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Does Soy Sauce Go Bad?

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Soy sauce is one of the most popular condiments. It is crucial in countless recipes and dishes, not just in Asian food, but also in a wide array of cuisine. Soy sauce has a distinctive flavor that helps elevate everything it comes into contact with.

It only makes sense for you to always have it on-hand. It’s unsurprising, then, that most people buy big bottles of the stuff at any given time. So, the next question that comes to mind is:

Does soy sauce go bad? Soy sauce is highly unlikely to go bad if stored in an airtight container in your fridge. This is because of the sauce’s ingredients, chemical composition, and high level of sodium. However, storage conditions can also affect how long your soy sauce lasts.

Be sure to keep reading as we delve deeper into what makes soy sauce so durable and enduring.

Soy Sauce Overview 

Soy sauce is an incredibly popular condiment, especially when it comes to sushi. but many recipes and dishes use this sauce in one form or another. 

Because of its umami and salty flavor, it has become a major part of a wide array of recipes and dishes all over the world. However, there is more to this sauce than meets the eye. That is why we need to take a closer look at its nutritional content.

Nutritional Content of Soy Sauce

NutrientsAmount Per 1 tbsp
Carbohydrates0.8 g
Fat0 g
Protein1.3 g
Sodium879 mg

The table above is incredibly important. As you may have noticed, soy sauce contains high levels of salt, amounting to around 38% of your recommended daily intake (RDI).

This is worth noting, as the high density and levels of salt help answer any questions regarding spoilage and shelf life.

Can Soy Sauce Go Bad?

Now, let’s dive into the meat of the matter: can soy sauce go bad? After all, it isn’t unlikely that you may find this sauce sitting oin your fridge or pantry for a long while. 

While all types of food can turn bad if not stored properly, soy sauce stands out because of its incredibly long shelf life.

It can last for years and still be usable. Similar to miso paste, another Japanese staple, this sauce’s high level of sodium prevents microorganisms from developing.

That’s why it technically should be safe to consume after many years (provided it was stored properly), but it won’t necessarily be of the best quality.

to better expound on this answer, we must look at some of the finer details behind this sauce.  Specifically, how it is made and how that ultimately contributes to the sauce’s longevity.

Making Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is made from four basic ingredients. These are soybeans, wheat, salt, and fermenting agents such as mold and yeast.

Now, you may be wondering, doesn’t the presence of fermenting agents make this sauce more susceptible to spoilage? 

In most cases, this would probably be the case. After all, fermentation is a form of controlled spoilage that lets you bring out specific flavors, aromas, and textures in certain ingredients.

That is why we must look at the production process closely here. The traditional production process behind soy sauce is a complex and time-consuming one.

However, it is a necessary part that we need to delve into if we wish to better understand what makes this particular condiment last so long.

The process for making soy sauce is as follows:

  1. The first step to making traditional soy sauce involves taking the soybeans and soaking them in water. Meanwhile, as the soybeans marinade, the wheat is crushed and roasted before being put into the mixture, along with a culturing mold. The most commonly used mold is aspergillus, or koji. All the ingredients are then left to stew and get to know each other for the next 2-3 days.
  2. Once that step is done, water and salt are introduced into the mixture. These are the final ingredients that go into making the soy sauce.
  3. Once everything has been added, the concoction is left to ferment for 5-8 months or even longer. This is part of the fermentation process, as the mold interacts with all the ingredients in the tank.
  4. As the mixture enters the fermentation stage, the enzymes originating from the mold become activated and they react to the presence of the proteins coming from your soybeans and crushed wheat. Slowly but surely, these proteins are broken down into amino acids and the starch from the wheat is transformed into simple sugars.
  5. Once the aging and fermentation process is complete, the mixture is then put atop a large piece of cloth that is then pressed. This will release the liquid that you will recognize as soy sauce. Then, when all the liquid has been wrung from the mixture, it undergoes the process of pasteurization to kill any lingering bacteria from the fermentation stage. 

Only when these steps are done will the soy sauce be bottled and shipped. Top-quality soy sauce follows this natural fermentation process, as traditionally used in Japanese production.

As stated earlier, this complex process effectively explains why soy sauce rarely spoils.

As you may have surmised, the pasteurization and the high sodium environment created in the mixtures themselves make it virtually impossible for soy sauce to go bad.

They create an environment that is not conducive to bacteria and other microorganisms.

Different Kinds of Soy Sauce 

A quick trip to the grocery store would tell you that you are virtually spoiled for options when it comes to soy sauce.

After all, soy sauce is divided into several categories and each of them has its specified use.

These are a few of the types of soy sauce available:

  • Dark soy sauce – This is the most readily available type of soy sauce. It is characterized by its reddish-brown color. It also has a distinctively strong aroma.
  • Light soy sauce – As its name suggests, this type of soy sauce has a considerably lighter color and appearance than its more commonly available counterpart. It also has a milder aroma and flavor.
  • Tamari – This is another type of soy sauce that has a dark color. However, the difference is that it doesn’t have that distinctive aroma that is commonly associated with soy sauce. This is because it contains low levels of wheat, with 10% or less being the average across different brands.
  • Shiro – Conversely, Shiro has a very light tint to it. This is made possible through the minimal use of wheat and soybeans. 
  • Saishikomi – This type of soy sauce is dark and has been fermented for twice the amount of time and is stronger than other kinds of soy sauce. Because of its strong flavor and antimicrobial properties, it is often paired with sushi and sashimi.

Now, you may be wondering, do some soy sauce types last longer than others? Are they all the same, in terms of shelf life?

To answer that, you must remember that while the ratio of ingredients used to make these sauces vary, they all have one thing in common: all of these soy sauce varieties contain high levels of sodium.

This means that all these subtypes have that distinctive flavor that soy sauce is known for. Specifically, all of them have a salty and umami flavor, but each one varies in strength.

As explained earlier, the saltiness of these sauces does more than add flavor to your dish. Rather, it is crucial in ensuring that no bacteria or other harmful contaminants can grow and develop in the liquid itself.

All of these soy sauce subtypes follow the same production process as laid out in the previous section.

So, you can only expect these sauces to have the same level of longevity and shelf-life that you would typically get, regardless of your preferences.

Shelf Life of Soy Sauce

Now that we have established why soy sauce lasts so long, it is time that we take a look at how long it lasts. A quick look at the soy sauce bottle should tell you a lot. Pay close attention to the fine print on the label, as it should have a best-by date.

The wording is crucial here: best-by. This means that the date on your bottle is not referring to potential spoilage or toxicity for your soy sauce once it has gone past the specified date.

Rather, it is referring to the timeframe that you can expect your sauce to exhibit its optimal quality. 

However, you also need to remember that this is by no means a fixed date. It is a starting point that can serve as an excellent point of reference.

For instance, if the bottle remains unopened, then you can expect the soy sauce to retain its best quality for around 3 years.

Once the bottle has been opened, however, the sauce’s quality will gradually start to take a dip but will remain usable for a wide array of recipes and dishes.

As a general rule, try to finish your bottle of soy sauce about 1-2 years after opening it. If you go past that, then you will probably notice a change in quality and taste. 

Does Soy Sauce Need to Be Refrigerated?

Now that we have covered the production process in detail and how it affects the shelf life of your soy sauce, it is time that we delve into another equally important aspect to its longevity: storage conditions. Does it need to be refrigerated?

To answer that question, we must first consider the following:

  • Opened or Sealed – As stated earlier, opening your soy sauce bottle acts as a catalyst to the gradual decline of its potency and quality. Conversely, if you keep it sealed, then it will undoubtedly last longer. Don’t fret though, as long as you properly replace the cap every time, then it should last for as long as 2 years. 
  • Keeping Away Contaminants – Aside from maintaining its optimal freshness, sealing your bottle tightly also effectively prevents any contaminants from finding their way into the bottle.
  • Storing in a cool and dry place – The pantry serves as one of the best storage options available to you. This way, it will always be accessible, should you need to use it for your next dish. The fridge also serves as a great cool and dark spot to store your soy sauce.
  • Timeframe – Knowing the timeframe of when and how often you will likely be using the soy sauce will affect where you should store it. If you won’t be using it for the next few months, then maybe the pantry isn’t necessarily the best choice.

All of these are essential to whether or not you should store your soy sauce in the fridge. For instance, if you will be regularly using it and your timeframe isn’t an issue, then you can skip refrigeration completely.

However, if you won’t be using your soy sauce for months on end, then we highly recommend that you store it in the fridge.  

At the same time, if you have opened the bottle beforehand and want to ensure that it lasts as long as possible, then refrigeration is certainly the way to go.

Remember, this is the exact purpose of your refrigerator – to ensure that the quality of your ingredients is preserved for as long as possible.

How Can You Tell If Soy Sauce Has Gone Bad?

So, let’s say that you haven’t been following the best storage practices for your soy sauce.

The next things you need to know are all the tell-tale signs of potential spoilage. Again, as stated earlier, while soy sauce is unlikely to spoil, it can still turn bad if you aren’t keeping it properly.

Listed below are a couple of things you need to look for:   

  • Floating Bits and Impurities – We can’t overstate the importance of keeping your soy sauce bottle’s cap on whenever not in use. This is because it prevents any impurities from finding their way inside and mixing with the sauce. That said, a quick look inside the bottle should be enough. If you find anything floating around that shouldn’t be there, throw it out.
  • Mold Growth – This is usually the consequence of contaminants finding their way inside the bottle.  After all, mold doesn’t just appear randomly, especially not in a soy sauce bottle. Needless to say, mold growth poses serious dangers to your health.
  • Odors – Soy sauce has that distinctive smell to it. If you notice any bad odors, discard the soy sauce. 
  • Flavor – While a dip in the sauce’s intense flavors may not necessarily mean that it has gone bad, it is a sign that it is well past its best-by date. 

There you have it: everything there is to know about the shelf life of soy sauce.

As one of the most widely consumed ingredients around, it only makes sense for you to know how to properly store this sauce in your fridge. So, be sure to remember these tips.

Up Next: How Long Is Sushi Good For?

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