Is Soy Sauce Chinese? (Origins, Differences + More)

Soy sauce is a staple condiment in many people’s pantries because it helps enhance the color and flavor of various recipes. But while it may be ubiquitous, its Asian origins are very apparent.

The label designs and packaging might have you wondering if soy sauce is Chinese. I dug into its history and here is what you need to know!

Is Soy Sauce Chinese?

Soy sauce was originally invented in China to stretch salt. It eventually found its way into other countries such as Japan where varieties like Kikkoman were developed. While China has different kinds of soy sauce, Chinese recipes typically require light soy sauce but this may depend on the region.

Are you wondering how soy sauce was invented, what kind of soy sauces there are in China, and more? Keep on reading to find out!

Did Soy Sauce Originate In China?

Soy sauce originated in China about 2,000 years ago during the Western Han Dynasty from 206 BC – 220 AD.

There were other soy products in China that were created before soy sauce and they date back as early as 40 AD.

However, it wasn’t until the Song Dynasty in 960–1279 AD that soy sauce became the accepted name for the condiment.

How Was Soy Sauce Invented?

Soy sauce was invented in China to find a way to stretch salt which used to be very expensive. This is why many salty condiments exist today.

Originally, salt and fermented fish were used, then soybeans eventually entered the fermentation process.

Not long after, the fermented fish was replaced with soy paste made from soybeans to create the soy sauce that we know now.

Once soybeans took the place of fermented fish, the main ingredients for soy sauce were brine, roasted grain, soybeans, and two kinds of molds.

What Kind Of Soy Sauce Do Chinese Recipes Use?

Most Chinese recipes typically call for light soy sauce unless stated otherwise. Many recipes will just say soy sauce but they often refer to light soy sauce rather than regular soy sauce.

What Are The Kinds Of Chinese Soy Sauce?

There is no standard soy sauce in China and what can be considered a certain kind of soy sauce can differ based on the region.

Here is a quick rundown of the general types of Chinese soy sauce:

1. Light Soy Sauce

Most Chinese recipes use light soy sauce as it is the most common soy sauce in China, especially if it is a Cantonese recipe.

Light soy sauce is made from the first pressing of the fermented soybeans which is why it has a milder flavor than regular or dark soy sauce, but it still has salty and umami flavors.

It is very low in viscosity and has a thin consistency with a light color, so many people use light soy sauce to season food.

2. Dark Soy Sauce

Dark soy sauce is often much darker and sweeter because it has added sugar. Many recipes use this to add flavor and color to dishes. It tends to have more salt than its light counterpart but it is not overly salty because its sweetness balances it out.

3. All-Purpose Soy sauce

All-purpose soy sauce generally refers to one kind of soy sauce used in certain regions outside of Southern China, like Sichuan.

This type of soy sauce has a similar culture to the one from Taiwan and Japan. It is often referred to as “Northern Soy Sauce” while dark and light soy sauces are called “Southern Soy Sauce.”

4. Double Black Soy Sauce

Double black soy sauce is similar to dark soy sauce in taste and consistency but it contains molasses.

5. Mushroom Flavored Dark Soy Sauce

This soy sauce is flavored with mushrooms to add more umami flavor to certain dishes. It is an excellent soy sauce to add to veggie dishes to make them savory.

Is Kikkoman Soy Sauce Chinese or Japanese?

Is Soy Sauce Chinese?

Kikkoman is a Japanese brand manufacturer and its soy sauce products are Japanese.

Moreover, Kikkoman has different ingredients to traditional Chinese soy sauce which is why it does not taste the same and has a different consistency.

What’s The Difference Between Chinese And Japanese Soy Sauce?

Chinese and Japanese soy sauces share a few similarities but here are a few key differences you should know:

Chinese Soy Sauce

Chinese soy sauce is usually light or “fresh” soy sauce that helps flavor flood, whereas dark soy sauce is used to add color and flavor.

Chinese soy sauces tend to taste stronger and saltier as they were originally used to stretch salt. Moreover, Chinese soy sauces are usually made out of 100% soybeans.

Japanese Soy Sauce

Japanese soy sauces usually have a sweeter and more nuanced flavor and they can be used to season and color recipes. Many Japanese recipes use soy sauce as a dip.

While most Japanese soy sauces you see look dark, you can choose from either light (usukuchi) or dark (koikuchi) soy sauce.

Japanese soy sauce uses a mixture of wheat and soybeans to make traditional soy sauce, but tamari only uses soybeans.

Tamari soy sauce was created as a by-product of creating miso and it tastes similar to Chinese light soy sauce.

Is Chinese Soy Sauce Better Than Japanese Soy Sauce?

Neither soy sauce is particularly better than the other because each of them tastes great with the proper use and in specific dishes.

For instance, Chinese light soy sauce is an excellent way to season food while you cook but it will not work as a condiment alone.

On the other hand, Japanese sauces like Kikkoman are fantastic for dipping prepared food like sushi to enhance the overall flavor.

If you want to learn more about soy sauce, you can see our related posts on whether soy sauce is used in Thai cooking, if soy sauce is used in Vietnamese food, and soy sauce substitutes.


Soy sauce is Chinese because it originated in China where light soy sauce is the most commonly used type.

Soy sauce found popularity outside China which is why other countries like Japan have their own unique soy sauces such as Kikkoman.

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