Dun Yong Market, an Asian grocery store in Amsterdam, invited us to a tasting panel of different soy sauces. You can also enter to be randomly selected for one of their monthly tasting panels, and read the full results and comments from previous panels at Tokowijzer (Dutch).
Here are our notes from this amazing tasting. We hope Dun Yong considers making these panels available to the public. Take the opportunity to try it yourself if you ever have the chance.
We had a great time meeting the coordinators, permanent panelists, and other invited guests. A big thanks to Dun Yong Market and FongYee for making this possible!
We began with an introduction to tofu, which was used as a tasting platform for the soy sauces. We tried tofus of various firmness and textures, some flavored with ingredients like egg, teriyaki, or five spice.
We then moved on to the main event: a blind taste test of 14 soy sauces. The sauces were served on rice and fried tofu, and each panelist was given a notes sheet to use after each tasting. We were surprised by the range of different flavors and levels of saltiness, and it was quite an experience to try them all in close succession.
1. Marukin Low Salt Soy Sauce (1L / €4.50)
Our ratings: 7.5 and 8
The first soy sauce of the evening. A low-sodium sauce, which completely surprised us because it is still sharp and full of flavor. It has a thin consistency and a fermented aroma.
2. Kikkoman Less Salt Soy Sauce (150ml / €2.95)
Our ratings: 9 and 9
This was the crowd favorite of the evening, garnering the highest scores across the panel. We had never considered using low-salt Kikkoman before. Why mess with a good thing? We were surprised how much we enjoyed this. It has a dark, reduced flavor. Slightly sweet, with a full-bodied consistency. It is pleasantly salty, but not overpowering.
3. Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce “Shoyu” (1L / €6.25)
Our ratings: 6 and 5
Next up is our standard kitchen soy sauce, which we buy in the bulk (1L) plastic bottles. If this wasn’t a blind test it might get a higher score, but in this context it’s pretty disappointing. This is the first full-salt version included in the tasting, and the difference is striking and a bit overpowering. It is thin and has a strong flavor, but lacks the caramel/brown overtones that can give soy sauce an extra dimension. It is better on fried tofu than on rice.
4. Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce “Shoyu” (150ml / €2.50)
Our ratings: 8 and 8
This is actually the same soy sauce as #3, but it’s packaged in a small, glass bottle. We are surprised by how much this changes the flavor and quality. The rest of the panel agreed, and it garnered the second-highest average score of the tasting. Keeping soy sauce in a larger container changes the way the soy sauce ages, just as flavors in wine change depending on whether it is kept in a bottle or a cask. The contrasts are very pronounced. The flavor in this soy sauce is stronger, with lightly sweet notes of sherry. The consistency is very thin and the sauce has a lighter color.
5. Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce (500ml / €1.29)
Our ratings: 3.5 and 6.5
Pearl River is a cheap Chinese brand of soy sauce that we use in our own kitchen for cooking, but never for dipping or seasoning. It’s truly an unimpressive soy sauce, but it works fine for adding some salt and color to soups and marinades. Our blind tasting is consistent with our earlier impressions. It is full-bodied and lightly acidic, but with unpleasant musty-cheesy-mushroomy side flavors. Dark and thin, medium saltiness. It highlights the fried flavor in the tofu, and not in a good way.
6. Healthy Boy Brand Thin Soy Sauce (300ml / €1.15)
Our ratings: 5 and 5.5
Extremely thin and light colored Thai soy sauce. Very salty and sweet. Not a favorite.
Readers should note that at this point we are feeling the effects from eating a lot of soy sauce. If you try this at home, remember to stay hydrated.
7. Mee Chun “Best” Soy Sauce (500ml / €1.75)
Our ratings: 7 and 7.5
Very dark and thick. Sweet without being sugary, has molasses overtones. Not especially salty.
8. Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce (740ml / €2.15)
Our ratings: 4 and 5
We guessed that this was likely Pearl River Bridge because it has many of the off flavors we associate with that brand. It is medium in color and thickness, and has a strong smell. The taste is powerful and very salty, with a tiny hint of vanilla.
9. Kikkoman Light Soy Sauce “Usukuchi Shoyu” (1L / €6.25)
Our ratings: 8 and 8
Kikkoman Light is clearer than the normal stuff, allowing ingredients to maintain their natural colors when cooked. Very salty, thin. Strong flavor with caramel overtones.
10. Takesan Kishibori Shoyu Koikuchi First Pressed Soy Sauce (1L / €16.00)
Our ratings: 5 and 7
Acidic tang, with very nice smell and flavor. Leaves a slight aftertaste. Extremely salty though, so salty that it loses points. This is the most expensive soy sauce in the bunch. We’re glad we didn’t fall in love and become soy snobs.
At this point we are really wearing down, and distinctions between each brand start to blur and fade. Take our notes with a grain of salt, or a drop of soy sauce.
11. Kikkoman Tamari Soy Sauce (Gluten Free) (250ml / €3.65)
Our ratings: 6 and 6
This gluten-free Kikkoman sauce isn’t a replacement for the original. Thin and salty, with a sour, sharp, almost citric flavor.
12. Yamasa Soy Sauce (150ml / €2.25)
Our ratings: 7 and 6
Full flavor, very salty. Strongly fermented and alkaline. Could be an adequate cooking soy, but we’d avoid it for dipping.
13. Healthy Boy Brand Soy Sauce with Mushroom (700ml / €2.40)
Our ratings: 6 and 6
Very sweet, the mushroom flavor comes through as a combination of fishy and fruity smells. Very light, very thin, low saltiness.
14. Mizkan Ajipon Ponzu (Soy Sauce with Yuzu) (355ml / €3.65)
Our ratings: 8 and 4
Specialty soy sauces are a matter of taste, and we were split on this one. It isn’t a soy in the traditional sense, it’s very light and very thin. Sweet, fruity, sherry flavors. Low saltiness. Recommended to us as an ingredient in salad dressing.