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Shoyu vs. Soy Sauce – What’s the Difference Anyways?

shoyu sauce in a dipping bowl
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Do you know the difference between Shoyu and Soy Sauce? If not, you’re not alone. Many people use these terms interchangeably and can’t tell them apart. In this article, we’ll discuss both the similarities and differences between shoyu vs soy sauce. We’ll also talk about which one you’ll want to use for your next recipe!

Is Shoyu and Soy Sauce the Same?

No. While very similar in flavors, shoyu specifically refers to Japanese-style soy sauces. The term shoyu includes both dark shoyu (also known as koikuchi) and light shoyu (also known as usukuchi).

What Is The Difference Between Shoyu and Soy Sauce?

In a nutshell, shoyu is a type of soy sauce; specifically, Japanese-style soy sauce.

Similar to soy sauce, shoyu is made with fermented soybeans. It also contains wheat, salt, and water.  The sea salt acts as a preservative, and they add koji, a type of fungi that helps with the fermentation process.

Generally, most Shoyu has wheat added, which tempers the salty flavor and gives shoyu its characteristic sweetness. Despite soy sauce’s origins in China, the Japanese modified the recipe to include equal parts of soybeans and wheat, thus creating shoyu. Depending on how long it’s allowed to ferment, you may even detect slight alcoholic notes from processing.

Shoyu is a popular condiment in the traditional Japanese pantry and sushi restaurants worldwide. Japanese shoyu sauce is light brown in color and has a slightly salty taste. It is most often used to flavor soups, sauces, and marinades.

On the other hand, soy sauce typically refers to Chinese-style soy sauces, which are most often made with hydrolyzed soy protein or a chemical process to increase production speed. First, the soybeans are cooked in water and then crushed. Then, the resulting liquid mixes with salt and water.

At most, these modern sauces ferment for three weeks to a month, resulting in what some would call “inferior flavors” compared to shoyu. Usually, these sauces will also contain added colors and flavors to complete the product.

That said, not all soy sauces are made this way. More traditional Chinese varieties of soy sauce come from a process that can take up to two years. This longer fermentation time is what many say contributes to the more complex flavor of these soy sauces. They will often use a mold like Aspergillus and mix the soybeans and wheat into a mixture.

On average, water and salt are added next and left in a fermenting tank for five to eight months. Finally, the resulting mixture is “pressed” to release the liquid sauce and pasteurized to remove unwanted bacteria. From there, the soy sauce is bottled; typically, you will find products like this labeled as “naturally brewed” and are used in many Chinese recipes.

Can You Substitute Shoyu for Soy Sauce?

Yes! Shoyu is the perfect substitute for soy sauce as they share the same base of main ingredients. The reverse also applies: you can substitute soy sauce in recipes that call for shoyu.

What’s the Difference Between Soy Sauce and Tamari?

Soy sauce is traditionally made with wheat and some soybeans, while tamari is always made just from 100% soy beans.

As such, tamari is wheat-free and is a great gluten-free alternative for people who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease. It can usually be found in most supermarkets next to the regular soy sauce.

Some people say that tamari has a richer flavor, although they are both used the same way in cooking.

In the end, it’s really up to your personal preference of which type you prefer to cook with. Just be sure to check the ingredients list to make sure there is no wheat listed.

If you are cooking for someone who has a gluten allergy, it is important to use tamari as a gluten-free substitute as regular soy sauce contains gluten.

When Should I Use Shoyu vs Soy Sauce?

It depends on your personal preference and what you’re looking to get out of your soy sauce. Shoyu will have a sweeter, more complex flavor because of the longer fermentation process.

If you’re looking for a soy sauce to use as a dipping sauce or in something like sushi, Shoyu would be the better choice. Shoyu is also suitable for:

  • As a sauce – good as a base for other condiments like teriyaki.
  • As a seasoning – for use in stir-fries.
  • As a marinade or glaze – it has a depth of flavor that is good for braising, marinading, and glazing.

If you’re looking for a soy sauce for seasoning or general cooking, then Chinese Soy Sauce would be better. Light soy sauce is a staple seasoning, like salt or pepper. Dark soy sauces are darker and sweeter because of added sugar or molasses. It’s suitable for the late stages of cooking and adding color to dishes.

At the end of the day, the type of soy sauce you use (shoyu vs soy sauce vs tamari vs liquid aminos) depends on your personal preference and what you’re making.

What are Substitutes for Soy Sauce and Shoyu?

If you don’t have either soy sauce or shoyu on hand, you can also use Bragg’s liquid aminos in place of either soy sauce or shoyu. It’s a gluten-free soy sauce alternative that surprisingly tastes similar to the real thing.

No matter which substitute you choose, it’s important to remember that soy sauce and shoyu are high in sodium. So, if you’re trying to watch your salt intake, you’ll need to be careful not to use too much of the substitute. Otherwise, you may end up with a dish that’s high in sodium.

Best Shoyu Brands

  • Kishibori Shoyu: Pure artisan Japanese soy sauce that is fermented in 100-year old barrels!
  • Kikkoman Soy Sauce / Shoyu: Arguably the most popular brand of best Japanese-style soy sauce sold in the U.S., Kikkoman shoyu is actually made in Japan!
  • Yamaroku Shoyu: If you’re looking for an umami gourmet soy sauce with simple ingredients, this is it. Made with just soybeans, wheat, salt, and water, this Japanese shoyu has no added preservatives, artificial coloring or fillers.

Best Soy Sauce Brands

  • Aloha Soy Sauce: If you’re looking for a lighter soy sauce brand, Aloha brand offers a Hawaiian-style soy sauce that is less salty and sweeter than its Asian-style counterparts.
  • Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce: If you’re looking for a richer and more complex flavor than the grocery store soy sauce brands, you’ll need to try this dark soy sauce. One person commented that “this is to soy sauce as aged 18 year balsamic is to vinegar. It stands apart in a league all its own.”
  • La Choy Soy Sauce: You can find La Choy soy sauce in your local grocery stores and online retailers. It’s an all-purpose soy sauce for quick meals.

Best Tamari Brands

  • San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce:  For those with gluten intolerance, San-J tamari is my favorite soy sauce alternative made with 100% soy beans!
  • Eden Organic Tamari Soy Sauce: Eden’s tamari offers buyers a gluten-free soy sauce alternative that is also organic, kosher and pareve!
  • Kikkoman Gluten Free Tamari Soy Sauce: Did you know Kikkoman makes tamari sauce too? A must-have in any gluten-free pantry! Kikkoman’s tamari is brewed in the USA and made with non-GMO soybeans with no added artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Hungry for More? Check Out These Japan-Inspired Posts!

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Do you have a preference between Shoyu vs Soy Sauce? Let us know! Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear!!

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