Does Soy Sauce Go Bad? Does It Need to Be Refrigerated?

Here’s a quick guide on storage, shelf life, and going bad of soy sauce. In it, you’ll learn how long soy sauce lasts, whether you should refrigerate it after opening, and how to tell if yours is bad.

You have a half-open bottle of soy sauce for who-knows-how-long, and you’re wondering if the condiment is still okay to use.

Or maybe you just opened a bottle, and you’re not sure if you should place it in the fridge or not. The label doesn’t say anything about storage, and you just need an answer.

Sounds familiar? If so, this article is for you.

Read on.

Kikkoman gluten free soy sauce
(credit: fotoosvanrobin)

Does Soy Sauce Go Bad?

Soy sauce doesn’t easily spoil, but it doesn’t retain quality forever either. An unopened bottle keeps for a couple of years past the printed date, but once you open it, you get about a month of great quality if you leave the condiment at room temperature, and maybe half a year if it’s in the fridge.

Of course, after that period, your soy sauce will still be perfectly fine to use, only slightly worse in terms of flavor.

That means that if you have an old open bottle sitting in storage for months, the best thing to do is to check its taste if it doesn’t show any signs of spoilage (more on that in a moment).

As mentioned on the Kikkoman’s website, soy sauce won’t spoil “as long as no water or other ingredients have been added.” That means that keeping it closed tightly pretty much prevents it from going bad.

Now, let’s say there are some yeast-like floaties in your soy sauce, and you decided to check what’s that before discarding the condiment. Good for you because these don’t make soy sauce spoiled (but may alter the flavor).

Let me explain.

White Floaties

This white floating thing is a yeast that can grow even in very salty environments (like soy sauce), and it’s called film yeast (it’s not mold). This film yeast doesn’t cause food poisoning, but it might mess up the flavor and aroma of the sauce.

Here’s how you deal with the white floaties situation:

  1. Remove the white floaties from the sauce, e.g., using coffee filters or something similar.
  2. Assess the flavor. If your soy sauce tastes fine after removing the film yeast, continue using it. If not, discard it.
Warning

Remove the white floating thing from the sauce as soon as you notice it. The longer it’s there, the more chance it will affect the quality of the condiment.

Having that out of the way, let’s talk about actual signs of soy sauce spoilage.

Fish, soy sauce, garlic, and lemon slices
(credit: Agto Nugroho)

Signs of Spoilage

To tell if your soy sauce is spoiled, give it a sniff and take a good look at the liquid. Look for off, funny, or super strong smell, changes in color or texture, and anything on the surface, like mold (except film yeast, which you can remove).

If your soy sauce looks and smells okay, assess the taste and decide if it’s good enough to use or not.

To do the above effectively, you need to know how soy sauce changes over time.

The most important changes pertain to color and flavor. The color gets stronger over time, while the taste slowly disappears.

Of course, if the flavor is a bit weaker than it used to be, simply adding a bit more soy sauce usually solves the issue. (And helps you use it up quicker at the same time.)

But if there’s little flavor left, or it tastes plain bad, it has to go.

Last, if you’re not 100% sure that your soy sauce is fine to eat, err on the side of caution and discard it. Especially if you didn’t follow good storage practices.

Does Soy Sauce Need to be Refrigerated?

You don’t have to refrigerate soy sauce, but it’s quite beneficial to do so. Once you open a bottle, soy sauce retains best quality for at least a few months if refrigerated, but only about a month if you leave it at room temperature.

In other words, if you’re not huge on soy sauce and use it often, it’s probably better to keep it in the fridge.

Furthermore, well-known producers like Kikkoman and Kamada recommend refrigerating their soy sauces after opening for best quality retention.

That said, nothing that bad should happen if you leave your soy sauce unrefrigerated. As I already noted in the section on spoilage, soy sauce should stay safe to use even if it’s not in the fridge.

The worst-case scenario is that its quality will deteriorate quicker, and you might need to visit your grocery store and buy a new bottle quicker than you’d like.

Other Storage Practices

All an unopened bottle of soy sauce needs is a cool and dry area, like a kitchen cupboard or a shelf in the pantry.

Once you open the bottle, no matter if you refrigerate it or not, you should keep it sealed tightly when not in use.

Last, if you want to have room-temperature soy sauce readily available, but also care about its quality, consider decanting it.

Keep your main bottle in the fridge, and store a smaller container that holds enough soy sauce for a couple of weeks or so at room temperature.

This solution is a bit of a hassle, so I think it’s only worth it if you’re using soy sauce often.

Otherwise, stick the bottle in the refrigerator and be done with it. You can always pour a couple of tablespoons and wait 15 minutes until the condiment reaches ambient temperature.

Variety of sushi, and three bowls of soy sauce
(credit: Florian Metzner)

How Long Does Soy Sauce Last?

An unopened bottle of soy sauce lasts at least a couple of years past the printed date. Once you open it up, it retains best quality for about a month at room temperature and maybe half a year in the fridge but stays safe and decent in terms of quality for much longer.

In other words, it keeps for quite a long time, and it’s impossible to pinpoint how long exactly. As one of the manufacturers puts it:

The best-before date is provided to give you a general idea of how long the original flavor will be retained.

That means the printed date is only a rough guideline, not a line in the sand. And since soy sauce doesn’t easily spoil, it can taste quite alright even if it’s open for a couple of years.

(That also depends on what you consider good enough.)

The same is true for soy-sauce-based condiments like teriyaki, or fermented foods (which soy sauce often is) like fish sauce or miso paste.

 PantryFridge
Soy sauce (unopened)Best-by + 1 – 2 years“Best by” + 1 – 2 years
Soy sauce (opened)1 month6 months
Please note that the periods above are approximate and for the best quality. Soy sauce will easily last months (or even years) longer.
Dipping sushi in soy sauce
(credit: Luigi Pozzoli)

After Opening

Once you open your bottle of soy sauce, it’s best for about a month if you leave it on the counter and probably around six months if you refrigerate it. But it still tastes quite good way past those periods.

Because of that, I suggest you ignore the printed date and rely on the flavor of the condiment instead. Then, if the flavor is okay, you use it, no matter if it’s before the best-by date or after.

One more thing worth considering here is taking into account how you use the sauce.

If it’s one of 6 other ingredients in a homemade teriyaki, the soy sauce being a bit old and less flavorful probably won’t be a big deal. But if you’re using the same sauce to dip your sushi in, it might ruin the whole experience.

Tip

If your soy sauce is old and its flavor a bit faded, avoid using it as an as-is condiment and use it to make other sauces and glazes instead.

Soy Sauce Storage and Shelf Life Summary

I hope you enjoyed this short guide on the storage and shelf life of soy sauce. Let’s recap what we’ve covered:

  • Does soy sauce need to be refrigerated? No, but it’s beneficial to the quality of the fermented condiment, and worth considering if it will take you months to finish the bottle.
  • Does soy sauce go bad? Soy sauce can go bad, but it’s highly unlikely to happen. The typical scenario is that the condiment loses its signature flavor over time, and at some point you find it not good enough to use anymore. When that happens depends on your sauce and taste buds, and can take anywhere between a few months and a couple of years of opening.
  • How long does soy sauce last? An unopened bottle lasts for years. After opening, it keeps tip-top quality for about a month if you leave it at room temperature, or about 6 months if it’s in the fridge. But it stays safe to eat and pretty good for many more months.