What Is The Most Expensive Soy Sauce? (Explained By Experts)

Soy sauce is a staple in many kitchens, adding depth of flavor and umami richness to dishes. But did you know that not all soy sauces are created equal?

Authentic artisanal soy sauces are fermented and aged for years, resulting in a complex and balanced flavor profile. These premium soy sauces come with a hefty price tag, but for foodies and connoisseurs, the investment is worth it.

In this article, we’ll explore the world of expensive soy sauces and discover which one takes the crown as the most expensive. Get ready to tantalize your taste buds and learn about the art of soy sauce making.

What Is The Most Expensive Soy Sauce?

The most expensive soy sauce in the world is Marunaka’s Black Label Traditional Japanese Dark Soy Sauce. This premium product is imported from Japan and boasts a longer fermentation period compared to standard soy sauce, resulting in a darker color and richer taste. It’s aged for four years and comes in a 720ml bottle, making it an ideal purchase for special occasions or to impress dinner guests.

Marunaka also sells a ten-year-old soy sauce for around $150 a bottle, which is considered the most expensive soy sauce in the world. While not as intense as the Black Label version, this soy sauce is perfect for drizzling over carpaccio or other dishes, similar to balsamic vinegar.

The History And Art Of Soy Sauce Making

Soy sauce has a rich history dating back to ancient China. It is believed that the roots of soy sauce can be traced back to a sauce called “jan” which was made by pickling raw materials in salt to preserve them. Over time, different varieties of soy sauce were developed based on fruits, vegetables, seaweed, meat, fish, and grains.

The grain-based soy sauce, using rice, wheat, and soybeans, is considered the archetype of soy sauce. The earliest precursor of soy sauce was “qingjiang” which appeared in AD 40 and was listed in Simin Yueling. Other precursors include “jiangqing,” “chizhi,” and “chiqing” which were recorded in the Qimin Yaoshu in AD 540.

By the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD), the term soy sauce had become the accepted name for the liquid condiment. Soy sauce was originally a way to stretch salt, which was an expensive commodity at the time. During the Zhou dynasty, fermented fish with salt was used as a condiment in which soybeans were included during the fermentation process. By the time of the Han dynasty, this had been replaced with the recipe for soy paste and its by-product soy sauce, using soybeans as the principal ingredient.

In Japan, soy sauce was introduced under the name “hishio” and was midway between soy sauce and miso paste. After that, the making of miso paste began using the Kinzanji method that the Zen monk Kakushin brought back from China in 1254. It is said that while he was teaching that miso-making method to the villagers of Kishu Yuasa, he noticed that the liquid that seeps out of hishio tasted really good, and that became what is now known as “tamari soy sauce.”

A second important change in soy sauce manufacture took place in Japan between about 1900 and 1950 when the traditional process for making fermented shoyu was altered in four basic ways: defatted soybean meal replaced whole soybeans, the fermentation was done more quickly in heated rooms, epoxy-lined steel or concrete vats were used in place of traditional cedar vats, and preservatives were added to the shoyu.

The art of making soy sauce involves a long fermentation process where cooked soybeans are mixed with roasted wheat or barley flour and left to ferment for several months. Saltwater is then added to create a brine solution which is left to ferment further until it develops a rich flavor and dark color.

Today, there are different types of soy sauces available from various regions around the world. Japanese soy sauces are known for their savory and sweet taste with different variations like koikuchi, usukuchi, tamari, and shiro. Hong Kong’s version of soy sauce is distinct from others due to its unique origin myth and Canadian beans used in its production.

What Makes Soy Sauce Expensive?

Soy sauce is an expensive condiment due to several factors. The first is the long fermentation period required to produce authentic soy sauce. The natural ingredients used in the process must be mixed, cultured, and then fermented for anywhere from six months (for standard brands) to up to four or five years for artisanal soy sauce. This lengthy fermentation period is what makes authentic soy sauce exquisitely balanced and expensive.

Another factor contributing to the high cost of soy sauce is the problems impacting soybean farming. Soybeans are a critical ingredient in soy sauce, and their price can fluctuate due to various factors such as weather conditions and market demand.

The use of natural ingredients is another reason why soy sauce can be expensive. Authentic soy sauce requires certain natural ingredients to be present, and the mixing and culture must follow a precise formula. No external flavoring, color, or preservatives are added, which can increase the cost compared to synthetic ingredients used in cheaper knock-off versions.

Lastly, artisanal soy sauce is typically aged in wooden barrels using traditional methods, which can be costly. Cheap soy sauces can be made in a couple of days with synthetic ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (in lieu of soybeans), corn syrup or another cheap sugar, caramel coloring, and artificial flavoring. They will typically contain preservatives to maintain texture and prevent the mixture from falling apart.

The Top Contenders For Most Expensive Soy Sauce

Aside from Marunaka’s Black Label Traditional Japanese Dark Soy Sauce, there are other contenders for the title of most expensive soy sauce. Haku Shoyu’s Mizunara Whisky Barrel Aged Shoyu and Smoked Shoyu are two premium soy sauce products that are imported from Japan and cost around $25 per bottle. These artisanal soy sauces are aged in whiskey barrels and smoked with Japanese wood chips for a unique and complex flavor profile.

Kishibori Shoyu is another high-end soy sauce that is favored by chefs for its mild funkiness and earthy flavors. It is made using traditional methods and is brewed slowly over two summers in cedar barrels. While not as expensive as Marunaka’s Black Label or Haku Shoyu’s premium products, Kishibori Shoyu still comes with a higher price tag than most mass-market soy sauces.

Tasting Notes: Flavor Profiles Of Premium Soy Sauces

When it comes to premium soy sauces, there are a few flavor profiles to take note of. The longer fermentation period of these soy sauces results in a deeper, richer flavor that is perfect for enhancing the taste of dishes. Here are some tasting notes for a few premium soy sauces:

1. Marunaka’s Black Label Traditional Japanese Dark Soy Sauce: This soy sauce has a deep, complex flavor with notes of umami and a subtle sweetness. It pairs well with sushi and other seafood dishes, as well as salads and grilled meats.

2. Kishibori Shoyu: This artisanal soy sauce is made using traditional methods and aged for up to six months. It has a mellow, slightly sweet flavor with hints of caramel and a smooth finish. It’s perfect for dipping or drizzling over dishes like sushi, sashimi, and grilled vegetables.

3. Tamari Soy Sauce: Made with little to no wheat, tamari has a more intense, savory flavor compared to other soy sauces. It’s perfect for adding depth to soups and stews, as well as marinades and dressings.

4. Shiro Soy Sauce: This white soy sauce is brewed with more wheat than soybeans, resulting in a milder flavor profile. It’s perfect for dipping delicate sashimi and other raw fish dishes without overpowering their natural flavors.

The Most Expensive Soy Sauce Revealed: Is It Worth The Price?

The question remains, is it worth the price to invest in the most expensive soy sauce? The answer depends on your personal taste preferences and intended use. Some argue that using an expensive soy sauce in a sauce or marinade is a waste of its unique flavor profile. Instead, it’s suggested to use it as a dipping sauce or to savor it on its own.

However, for those who appreciate the complexity and depth of flavor that comes with a longer fermentation period, investing in a high-end soy sauce may be worth it. Marunaka’s Black Label Traditional Japanese Dark Soy Sauce is a prime example of a premium product that can elevate any dish it’s paired with. Its rich taste and dark color make it an ideal choice for sushi or as a cold sauce with salads, boiled or grilled fish dishes, and carpaccio.

Ultimately, the decision to invest in an expensive soy sauce comes down to personal preference and intended use. While some may argue that the cost is not justified, others may find the unique flavor profile and quality worth the investment.