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Soy Sauce

The Making of Soy Sauce
The Making of Soy Sauce pictures (1 of 6)

During my recent trip back to Penang, I made a visit to my favorite soy sauce factory in Georgetown. Though soy sauce is largely produced and packed commercially now, in Penang, you can still find a few remaining soy sauce factories making their soy sauce the natural way, that is, by hand.

The traditional method—sadly a dying and fast disappearing trade—ferments soybeans contained in large urns under the sun and covered up with lids at night. The soybeans are left inside the urns to “break down” and brew to become soy sauce. An everyday commodity that we so take for granted, naturally made soy sauce takes months of hard work and dedication to produce, and the result is always pleasing with an unmistaken depth and soybean fragrance in the end product…

I managed to capture a few pictures above to give you a rough idea how authentic soy sauce is made. My friend Chubby Hubby does a better job in explaining the processes in his post here.

I wanted to stress that while Kikkoman has made an empire out of soy sauce and fill the supermarkets in the US with its products, soy sauce was invented by the Chinese some 2,500 years ago. The techniques spread to Japan and other parts of Asia much later.

In the US, my favorite brand of soy sauce is Kimlan (金兰) from Taiwan. What brand of soy sauce do you have in your pantry?


Thanks for sharing your favorite brand(s) of soy sauce with me. It is such a great exercise as it helps me to discover new brands. Just bought a bottle of Pearl River Bridge premium soy sauce (头抽) and compared it side-by-side with Kimlan. Love the depth and flavor; it’s such a great soy sauce. I am going to try out Aloha Shoyu next. :)

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66 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

    • Amy – is Pearl River Bridge soy sauce made in China? I stopped buying Chinese soy sauce since I heard horrid stories about “fake” soy sauce made in China. My Chinese friends told me that some unethical soy sauce manufacturers made them with human hair. Human hair. I almost fainted when I heard it. ;)

      • omg, that’s horrendous. I agree, food stuffs from China can be pretty sketchy. Pearl River Bridge is made in China but they’re a big label and a reputable company.

        • I know many people use that brand, it just caught me that I recognize the brand by its Chinese name, but not the English name “Pearl River Bridge.” I am sure it’s a reliable and reputable brand, the fakes are sold at a much cheaper price, and from what I heard, had a lot of “suspicious and dark” residue at the bottom of the bottom.

  1. In the Caribbean we don’t usually get a variety of brands to choose from. I have Kikkoman but I usually watch out for brands on your blog and those of my other favourite blogs whose cuisines are more familiar with the brands and quality.

    This was such an awesome post. Thanks for the education.

  2. Wu

    I actually use Kikkoman, except it’s the import version from Japan. No preservatives, just water, soybeans, wheat and salt. It’s 10 times more delicious than the normal Kikkoman for american market which has full of preservative.

  3. Alex

    I usually use Pearl River Bridge brand, it is good. Kim Lan is very good too, I think, it is just a matter of personal preferences. Pearl River Bridge is a well known brand and has a lot of other products under its belt

  4. Julie

    I love the specific type from Kikkoman, I think it’s call Kikkoman Premium Soy Sauce or Tokusen Marudaizu Shoyu, it’s made from whole soybeans, offering a refined soy flavour.

  5. Lilian

    I use Wei Chuan dark and light soy sauce. It says CHINA in all caps on the label and 100% naturally brewed. I buy mine at an oriental store by the name of Vinh Phat which carries so many brands I just picked one that looked like it moved. Tastes very good on everything one normally serves it on or with.

  6. Anna

    another pearl river bridge user here. i heard about the human hair thing too–ugh. i hope no human hair is in my soy sauce.

    • Hi Anna – I think you are fine. After the milk powder incident in China, I noticed that my local Asian stores took some Chinese food products off the shelves. If you can still get pearl river bridge in your store, it should be fine.

    • Haha, that’s true…we just recognize the packaging and not the brand. Yes, in the US, Kimlan is the way to go because it tastes the closest to our soy sauce. I personally don’t like the Chinese version because they are darker and thicker, even though they are light soy sauce.

  7. I use Kikkoman. Not too many choices as I found the soya sauce from China contains high sodium. So, I usually buy the one with less sodium. There’s one brand that my family uses and it’s made in Alor Star. I guess next time I will take a few back with me!!

    • Can you find Kimlan in London? You should try that, I find it the closest to the soy sauce in Malaysia. For Kikkoman, I don’t know, there is this almost “chemical/metal” taste that I don’t like.

  8. JInmo

    Thank you for the very informative story on Soy Sauce. Is any colouring added to make the sauce black? I find it difficult to understand how an essentially white bean can, even after fermentation, turn such a dark colour without some added colouring!

  9. kl_changs

    Bee, you just jogged one of my childhood memories in Penang. My mom used to send me to the soy sauce factory with an empty bottle, to buy a new bottle. Could see all those gigantic urns. Completely forgot about them…until now : )

  10. Bee, I have several different types of soysauce in my pantry. If I’m cooking Japanese/Korean foods, I use Kikkoman (if you look at the list of ingredients in their soy sauce, it doesn’t have sugar) but for Chinese/other Asian foods, my go to is any Asian style soy sauce that normally has some sugar. I think it is more suitable for that style of cooking. When I was living in Hawaii, I liked their locally made brand–Aloha shoyu and I must sheepishly admit to still choosing that brand over the other Chinese brands (though I have used Kimlan and also some other brands that I can’t recall off hand now) just because I like how it tastes and I hate to have to buy another brand only to find it doesn’t work.

  11. i went to a soy sauce factory not too long ago in Ipoh.
    the smell was somewhat ….. funny, but the sight of endless rows of urns/pots used for the process was somewhat beautifully aligned.
    hygiene was slightly compromised though.

  12. Didn’t know people still make soy sauce the traditional way. Always took soy sauce for granted till I moved out to hostel and learned how to cook and realised that it does wonder to my experiments in the kitchen :p I guess I kinda suck really bad then. Lol.
    Anyways, great post!! Will definitely look out if I go to Penang. So nice to go around and eat there. If only I have stomach like the cow’s.

    • Yes, you really need a big appetite while in Penang. I eat 8 meals a day whenever I am home. Good news is that the portion is always small, and the trick is to ask for less noodles when you order the food. :)

  13. gourmetbride

    I use the Yummy brand that’s endorsed by the famous happy chubby chef in HK. Another brand I use is LKK’s double premium soy. Both are very fragrant and really good to cook with.

  14. ALOHA SHOYU!!! Sorry, I know I yelled that but I really love the stuff. We buy it by the gallon. I literally danced in the aisle when I found some in Washington. I was afraid I’d have to settle for something else.

  15. Arturo

    Kikkoman seems to be very popular, to me it also tastes chemical, but then so does Kimlan. Maybe it is just not to my taste. For Japanese I really like Yamasa, and Pearl River Bridge for Chinese. I always keep the indoneasan Kecap manis around as well. Thats good stuff.

  16. In Brasil we have a lot of brands: Kokkoman, Shoyo Hinomoto, Kitano, Sakura and so on…all brands seems good. And after long time I’m happy…because now, in Brasil, soy sauce is been used for almost people, until my sister-in-law have a bottle of soy sauce at home :)) and they are cooking chao men, learning and eatind little dumplings…it’s being great.
    I think this is one of the better asiatic food I have seen so far…I will send the link to my chinese parents, you have greats text/comments here :))
    See you…Paula:))

  17. Great post! I saw a doco on a rare traditional soy sauce maker in HK recently. They said the secret to his great tasting soy was the fact that they’d never washed the pots in the last 100 years so the flavour only builds.. :|

    My parents like to use Pearl River Bridge brand soy sauce, so I do too. There are heaps of fake products in China, but this one has good brand equity. The “hair” story might not be related to fake soy – I think it was related to fake hair moss (a black moss that looks like human hair) that was made with flour instead of moss. Also heard about fake soya bean milk (water, colour and flavour), fake fried dace (mock meat), fake bean vermicelli (flour).. Definitely have to look carefully with some dodgy un-reputable Chinese products.

  18. Jeff

    Just wanted to stop by and say that this website is the BEST asian cooking website I have come across.
    In terms of soy sauce, being Filipino myself, I know have come to find that soy sauce varies so greatly. I also use Kikkoman or Yamasa for Korean/Japanese cooking, but for Filipino cuisine, I almost always use Silver Swan especially for cooking. If Silver Swan is not available, I look to see if the brand is made in the Philippines. Soy sauce from the Philippines tends to be quite dark and very flavorful, so a little bit goes a long way.

  19. My family isn’t very particular about our soy sauce brands because there are so many choices here in Malaysia. We buy all locally produced soy sauce. However, my aunt always comes all the way from overseas to stock up on a particular soy sauce. I don’t know the brand…but it has an old man’s face on it and apparently only found in Penang. She says other brands don’t beat this one.

  20. foodlover

    Hi, Rasa Malaysia. I truly love your blog, well organised and informative. We can get a variety of asian cuisine recipes here, you did a good job and make great effort.

    Soy sauce is a traditional flavoring from our ancestor, it impart delicious of the cuisine and represented chinese history.
    Basically, soy sauce divided into two types:
    1. naturally brewed where it fermented for at least 4 months under exposure to sunlight
    2. HVP – acid hydrolysed vegetable protein where using chemical method, e.g. strong acid to break down the protein in order to get sauce. And this method has produced a chemical substance, 3-MCPD that is toxin and might cause cancer in long term. European and US had banned soy sauce/ oyster sauce contain high level of 3-MCPD, including those brands commented above.

  21. Greg

    Kimlan is the best soy sauce I’ve tasted. I’ve suggested to more than a few Chinese takeout shops that they offer it instead of the caramel-colored saltwater they usually have, but none have bothered and I actually have a white friend who said caramel colored saltwater is more “Chinese style” than Kimlan, and she likes it better on takeout. Blech. Around here the only place I find Kimlan is in packets alongside AFC Sushi, however the AFC-branded bottled soy sauce is definitely not Kimlan.

  22. hannysan


    i use HealthyBoy brand from Thailand for light soy sauce. it’s light in taste and not too dark in colour.

    it also has a variant of mushroom soy sauce.

    Kylie Kwong uses this brand too

    Have you used this brand before?

  23. Dan


    Kudos to you for all your culinary posts ..I did learn a ton on SE asian cooking.
    So now that you have tried Pearl river bridge premium soy sauce, is that better than kimlan ? …Have you tried any other besides these two …You claim that Kimlan tastes similar to what you would find back home in Malaysia and they are not dark like the chinese ones …if thats the case how about yamasa ( brewed in the US ) as I thought it had robust flavors …Anyways please let me know what you suggest ..Also as I am a vegetarian do you have any recommendations for oyster sauce ?

  24. jen

    Thanks RasaMalaysia for all the info i learnt frm yr website. I was seaching for info on fake soysauce when i stumbled on yr website.

    I jus bgt kikkoman japanese grill teriyaki sauce that looks n tastes like light soy sauce. I jus used it in my cooking n got a tummyache after tat. Jus really worried if its fake product esp after readin comments on soy sauce tat are high in metal toxins. Wat makes it more unassuring is tat the label comes off easily almost immediately, being thin n flimsy, leaving a bottle looking unnamed n.forlorn!
    Think i i wl jus throw it away. :-(… even tho it states its made in singapore!

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