Soy sauce is such a common ingredient in dishes that more and more folks have some at home. And this is great, because a dash of soy sauce can really take your food to the next level !
However keeping soy sauce around all the time may make you wonder if it ever goes bad. especially when you go into an Asian restaurant and notice the soy sauce containers are right there, on the table, each and every day.
Well, it turns out they really know their stuff because soy sauce is surprisingly long-lived. Let’s take a look.
Can soy sauce go bad ?
Yes, soy sauce can go bad but it takes a very long time for that to happen. As in several years of keeping the sauce poorly stored.
The high amount of salt keeps soy sauce pretty much sterile. So no bacteria may survive there, but mold spores may still survive. They shouldn’t be able to grow and take over the bottle, but they may be present.
This is why you should always keep your soy sauce bottle tightly sealed at all times when not using it.
So in short soy sauce is very long lived, you’d have to forget about it for a very long time to find it’s been compromised. Alright, now let’s see how long soy sauce lasts.
How long does soy sauce last ?
Due to the high amount of salt soy sauce manages to last for years if stored properly. Or rather if not stored in particularly poor conditions like direct sunlight and heat.
There’s a difference between opened and unopened (airtight) soy sauce, so we really need to look at those two variables to give you a proper estimate.
As with many spices and condiments, soy sauce has a best by date, which is actually different from the use by date, so let’s have a look.
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Best by date VS use by date
Whenever you buy something you should always find the expiration date. It’s just that soy sauce, like condiments, has a ‘best by’ date instead of an expiration date.
Like coffee and cinnamon and hot peppers, soy sauce lasts pretty much indefinitely but it can lose its flavor.
This is what the ‘best by’ date indicates, the amount of time the flavor will be at its maximum potential. If you open it past its ‘best by’ date, it will still be good but the flavor will be dull or completely off, depending on the storage conditions.
Know that there are two kinds of soy sauce: fermented (traditional) and hydrolysis soy sauce.
Fermented soy sauce has a deeper flavor but will lose its flavor sooner than the hydrolysis soy sauce, so take that into account.
Unopened soy sauce
Unopened soy sauce is really long lived. If kept in a cool, dry place and with no direct sunlight then it should last for longer than you can have time to eat it.
A rough estimate would be about a minimum of two years past the ‘best by’ date. So if you’re looking at it in June 2020 and the ‘best by’ date is in April 2022, then add 2 years to that, and you get April 2024 at the very least.
For example if you keep it in the pantry, and it’s a very cool and dark place, and you don’t open it for 5 years, it should still be good. Depending on the quality of the sauce the flavor may be a little dull or off, but if it’s been properly sealed then that shouldn’t happen.
Know that fermented, unopened soy sauce will lose its flavor quicker than hydrolysis soy sauce.
A fridge would be much better to keep soy sauce, since it’ll be able to keep things much colder than any pantry could.
Opened soy sauce
If you’ve already opened the soy sauce container then it will last at least by the ‘best by’ date, if kept at room temperature like on the table or on the counter.
We’re assuming an opened bottle of soy sauce is going to be fairly frequently used so having it within reach is reasonable.
However if you keep your opened soy sauce in the fridge or a very cold pantry then you can get away with another few months past the ‘best by’ date, even 6 months.
Now, keep in mind that this part may be subjective. Opened soy sauce may lose flavor quicker than unopened ones, so the taste is up to you.
If you’re unsure if it’s still good or not based on date alone, and the bottle doesn’t look bad, you can taste the soy sauce. If it’s not immediately alarming and you can still detect some flavor, it’s good to go.
Again, soy sauce doesn’t go bad as spectacularly as other food items (like milk for example), but it does lose flavor and an opened bottle is going to make that happen faster.
The more you use it and keep opening it and letting air in, the faster it goes off. Luckily soy sauce usually comes in small bottles and it doesn’t have time to lose its flavor by the time you’re done with one bottle.
How to tell soy sauce has gone bad
In case your soy sauce did actually go bad, there’s a few ways to tell.
They’re actually pretty standard, like detecting an off smell or a particularly sour or overly pungent one.
You could also look for fungal growth, though there’s very little change of that managing to actually proliferate in such a salty environment.
Furthermore, you can give it a taste test. There’s very little chance you’ll find anything but an incredibly dull flavor, but if by chance the bottle wasn’t completely sealed then you might find other things in.
Like bits of other food or condiments, or possible contaminants.
If you want to be on the safe side it’s best to toss it and get a new one, and make sure the bottle is very well closed each time you put it back in the fridge.
Keep in mind that containers with spouts are not completely closed, there’s still some air circulation there so it’s best not to leave that one out very long.
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Storing soy sauce right
Storing your soy sauce can really prolong its shelf life. While soy sauce is a very resilient sauce or condiment, you can really push it past it ‘best by’ date by storing it well.
There are some key points that you should consider when storing soy sauce, and here they are.
Keep away from heat and direct sunlight
Probably the most important point, keep soy sauce away from heat and direct sunlight, otherwise you’ll be fermenting the sauce all over again. And no, it won’t come out as an aged soy sauce, you need skill for that and a very well controlled environment.
You need constant temperature for soy sauce storage, and keeping it near items that get warm and then cool – like near or above a stove – is going to mess with its flavor.
Direct sunlight does not help either since it will ruin the flavor as well, and also heat the sauce.
Do you have to keep soy sauce in the fridge?
The best way to make soy sauce last longer is to keep it in the fridge. The fridge is the best for storing soy sauce, as well as other Asian condiments like fish sauce, Tamari sauce, sesame oil, and others.
A fridge is cold, dark, and definitely dry so your soy sauce is going to last past that ‘best by’ date splendidly.
Keeping your soy sauce in a cool, dry place for it to really last long. A cold pantry is also good, as long as it can stay consistently dry. A humid room may promote fungal growth and you won’t want spores getting in the sauce or on the bottle.
Always screw the cap on tight
Another important point is to make sure the bottle or container is always, always well closed. If it’s not, you run the risk of losing a whole lot of flavor, and possibly getting the sauce contaminated.
In the case of dull soy sauce you may need to use more than usual since there’s less flavor. But the salt is still there, so keep an eye on that sodium intake !
That’s pretty much it for soy sauce and how long it lasts. If you store it properly, in a cool dry place you can get several years out of it, possibly indefinitely.