Soy sauce (酱油, jiàngyóu) is a key ingredient in Chinese and Asian gastronomy. It was invented in China over 2,200 years ago as a byproduct of soybean fermentation and is now considered the most popular seasoning across Asia. Use soy sauce to cook, season, marinate, dip, dress and elevate your stir-fries, braises, stews, salads, dumplings, noodles and sauces with depth and umami.

As many articles on the Internet will tell you, if you live in the Western world, you’ve probably never tasted real soy sauce at home, since supermarket soy sauces usually contain added sugar, alcohol, caramel, MSG, chemicals and preservatives to make up for the fact that they are fermented for only a short period of time or, worse, created chemically over a few days (which is the case when you see “hydrolyzed soy protein” on an ingredient list—beware!). Look for a China-made soy sauce whose ingredients are limited to soybean, wheat and salt, and you have found the real deal. While Chinese soy sauce is not generally long aged like vinegar and some other fermented products, higher quality soy sauces will be aged for a year or slightly more.

Japanese soy sauce is made with equal parts soybean and wheat, making it sweeter, whereas Chinese soy sauce is primarily soybean, giving it more umami. We strongly recommend using Chinese soy sauce in your Chinese dishes.

About All-Natural Zhongba Soy Sauce

Several of China’s Imperial-era regional soy sauces have withstood the test of time and maintain a loyal following up until today. Sichuan’s Zhongba Soy Sauce is one such heritage product, and like all traditional Chinese soy sauce it is made from water, soybean, wheat, salt and time. But Zhongba does have a secret umami ingredient: mushroom. The company sources a white mushroom that grows wild in Zhangjiakou (in northern China) called 口蘑 (kǒumó), among the most expensive and highly demanded mushrooms in China. Like the Asian matsutake, the small, fleshy mushroom is a member of the Tricholoma genus and has been prized for centuries for its taste and nutrients. The dried mushroom is infused into the fermented sauce, contributing its natural glutamic acid.

Zhongba does not taste like mushroom, but this proprietary mix makes for a deep-red soy sauce with full body and mouthfeel and a compellingly complex flavor that is so much more than salty. We invite you to do a taste test with this soy sauce and any other you happen to have on hand to understand the true difference a long, natural brewing process and 200 years of experience make.

“Transformative. The best soy sauce for the money I have tried in years.”
— Chef Andrew Zimmern

The Site of Zhongba Soy Production

Sichuan’s famed Zhongba Soy Sauce has been made continuously since 1828 in Jiangyou city and is still made the traditional way, creating umami organically over a long fermentation period with zero need for added sugar, alcohol, caramel, MSG, chemicals and preservatives.

The Zhongba factory is a China Time-Honored Brand, meaning it has painstakingly documented its long and esteemed history. It even has a large museum onsite, which is one of the only places besides The Mala Market that you can buy its small-batch, handmade soy sauce, since the company makes too little to distribute to supermarkets in China. 

Zhongba soy sauces are labeled “light” for export, to differentiate them from its dark soy sauce.

Classic Chinese Dishes with Soy Sauce

Zhongba 360 Premium Everyday Light Soy Sauce

Zhongba 360 Premium Soy Sauce is a light soy sauce for everyday use. The large-batch product is crafted with the same all-natural recipe as the hand-stirred ultra premium version (below), but ages in transparent tanks that allow the sun to do its daily magic over the one-year fermentation period.

Both versions are made from the first pressing of the fermented soybeans, whereas many supermarket soy sauces are made from soybeans that have been fermented a second time with new brine and are therefore less flavorful. 

Non-GMO, Vegan

Soy Sauce Noodle Recipes

Zhongba Handcrafted 1-Year Ultra-Premium Soy Sauce

Unlike the Zhongba 360 Light Soy Sauce, the ultra-premium version of Zhongba light soy sauce is hand-stirred daily in earthenware crocks, just as it was done a century ago. The crocks are left uncovered during the day, and this daily exposure to the sun, air and local microbes introduces another layer of flavor specific to the locale and process. The result is a deep, rich, smooth umami flavor.

Both Zhongba all-natural soy sauces are brewed for 360 days with no additives, coloring or preservatives and packaged to order just for us.

Non-GMO, Vegan

Difference Between Light and Dark Soy Sauces

Unlike Southern China, which is well known for its light soy sauce (生抽, shēngchōu) and dark soy sauce (老抽, lǎochōu), Sichuan and the rest of China traditionally had just one type of soy sauce (酱油, jiàngyóu). Nowadays, exported brands often follow the Southern practice of marketing their multipurpose jiangyou as “light soy sauce” for the international market. Light soy sauces are so-named because they are lighter in color. Light does not refer to calories, salt content or taste. Dark soy sauces are thicker and darker, with added molasses or sugar for color and sweetness. A little dark soy sauce will color an entire dish (often a braise). 

An essential ingredient in the modern Chinese pantry, dark soy sauce is sweet while retaining its salty-savoriness. Do not confuse it with “sweet soy sauce,” which tastes mostly sweet. Dark soy sauce is used frequently for its unparalleled coloring and flavoring properties, adding an umami boost and an appealing red-brown tint to meats, braises and sauces. 

Zhongba Dark Soy Sauce

Zhongba Dark Soy Sauce is naturally brewed for 180 days. Unlike supermarket brands of dark soy sauce, which taste mainly of sugary molasses and little of soy, Zhongba Dark Soy Sauce tastes like umami-rich soy sauce that’s been sweetened. Its long fermentation and trademark mushrooms and spices deliver the intense mahogany-red tint that makes food so appetizing. While Zhongba light soy sauces contain no additives or preservatives, the addition of sugar in the dark version necessitates a preservative. Zhongba dark also has a touch of caramel and MSG.


Zhongba dark soy sauce

Cooking and Storage Tips

Soy sauce should be stored in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources (preferably a closed cupboard or pantry). Ensure the bottle or container is tightly sealed to prevent air from entering and oxidizing the soy sauce. Proper sealing helps maintain its flavor and quality. Refrigeration is not necessary but may help ensure flavor and freshness for longer. If stored correctly, and not cross-contaminated, fermented products do not really expire. Let your eyes and nose be the judge of its shelf life.

Remember to adjust the amount of soy sauce according to your taste preferences and the specific recipe you’re following. It’s always a good idea to start with a smaller quantity and gradually add more if needed.

Use soy sauce as both a condiment and a cooking ingredient.

  • Marinades and sauces: Use soy sauce as a base for marinades and sauces. For a simple marinade, combine light soy sauce, garlic, ginger and a splash of Shaoxing rice wine. Use on meats, tofu or vegetables before stir-frying or grilling. We also sometimes like to add a dash of dark soy sauce to our marinades to color the meat and please the eye.
  • Stir-frying: For the simplest stir-fry, heat oil in a wok or skillet over high heat. Add protein (chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu, etc) and stir-fry until almost cooked. Push the protein to the side and add vegetables (blanched vegetables speed this up even more). Once veggies are crisp-tender, combine everything and add a splash of light soy sauce. Toss to coat and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes until everything is heated through.
  • Braising: In a pot, first blanch the raw meat and then brown it, adding aromatics like ginger, garlic and green onions. Pour in a mixture of both light and dark soy sauces, along with some water or stock. Add spices like star anise, cassia bark and rock sugar according to preference. Simmer over low heat until the meat (or tofu) is tender and the flavors have melded.
  • Dip: For dumplings, spring rolls and more. Just combine light soy sauce with a little black vinegar, sesame oil, minced garlic or ginger. Add a touch of chili oil for extra kick.

Starting Your Chinese Cooking Journey? Get the Chinese Essentials Collection

Chinese essentials pantry collection

New to Chinese cooking? Or perhaps you have a few old bottles of sauce knocking around but they don’t produce the flavor you’re hoping for? We’ve curated and imported China Time Honored Brands and regional heritage products that are the best China has to offer. They have withstood the test of time, beloved by locals for hundreds of years, and are the very definition of traditional flavor. 

The 9 full-size sauces and spices included in the Chinese Essentials Pantry Collection are used literally every day in Chinese cooking.

From light soy sauce to dark soy sauce, chef’s favorite gluten-free oyster sauce to cold-pressed, stone-ground roasted sesame oil, 6-year aged Zhenjiang vinegar to real Shaoxing rice wine, and dried shiitake mushrooms, 5-spice and fermented white pepper, this collection has it all.

All How to Cook With Soy Sauce