If you’re familiar with Japanese cuisine, then you probably already know how major of a role soy sauce, or shoyu plays. Not only is it one of the most commonly used ingredients, but there are also so many different types and varieties sold on the market. On top of that, there are a plethora of makers making soy sauce ranging from smaller companies crafting handmade shoyu to larger corporations making shoyu in vast quantities. With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to know even where to start when it comes to choosing a good shoyu.
In this article, we would like to present you with our chosen list of what we believe to be the best shoyu brands in Japan. We will explain the mission of each brand, as well as highlight some of their top products. After reading this article, we hope that you’ll become more familiar with Japanese traditional shoyu making.
The first brand we’d like to introduce is Adachi. Adachi is a small, family-owned shoyu and miso brewery based in Taka town, Hyogo prefecture. Since 1889, they have been producing hand-crafted shoyu and other soy-based products using the highest quality local ingredients. That means all of Adachi’s products use only soybeans and wheat grown in Japan. Adachi even goes as far as to only use natural sea salt produced in Japan! The water that they use also comes from the nearby Sugihara River. Everything they use is local. They really take advantage of using as many nearby resources as possible!
As mentioned, the raw materials they use are all domestically produced in Japan. Adachi is very particular about this because they believe that by using domestic ingredients, they can produce soy sauce that is not only more flavorful but also kinder to the planet. In addition to using only domestic materials, over 80% of the ingredients that they use are organic.
Beyond ingredients, the brewing process of shoyu is equally important to Adachi. In fact, Adachi brews all of their shoyu in kioke wooden barrels and has been doing this ever since their founding in 1889. Slowly fermenting soy sauce in wooden barrels requires more time, a year or two at least. All of Adachi’s shoyu are aged for at least a year in order to gain the complex flavor and aroma that they are known for.
In addition to the use of domestic and mostly organic materials, the brewing and fermentation methods used in Adachi's brewery have not changed since the company was founded. This means that they strive to keep their methods as close to, if not exactly the same as traditional methods of producing Japanese shoyu, even if it means putting more time and care into their products. In order to achieve this, Adachi uses wooden barrels known as kioke in Japanese, which are a prominent staple in their brewery.
If you’re interested in trying a soy sauce from Adachi, we would highly recommend their organic koikuchi dark soy sauce. The complex flavor of this soy sauce will blow your mind away!
Next up, we have Daitoku, another historic shoyu brewery based in Hyogo prefecture. Daitoku is based in the northern part of Hyogo, in Yabu city. They have been bringing authentic and naturally-brewed soy sauce to consumers for more than 100 years. They were founded in 1910, and have kept their methods of making shoyu unchanged ever since.
Besides using traditional shoyu making methods, Daitoku is very specific about the quality of their raw materials as well as where they come from. They use ingredients local to Hyogo prefecture and other parts of Kansai (the western area of Japan) as much as possible, as well as salt from Nagasaki prefecture. The concept of being so particular about something is known as kodawari in Japanese and is used in situations where making or obtaining something that is of the highest quality or standard possible is of utmost importance. The mindset of kodawari is something you will see in many smaller and more artisan Japanese shoyu breweries.
In order to obtain the standard of using local ingredients, Daitoku works directly with farmers, fishermen, and brewers local to Kansai. By paying attention to and creating local relationships, they can also ensure that the raw materials they use are not genetically-modified and are farmed without the use of pesticides, chemical seasonings, preservatives, or coloring agents. Now that’s kodawari right there!
We love Daitoku’s Tokiarubeshi Organic Koikuchi Shoyu for both cooking and for sauces. It is a great shoyu to try if you are new to the world of artisanal shoyu. They also have a delicious light soy sauce made from whole soybeans, known as usukuchi shoyu (a shoyu local to the Kansai region.)
Another Kansai-based Shoyu brewery that we love is Suehiro. Suehiro is based in western Hyogo prefecture, in a city called Tatsuno. They’ve been expertly brewing shoyu, specifically usukuchi shoyu for over 130 years. Suehiro has a strong emphasis on promoting their local region, as well as using only the highest quality of local ingredients to make their natural shoyu.
The region that they are located in, Tatsuno, is one of the first regions in Japan to start producing shoyu and is very well-known in Japan for being the birthplace of shoyu. The cool climate and fresh mountain water local to Tatsuno make it the perfect place for producing artisanal shoyu.
When it comes to crafting their shoyu, Suehiro's brewers have inherited the knowledge of their predecessors, passed down with each generation, to preserve the traditional methods of naturally brewing soy sauce. They don't use additives, and they don't use heat to speed up the fermentation process. Instead, they allow their shoyu to ferment naturally with time, to ensure the flavor is clean and pure.
Suehiro makes some seriously tasty usukuchi shoyu that can be used in everyday cooking. They also offer a gift set consisting of three smaller bottles of usukuchi shoyu, saishikomi shoyu, and smoked shoyu. Each shoyu is flavorful and unique tasting on its own, and all have very premium flavors. If one of the three particular shoyu in the set pique your interest, you can purchase it individually on our site too.
Moving from the Kansai region towards Central Japan is a brewery called Minamigura. Minamigura is a tamari shoyu and miso brewery that has been brewing their products in cedar barrels for more than 145 years. Ever since 1872, Minamigura has been focusing on producing tamari shoyu, which is a (mostly) gluten-free variation of shoyu.
Producing high-quality and truly gluten-free tamari shoyu while sticking to traditional brewing methods is no easy task. Firstly, tamari shoyu is a by-product of miso and requires a lot of leftover moromi to be made. That means its production requires a much higher volume of raw materials, especially compared to koikuchi or usukuchi shoyu. Thankfully, Minamigura is still making authentic tamari shoyu free of any gluten, and it's delicious too!
Minamigura is of course extremely particular about their ingredients. In fact, they only use specially selected domestic soybeans from Aichi prefecture and pure, natural Japanese salt. Since Japan has a very small salt production industry, most Japanese soy sauce and tamari use salt imported from overseas, but Minamigura has found a way to incorporate real Japanese salt into their tamari shoyu, making it more premium tasting.
The use of specific ingredients means that Minamigura products are additive-free and all of their products are local. If you’d like to try tamari shoyu from Minamigura, then we can’t recommend their Gin Warabeuta Tamari Shoyu enough. This premium tamari shoyu is barrel aged for three years, and has a rich flavor and aroma unique to any other tamari. In fact, this personally might be the best tamari shoyu I’ve ever tasted!
Teraoka is a Hiroshima-based brewery producing a large range of soy sauce products, from everyday-use soy sauces to higher-end artisanal soy sauces. Teraoka embodies traditional brewing methods as well as the latest trends in organic foods and ingredients. Their mission is to produce authentic Japanese soy sauces that are free of harmful ingredients so that you can freely experience the authentic flavor of shoyu.
Teraoka has more than 130 years of experience crafting shoyu and uses traditional brewing methods and techniques that have been used for centuries in Japan. Their motto is to “Treasure the traditions that should be preserved. However, continue to incorporate new and innovative things properly, and continue to change.” This means that even now, they firmly follow the brewing recipes and techniques that they followed when the company first started more than a century ago, showcasing their intent to preserve tradition.
The ways in which they brew their soy sauce, the materials they use, and the length of time they allow their soy sauces to age, also give their products different flavors. Nonetheless, they fully accept the modernization of society to keep up with the demands of their products. In this way, they implement technology that enables their company to keep up with the demand of their customers and produce more soy sauce.
Teraoka also places a high emphasis on quality. All of the ingredients used in their products are organic, and they locally acquire as many ingredients as possible. As a certified organic JAS brand, they source a lot of their ingredients by growing them themselves, keeping away from genetic modification and the use of pesticides. In fact, they have their own established farm right next to their brewery. They believe that by following these principles, they can prevent further damage to the environment. If you want to learn more about Teraoka, you can read our article about them here.
Out of all of the shoyu brands we’ve talked about in this article, Teraoka has by far the biggest lineup of shoyu. Because their lineup is so big, it may be difficult to know which one or few soy sauces from them to start with. We would recommend using their liter-sized dark soy sauce or low-sodium soy sauce for cooking. We also love their barrel-aged shoyu, (a Japanese Taste fan favorite!) which is more of a premium soy sauce. It can be used as a dipping sauce for meats and sashimi, or in cooking if you desire.
Hichifuku is the only shoyu maker on our list specializing in a very niche kind of soy sauce called shiro shoyu. Shiro shoyu, or white soy sauce is one of the main kinds of shoyu in Japan, but it is surprisingly not that easy to find. It's even harder (if not impossible) to find other brands of shiro shoyu that are made using only organic ingredients. Hichifuku is the only manufacturer of shiro shoyu in Japan to receive JAS certification (Japan’s official organic certification seal of approval.)
Since 1950, Hichifuku, a shiro shoyu and shiro dashi brewery based in Aichi prefecture has been delivering the highest quality of shiro shoyu and shiro shoyu-based products to consumers. Their shiro shoyu is made only from organic soybeans, organic wheat, and sun-dried salt.
Hichifuku's shiro shoyu is characterized by its subtle sweetness, light amber color, and natural umami flavor that has the ability to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients it is paired with. In order to achieve the best tasting shiro shoyu, Hichifuku has always been extremely particular about using only genuine organic raw materials. They have worked tirelessly to bring high-quality products to their customers that can be used to create lasting happy memories at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’d like to try their shiro shoyu out for yourself, we really recommend their premium-aged shiro shoyu. It’s hard to put the flavor of this shoyu into words, but it has a unique umami that is completely different from light or dark soy sauce. It’s a great shoyu to use in salad dressings, marinades, or in dishes where you want to preserve the original color.
How Did We Decide On These Brands?
Our team got together recently and came up with a master list of what we believed to be are the best soy sauces. (If you haven’t checked out that article yet, you can read up on it here.) Many of the soy sauces that we tried were made by the brands we talked about above. Therefore, all of the Japanese Taste team has tried soy sauces from these makers, and we can confidently recommend them and say that they surpassed our expectations for what we previously felt soy sauce should taste like.
Besides taste which is of course important, we also stand by these shoyu brands for a few other reasons. Firstly, all of these brands strive to produce high-quality shoyu products with quality ingredients and without the use of additives. All of these brands take it even further by using organic and/or domestic materials as much as possible. Beyond this, we stand behind these brands because they continue to keep the craft of traditional shoyu making alive. Many bigger corporations have found ways to speed up the production of shoyu, and we are by no means saying this is wrong, but it alters the process of making shoyu.
Most importantly, as all of these brands are virtually unknown outside of Japan, we would like to give them a voice and spread awareness about authentic shoyu brewing.
Which shoyu brand piqued your interest the most? Were you familiar with, or have you tried shoyu from any of the brands we talked about? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.