There are likely bottles of soy sauce sitting on the tables at some of your favorite restaurants—and who hasn’t had a takeout packet of soy sauce sitting in a drawer for months if not years? Based on these facts, you might assume that it’s OK to store your soy sauce at room temperature. Is it a good idea to keep soy sauce in the pantry or on your counter, or should you be stashing your soy sauce in the fridge? Let’s take a look.
The Case for Storing Soy Sauce at Room Temperature
From a food safety perspective, it’s perfectly fine to store soy sauce at room temperature both before and after opening it. The high sodium content in soy sauce is part of what makes it last for a long time—salt was used as a preservative long before refrigeration. Plus, soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, and fermentation is another age-old food preservation method.
As long as you don’t add any water or other ingredients to your soy sauce, it’s totally safe to keep it at room temperature. Indeed, teacher and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen writes in her soy sauce guide that she keeps her soy sauce in the pantry, where it’s “cool, dark, and dry.”
The Case for Storing Soy Sauce in the Fridge
If it sounds like the case is closed, consider that you want your soy sauce to not just be safe to eat but also delicious. “Quality, not safety, is the reason the labels on these products suggest that they be refrigerated after opening,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodKeeper app, and don’t we all want our food to be top quality?
Stored at room temperature, soy sauce can begin to lose its quality quickly, especially if it’s exposed to heat or frequent temperature changes—for example, if you leave it on a sunny counter next to your hot stove. Unrefrigerated soy sauce can begin to lose some of its subtle flavor notes immediately, though according to the food safety and quality website StillTasty.com, it should last for about six months before declining. Meanwhile, soy sauce stored in the fridge should maintain its quality about four times as long as unrefrigerated soy sauce.
For the final verdict, who better to go to than the biggest name in soy sauce in the U.S., Kikkoman? “Once opened, the soy sauce will start to lose its freshness and the flavor will begin to change,” Kikkoman’s website says. “By refrigerating the sauce, the flavor and quality will remain at their peak for a longer period.”
Cookbook author and blogger Maggie Zhu writes on her modern Chinese cuisine site, Omnivore’s Cookbook, that soy sauce can be stored in the fridge if you seldom use it. If you use soy sauce every day for cooking and seasoning, feel free to leave a small bottle in your pantry or on your dining table—otherwise, stick that bottle in the fridge to keep your soy sauce fresh and tasty for as long as possible.