Soy Sauce: Lee Kum Kee Brand – Dark Varieties

A few days ago, I featured Lee Kum Kee’s varieties of Light Soy Sauces. In that post I explained that the Chinese classification of soy sauces, as opposed to the western division into ‘light’ and ‘dark’, makes a distinction based on when the liquid, eventually to be sold as soy sauce, is drawn or ‘pulled’ off the fermenting soy bean mash. Light soy sauces are ‘early pulled’ (and identified as 生抽) while the dark type, or 老抽 (lǎo chōu) is ‘old pull’ soy sauce, meaning it is drawn off the mash at a later stage.

The dark soy sauces tend to be thicker and less salty than the ‘early pull’ light varieties and are more commonly used as a condiment rather than in cooking (although the dark types are typically used in the Chinese ‘red-cooked’ style of dish). Lee Kum Kee produces a number of dark types and, recently, I sampled their Premium Dark Soy Sauce and Mushroom Flavored Dark Soy. I can say, in advance, that while the Lee Kum Kee Premium Light Soy Sauce is an excellent product, the dark varieties I tasted are not…

Premium Dark Soy Sauce

This particular dark soy sauce is the thickest, most viscous, type that I have come across. It is somewhat on the level of molasses, thickness-wise, and pours very slowly. The aroma is unremarkable, being slightly earthy, while the taste is really not pleasant at all. The basic flavor is a mildly salty, slightly sweet caramel taste that is more like that of an industrial hydrolyzed soy-protein product rather than a properly brewed soy sauce, but there is also a nasty burnt taste that gives a bitter result. I would actually choose the artificial flavors of a VH Soya Sauce over this. I note, also that Xanthan Gum is listed in the ingredients, suggesting that the thickening is artificial, rather than the natural thickness one would expect from an ‘old-pull’ soy sauce.

Mushroom Flavored Dark Soy Sauce

This product is little more than the basic dark soy sauce with additional artificial flavoring and the quality is no better thereby. The product name specifies草菇, or straw mushroom as being responsible for the flavor but the label does not list these as an ingredient and so I have to conclude that the ‘artificial flavor’ in the ingredients list covers this. The sauce is a little thinner than the plain dark sauce but the same unpalatable bitterness remains.


I have already described Lee Kum Kee’s Premium Light Soy as being a worthwhile product (excellent, in fact) but these dark varieties are not remotely in the same class. Not only will either ever grace my kitchen in the future, I won’t be finishing the open bottles I currently have…


  1. I had very similar experience with the Lee Kum Kee brand and also threw it out. I have a bottle from Pearl River that I just bought, but have not used it yet. Have you found a brand you like?

  2. Again interesting, and an excellent idea to taste soy sauce by itself before deciding to use it.

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