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Should You Refrigerate Soy Sauce?

Does soy sauce ever go bad? We spoke with experts to find out. 

Published Apr. 12, 2023.

Soy sauce is one of the condiments I can’t live without. It’s also a massive category with iterations and styles that run the gamut, as my team and I covered in our soy sauce deep dive.

As my personal lineup of soy sauces accumulated, I started to wonder if and when they would go bad after opening. If they do, should soy sauce be refrigerated? Should different styles of soy sauce be stored differently? 

I asked the experts and the short answer is: It depends.

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When Should You Store Soy Sauce in the Pantry?

Historically soy sauce wasn’t always kept in the fridge. Fuchsia Dunlop, author of Food of Sichuan, who’s spent years training at culinary schools in China, doesn’t think it’s necessary. When she first lived in China, “soy sauce was always kept at room temperature, even when it was very hot,” she says. Her guess is it's the “high salt content that makes [soy sauce] keep well.” 

We checked with our senior science research editor, Paul Adams, who validates Dunlop’s point. “[Soy sauce’s] salt and alcohol content means that it won't suffer from microbial spoilage,” he says.

According to this logic, unrefrigerated soy sauce is safe to use.

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When Should You Store Soy Sauce in the Refrigerator?

To Andrea Nguyen, author of Vietnamese Food Any Day, the rule of thumb is whether the soy sauce has preservatives to keep its flavor unchanged for longer—or if it costs more money.

“I refrigerate a fancy Japanese and two Chinese soy sauces, one of which is from the Mala Market,” Nguyen says. “Otherwise, I keep the soy sauce in my cupboards and pantry because they contain salt and preservatives,” she adds, echoing Adams’s advice.

Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen’s soy sauce and maggi seasoning collection. The majority of the sauces in this photo she leaves out unrefrigerated. Photo courtesy of Andrea Nguyen.

Grace Young, wok expert and author of The Breath of a Wok, keeps the everyday soy sauce in the pantry and refrigerates the ones she uses less often. “Many manufacturers recommend refrigerating soy sauce because flavor will diminish with time,” Young explains. 

This is because the soy sauce “does evolve over time, and refrigeration slows [the process] down,” Paul Adams says. “Much like aging spirits, all the volatile flavors will evolve, break down, dissipate, and transform.” 


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The Bottom Line

Storing soy sauce at room temperature is perfectly fine. However, if you don't plan on regularly using it in your cooking, storing the soy sauce in the refrigerator will keep it at peak quality for longer.

Regardless of which approach you decide to take, remember that the flavor of soy sauce can change over time, even with refrigeration.

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