Japanese soups are very delicious because they start off with a great base or stock.
For many of Japan’s beloved dishes, like soba noodle soup, the base is made of tsuyu stock. This is a dashi and bonito broth with soy sauce, sake, and mirin.
The best bottled tsuyu sauce is Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu because it has a mild fish flavor, some sweetness to it, and it doesn’t overpower your food. It is one of the most popular tsuyu varieties in Japan and North America, used for making soups, rice, noodle dishes, and more.
First, I’ll review the top bottled tsuyu sauces. Then, I’ll share a simple recipe and show you how to make tsuyu sauce or soup base at home using some Japanese pantry staples.
The flavor is what you’d call umami with a bit of smokiness and seafood flavors from the bonito flakes and kombu seaweed.
|Best tsuyu overall: Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu|
|Most popular tsuyu in Japan: Yamaki Men Tsuyu|
|Best straight tsuyu and best for soba noodle soup: Shirakiku Soba Noodle Soup Base|
|Best tsuyu for somen: Morita Somen Noodles|
|Best strong flavor tsuyu & best for cold noodles: Mizkan Oigatsu|
|Best premium tsuyu: Yamaroku Aged 2 Years|
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Tsuyu buyers guide – what to look for
- 2 Best tsuyu reviewed – your top choices explained
- 2.1 Best tsuyu overall: Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu
- 2.2 Most popular tsuyu in Japan: Yamaki Men Tsuyu
- 2.3 Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu vs Yamaki Men Tsuyu
- 2.4 Best straight tsuyu and best for soba noodle soup: Shirakiku Soba Noodle Soup Base
- 2.5 Best tsuyu for somen: Morita Somen Noodles
- 2.6 Shirakiku vs Morita
- 2.7 Best strong flavor tsuyu & best for cold noodles: Mizkan Oigatsu
- 2.8 Best premium tsuyu: Yamaroku Aged 2 Years
- 2.9 Mizkan vs Yamaroku Aged
- 3 How to use tsuyu & what to use it for
- 4 Tsuyu to water ratio (how to dilute it)
- 5 Homemade tsuyu sauce recipe
- 6 Takeaway
Tsuyu buyers guide – what to look for
Before we dive deeper into my top choices, let’s get a few things straight about tsuyu first.
What is tsuyu?
Tsuyu (tsu yu), also called mentsuyu (めんつゆ), is savory (umami) Japanese stock or soup base.
Most people know it as a seafood-flavored noodle soup base, but it is also considered a type of sauce. It is commonly used when making soba or udon noodle dishes, especially Japanese soups.
Basically, it’s a multi-use flavoring base, stock, or sauce. Besides noodle soups and dishes, you can use tsuyu for hot pot, rice bowls (donburi), or as a dipping sauce for tempura and yaki foods.
Usually, the most common tsuyu is labeled as “hon tsuyu.” It is the traditional version and has a mild flavor.
Tsuyu is made of sake, mirin, soy sauce, kombu (dried kelp), and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). Bottled tsuyu also contains some other flavorings and seasonings.
There is more than one type of tsuyu, so I’ll explain the difference below.
What does tsuyu taste like?
When you ask about tsuyu, Japanese people will describe it as “umami” flavored. This refers to one of the five basic Japanese tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami.
Best types of tsuyu & best brands
While you might think all tsuyu is the same, it’s not quite true. There are actually many types and varieties of tsuyu.
Let’s look at the most popular ones.
- Straight: this is the kind of tsuyu has a delicate mild flavor, and it does not have to be diluted with water.
- Double concentrated: this refers to a stronger tsuyu that you must dilute with as much as three or four times water.
- Soba tsuyu (zaru): this type of tsuyu is made specifically for soba noodle dishes like cold soba noodles (zaru), salad, and soup.
- Somen tsuyu: another base made for somen noodle dishes.
I’m going to list some of the best brands and the standout tsuyu from each.
Some of the best brands include:
- Kikkoman (Hon tsuyu)
- Yamaki tsuyu
- Yamaroku (best aged tsuyu)
- Shirakiku (soba noodle soup base tsuyu)
Best tsuyu reviewed – your top choices explained
As you can see, the world of tsuyu is a vast one. Let’s see why each of my favorite tsuyu choices is so good.
Best tsuyu overall: Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu
This yummy tsuyu is versatile, and it’s made by one of the most popular Japanese condiment manufacturers, Kikkoman. Their products are affordable, and you’ll find them in most pantries.
Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu is a classic stock/sauce that you can use for everything. It’s the kind of sauce that has a mild but distinct fishy flavor because it’s mostly made with kelp and bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin, and sake.
Hon tsuyu must be diluted in water, but its flavor is not overpowering, so it makes a great base for udon and soba soups, salads, and cold dishes too.
You can taste the delicate seafood flavors of the bonito flakes and the saltiness of the kelp. Combined with the sweetness of mirin and the savoriness of soy sauce, this sauce gives the ultimate umami taste.
Most popular tsuyu in Japan: Yamaki Men Tsuyu
If you’ve trying tsuyu for the first time, I recommend an authentic brand like Yamaki.
Their tsuyu sauce is made in Japan, and the tsuyu is known as one of the best-tasting ones out there. The sauce is made of high-quality ingredients, including lots of bonito flakes and the best kind of kelp.
It’s like a premium dashi stock in a bottle. You can expect an authentic umami flavor (sweet and savory) from this stock.
You can use Yamaki Men Tsuyu liquid seasoning for all kinds of Japanese dishes, including soups, hot pot, noodle dishes, rice, and salads.
It is a double-strength tsuyu and must be diluted before cooking.
This sauce has a very rich aroma, and it’s not as mild as some others because it’s made of two types of bonito flakes; thus the fishy flavor is more intense and pronounced.
Kikkoman Hon Tsuyu vs Yamaki Men Tsuyu
The most notable difference between these two tsuyu liquid seasonings is that the Kikkoman one is more popular in America, while the Yamaki is a Japanese pantry favorite.
Also, the Yamaki tsuyu is stronger and has a richer seafood flavor than its more mild Kikkoman counterpart.
Kikkoman is generally cheaper and more readily available in grocery stores. However, Yamaki is worth the slightly higher price tag because it has a distinct aroma and is more “umami.”
If you want an authentic rich, yet balanced taste, Men Tsuyu is a must-try. On the other hand, Hon Tsuyu is the best versatile sauce you can use in all kinds of Western & Asian recipes.
Best straight tsuyu and best for soba noodle soup: Shirakiku Soba Noodle Soup Base
If you’re a big fan of soba noodles like I am, you’ll love this refreshing sauce. This tasty tsuyu is highly recommended for soba noodle soup and cold soba noodle salads.
It is a straight tsuyu, so you don’t have to dilute it. That’s why it’s suitable as a dipping sauce too.
Shirakiku is a well-known Japanese brand and makes all kinds of tasty seasonings and sauces for various dishes. Their mentsuyu is highly rated by customers because it offers the classic taste people expect.
Since you don’t need to dilute this tsuyu, it is quite mild flavored. If you like a delicate savoriness, but with a hint of dashi taste, you’ll be impressed by the versatility of this sauce.
Don’t worry; it’s not exclusively made for soba noodles. It tastes amazing in udon, somen, ramen, as well as with rice too.
Found out all about these Different Types of Japanese Noodles (With Recipes)
Best tsuyu for somen: Morita Somen Noodles
If you love the thin white somen noodles used for soup and salads, you will appreciate the special somen tsuyu from Morita.
While you can use it for all kinds of Japanese dishes, this sauce works well with thin noodles because it has a rich yet mild flavor.
It is a straight tsuyu, so you don’t need to dilute it before adding it to your food.
Morita Tsuyu has a classic rich and mild umami flavor. It is made of Hokkaido tangled seaweed and dried bonito flakes from Yaizu.
There is no chemical seasoning, so it’s a healthier tsuyu than the ones that contain many preservatives.
I recommend this sauce as a general soup base for all kinds of noodle soups because but it’s also mellow enough to be used as a dipping sauce.
Shirakiku vs Morita
These two sauces have in common that they’re both advertised as specific stocks for noodle dishes, namely soba, and somen.
The Morita somen noodle sauce has a natural but mild dashi flavor, whereas the Shirakiku is not as rich in taste.
Because Shirakiku and Morita are both straight tsuyu, they’re less concentrated, and you can use them without diluting them first.
In my opinion, these sauces are very similar. They’re both best suited for dipping and pouring onto noodles.
The only difference is that Morita is made with more natural ingredients without any chemicals. Perhaps it’s a healthier choice!
Best strong flavor tsuyu & best for cold noodles: Mizkan Oigatsu
Some people want their udon or soba noodle soup to have a rich, dashi flavor. If you prefer a stock with lots of fishy bonito flavor and aromatic kelp, then you’ll love this Mizkan tsuyu.
It’s a concentrated liquid seasoning, and you should definitely dilute it. For most soups and dipping sauces, go for a 1:3 ratio, or else it will overwhelm the taste of your food.
The flavor of this tsuyu is much richer than the mild varieties I previously mentioned, but it’s tasty, so it’s one of Japan’s favorites.
It’s the kind of sauce that is best for zaru soba and other cold noodle dishes because it adds lots of rich aromas.
Customers rave that this is the closest you’ll get to the authentic zaru soba sauce you can find at Japanese restaurants.
Best premium tsuyu: Yamaroku Aged 2 Years
If you’re looking for a premium sauce with fantastic taste, then you need to try aged Kiku tsuyu.
It’s one of Japan’s best aged tsuyus made on Shodoshima Island. They use only high-quality soy sauce, bonito flakes, and kelp.
Each bottle of Kiku tsuyu is aged for 2 years in 150-year-old barrels before being sold. Therefore, the flavor is intense but very smooth and balanced.
Think of it as gourmet food, as the price is pretty high for a bottle. But there are no preservatives, and all the ingredients are carefully selected.
Considering it takes over 2 years to make, it’s the kind of gourmet sauce you can use to make the tastiest dishes for your friends and family.
I recommend using this tsuyu in stews, soup, oden, and tempura.
Mizkan vs Yamaroku Aged
Here’s the thing about these two tsuyu sauces, they are more geared towards true connoisseurs.
If it’s your first time trying this soup base, you might not be able to tell the nuanced differences. However, you’ll surely realize that Yamaroku aged tsuyu is much more delicate with well-pronounced dashi flavors.
The mizkan tsuyu is strong and very concentrated so it’s a better choice for those who love bold tastes. It’s useful if you want to make cold noodle dishes and salads.
If you’re just starting to cook with tsuyu, I recommend starting with a mild or straight tsuyu because you won’t alter the taste of your noodles too much.
How to use tsuyu & what to use it for
As I previously mentioned, tsuyu is a versatile food product. It is used as a sauce, dipping sauce, soup base and for making noodle, hot pot, oden, and rice dishes of all kinds.
Tsuyu is one of the favorite stocks for hot and cold noodle dishes like udon, soba, and even ramen in Japan.
In some cases, people use tsuyu as a substitute for soy sauce because it has a smoky yet delicate rich flavor, and it gives a bit of dashi and bonito taste.
But, there is also a special hot noodle soup that gets its flavor from tsuyu. This soup is called Kaketsuyu (かけつゆ), and it’s one of the easiest comfort foods to make.
Here are some other foods you for which you can use tsuyu:
- Avocado and negitoro (rice bowl)
- Cold tanuki udon
- Yaki udon
- Kitsune udon
- Zaru soba
- Japanese pasta
- Japanese cold tofu (hiyayakko)
The thing about using tsuyu when cooking is that if it’s not labeled straight (ストレート), you have to dilute it in water. There are specifically recommended ratios.
Bottled tsuyu is usually concentrated, except for “straight” tsuyu. Therefore, the label will say what the tsuyu to water ratio is.
Tsuyu to water ratio (how to dilute it)
The 1:1 ratio just means that for every ⅓ cup of tsuyu, for example, you add another ⅓ cup of water.
Or, if it’s a 1:3 ratio, for ⅓ cup of tsuyu, add 1 cup of water because you multiply the ⅓ of a cup 3 times.
Tsuyu to water ratio for common dishes
- For a rich dipping sauce, use a 1:1 ratio
- For noodle soup, use 1:3
- For cold soba noodles, you need a 1:3 ratio
- For a hot noodle soup, you need 1: 6 or 1:8 for a milder taste
- For donburi rice bowls, use 1: 3
- For hot pot, you need about 1: 6 or 1: 8, depending on how much flavor you need
- For stews and simmer foods, use a 1: 4 ratio
Here’s how to use it when making any type of hot noodle soup
- First, you have to dilute the tsuyu with some water.
- Then, you must heat up the tsuyu.
- Next, you pour the hot broth/sauce over the noodles.
Homemade tsuyu sauce recipe
- 1 cup dried bonito flakes katsuobushi
- 1 piece dried kelp kombu
- ½ cup cooking sake
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup mirin
- Grab a saucepan and pour in the sake, mirin, soy sauce. Then add in the dried bonito flakes and the piece of kelp.
- Bring everything to a boil.
- Turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let your sauce cool down.
- Remove the piece of kelp and strain the mixture using a sieve.
For a multi-purpose tsuyu sauce with a mild flavor but that delicious dashi taste, the Kikkoman brand hon tsuyu is the best buy. It’s the kind of sauce you can use to make all kinds of rice, noodle, hotpot dishes, and of course, as a soup base.
I recommend keeping some tsuyu in your pantry or making a fresh sauce to keep in the fridge.
This way, you can always make a bowl of hot soba or udon soup for yourself and have easy meals at your fingertips.
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Why not use your tsuyu in this Sukiyaki recipe? It’s a fun family favorite hot pot meal for social dining