soy sauce shelf life

Soy Sauce Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

You’ve been into Asian cooking lately. One ingredient that is constantly asked for many recipes is soy sauce. So, when you’re in the store, without any doubt, two big bottles are already in your bag.

Fearing of upcoming tight schedules, one question popped up in your mind, while you’re on the way home: Does soy sauce go bad?

Or, you just had sushi parties with friends. The nori sheets, wasabi, and other ingredients were finished, except a bottle of soy sauce. Should I store it at room temperature? Or, does soy sauce need to be refrigerated?

Either way, if you’re asking similar questions, you’re in the right place! In this article, we share some basics of soy sauce, including its shelf life, storage condition, and common signs of soy sauce going bad. Read on and find the answers to your questions!

What Is Soy Sauce?

soy sauce

Firstly originated in China more than a thousand years ago, soy sauce has been a staple in most Asian countries and is also widely used everywhere else.

Soy sauce (also generally known by its Japanese name shoyu) is usually used as seasoning and condiment. Its saltiness and a dash of umami flavor are what people look for in this dark sauce. Soy sauce is also an essential ingredient for teriyaki sauce.

Soy sauce is made by fermenting soy mixed with water, roasted grain (typically wheat), and salt using koji molds – the same molds used in the making of sake, and miso paste. The mixture is fermented for 5 to 8 months, resulting in a thick paste that is then pressed into a liquid, sterilized, and bottled.

There is a wide variety of soy sauce across Asia. So make sure you pick the right product for your recipe.

  • Dark soy sauce is more robust in taste and flavor.
  • Light soy sauce is lighter in appearance and milder in taste.
  • Tamari is made with little grain or no wheat.
  • Sweet soy sauce is sweeter and more common in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking.

Jump to the FAQ section at the bottom of this article to find more fundamental knowledge of soy sauce.

How To Store Soy Sauce

Storing soy sauce is pretty straightforward, and no preparation is required. The storage conditions are also quite similar to other sauces or condiments, such as Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, or teriyaki sauce.

No matter which soy sauce you have, unopened bottles can safely sit at a cool, dry spot, away from heat and sunlight. Your pantry or kitchen cupboard should be an excellent place.

After opening soy sauce, the storage method is somewhat confusing for some people, whether it needs refrigeration or not. In short, once soy sauce is opened, you can keep it in both places: outside or inside the refrigerator.

If you use soy sauce regularly, keeping it somewhere in the kitchen makes more sense. You will probably finish the bottle in a few months.

However, if you plan to keep soy sauce longer or you only use it once in a while, refrigeration will preserve the freshness and flavor much better.

Either way, always keep the bottle tightly sealed when not in use. Don’t let any contaminants of impurities get into the container.

How To Tell If Soy Sauce Has Gone Bad

Soy sauce is high in sodium and is sterilized before bottling. Hence, going bad is a rare occurrence, as long as water and other impurities are not introduced into the bottle.

However, soy sauce does lose its quality over time. Knowing some common signs of inferior quality and soy sauce going bad will help you in the kitchen. As with other foods, the rule of thumb is checking the visual signs, smell, and taste to pass your judgment.

With an old bottle of sauce, if nothing looks and smells strange, taste a small amount. The flavor and taste may not be as fresh as a newly opened sauce. If it’s not as sharp as you expected, consider using it for cooking instead of dipping sauce. But it’s your call to keep it or toss it.

If you notice off-smell, altered taste, molds, or strange things inside the bottle (maybe you forgot leaving the bottle unsealed), these are apparent signs that soy sauce is spoiled and no longer suitable for use.

How Long Does Soy Sauce Last?

Soy sauce is a durable product and can last for a few years. Check the “best-before” or “best-use-by” date for an estimated period when the product stays in the best quality. Unopened soy sauce can last longer than the time printed on the label, with expected changes in flavor.

To enjoy the best quality, Kikkoman and San-J suggest using their products within  1 to 3 months after opening. But, you can surely use it longer beyond this period.

Once opened, soy sauce starts to lose its freshness. If you keep it at room temperature, try to finish it within 3 to 6 months. When continuously refrigerated, soy sauce can stay fresh up to a year.

Soy sauce (unopened)Best-by date + 1 – 2 years
Soy sauce (opened)3 – 6 months1 year

The table above is a general estimate. The real shelf life of soy sauce may depend on the preparation methods, brand, and storage condition. It’s worth spending an extra minute for a quick check on spoilage signs, particularly with old sauce.


Can soy sauce go bad if not refrigerated?

Generally, soy sauce doesn’t require refrigeration (unopened and open). It won’t go bad if not refrigerated as long as water or other ingredients do not come into contact with the sauce. However, refrigeration is recommended for more extended storage to preserve the flavor and freshness.

Does soy sauce have gluten?

Yes, wheat is generally used in the making of soy sauce. But, there are famous brands like Kikkoman and San-J that also produce gluten-free soy sauce. For another gluten-free option, try tamari sauce, which is typically made with little or no wheat. A more important suggestion is to read the label and reach out to the manufacturer whenever in doubt.

Does soy sauce have alcohol?

According to Kikkoman, a small amount of alcohol (less than 2%) is naturally present in soy sauce as a result of the fermentation process.

What are substitutes for soy sauce?

Whether allergic to soy or gluten or you just don’t have the sauce at home, sometimes you have to find alternatives for soy sauce.

For gluten-free alternatives, try tamari sauce, fish sauce, or coconut aminos. For soy-free substitutes, try coconut aminos and fish sauce. If you have none of the alternatives above, you can just simply use salt.

Final Thought

Soy sauce is a staple in Asian cuisines and is widely used across the globe. However, as with any other foods, soy sauce loses its quality and can go bad.

Keep unopened bottles in your pantry or cupboard. Once opened, always tightly seal the bottle and keep it either inside or outside the refrigerator. Refrigeration does preserve the freshness and flavor for longer storage.

The older soy sauce is better for cooking than as a condiment. But, if you notice an unpleasant smell, altered taste, impurities, or growth of molds, no safer option than tossing out any leftovers! 

Up Next: The Best Substitutes For Soy Sauce

soy sauce goes bad

*Photo by AndreyStdepositphotos

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