten and cut it out of my diet, I was surprised at all the products that contain wheat, including most tamari. So, look for a product that is labeled wheat free. San-J does have wheat free tamari and it is easily found in my local grocery store.

  13. says

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve been wondering for a while about this topic.

    This is the first result in a google search for “naturally fermented soy sauce”. You have a fabulous site!

  14. Jaime says

    I’ve heard Bragg’s often on the above comments and use it at home, and although it has a fabulous taste, I find it no way superior to top shelf Soy Sauce because its a different flavor altogether, thus I don’t believe it can truly be compared. My wife traveled to HK last year and brought me back a bottle of Gold Diamond Soy Sauce, $12 in HK – oh man, fabulous!! But i’m freaking out now as I’ve come to the last drop. I still haven’t found it in the USA. At the moment I’m trying to order from their web site , but have been cautious to order the correct item because of the language translation. I”ve always cooked and had soy sauce in my home, and this sauce is right at the top of my soy sauce chart of those that I’ve tasted! If anyone finds a place that carries it, please share the info, and I will do the same. Happy Cooking!

    • says

      @Jamie: I can read chinese. Your gold diamond soy sauce is the third bottle from the left on the bottom row when I went into the website you provided. If you live in a big city in U.S., I suggest you look in asian supermarkets first.

  15. says

    Hi there. I really love your site.
    I had a question about fermented soy products. we have started to eat miso (From Eden Organics – the #1 recommended soy company by the cornucopia soy report that shows how horrible most soy companies are). We still avoid other soy products, but we’ve been talking about making tempeh for awhile, and I’d LOVE to reintroduce soy sauce . . . but I want to know if you have any ideas about how the estrogen changes in the fermented products. I have had a lot of health complications in the past-from food allergies to endometriosis, and I want to make sure that fermented soy won’t encourage re-occurrence. Do you know anything about this? I so hope that you do . . .

  16. Donna says

    Hey Kimi, I was trying to get to your post about frugal grain buying but this soy sauce post kept coming up. I’ve been making bread using King Arthur flour because we can’t afford to buy grains. Do you have any tips about how this can be cheaper. Also we don’t have a grain grinder because they are also expensive. I need one for under $100 but can’t seem to find a cheap one. Can you help me with this? Thanks,

  17. Beth says

    Hi Kimi,

    In one of your comments above you mention getting Nama Shoyu from, but I’m not able to find a website by that name. Could you confirm the source that you used?


  18. Mark says

    I recently came across the most amazing soy sauce in Louisville KY, made by a company called “Bourbon Barrel Foods”. It is fermented in whiskey barrels from Woodford Reserve (which is considered by many to be the best bourbon you can buy) . Incredible taste and quality and a must try.


  19. Jenelle says

    The first tamari I tasted was Ohsawa. My supplier no longer carried it, so I was happy to find SanJ. However, the taste is much harsher than that of Ohsawa.

  20. Julie says

    Thanks for the article. Question – is San-J Organic Gluten and Wheat Free Tamari Soy Sauce Platinum – 10 fl oz naturally formented? I need something that is gluten free and naturally formented for my five year old…
    Thank you

  21. Justin says

    If you can find it, I highly recommend Marukin Shiboritate nama shouyu. it has a special quality designation (tokusen) and is 100% fermented and fresh (un-pasteurized). I’ve found it in a few local Japanese supermarkets… though not usually in Chinese or Korean markets. šŸ™ The label isn’t in english, but you can get it on Amazon…

    The flavor is great, quite rich and complex. It’s the only soy sauce I buy anymore.

  22. says

    I have looked for “fermented” soy sauce in the grocery store, and at Whole Foods and other “natural” retailers. NO label I have found uses the word “fermented”. They all say brewed. Can you give me the names of some brands that would be acceptable if we are trying to avoid over-processed soy sauce.

  23. jasmine says

    Thanks darling for the article. I read soy products that aren’t fermented are bad for ones health. But now I’m wondering if that brand you mentioned , if the market I go to carries it.

  24. Shaikh says

    There are lot of soya sauce,red chilli sauce and green chilli sauce brands in market.almost 90% are artificial.
    I would suggest all to avoid artificial sauces which causes cancer and ask for fermented sauces.
    Some brands like FILFIL are serving authentic fermented sauces in India since yrs.ask for it near by your market.thank healthy be happy.

  25. Taryn says

    Hello! Do you mind sharing where you buy this now? Everywhere I look, the big bottle is around $30. Any tips? Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *