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What Is the Difference between Teriyaki Sauce and Soy Sauce?

Erik J.J. Goserud
Erik J.J. Goserud

Dive into the savory world of Asian condiments as we explore the nuances between teriyaki sauce and soy sauce. While both staples are rooted in the rich tradition of Asian cuisine, they serve distinct culinary purposes. 

Soy sauce, a fundamental ingredient with a history dating back to ancient China, is a versatile condiment made from fermented soybeans, wheat, water, and salt. It imparts an umami-rich, salty flavor to dishes. Soy sauce si a staple in over 36% of American households, with 2.21 million Americans using 4 or more bottles/cans/jars in 2020, according to Statista. 

Sushi is often served with soy sauce.
Sushi is often served with soy sauce.

On the other hand, teriyaki sauce, which builds upon the base of soy sauce, incorporates additional components like sugar, ginger, and garlic, creating a balance of sweet and savory notes. This blend is often used as a marinade or glaze, particularly in Japanese cuisine, where it adds a glossy finish and complex flavor profile to grilled meats and vegetables. 

As we compare teriyaki sauce vs soy sauce, it's clear that each has its own identity and application, enhancing dishes with their unique characteristics.

Soy sauce.
Soy sauce.

Soy sauce produces a flavor commonly associated with Asian cuisine. It is basically composed of a water and salt base with the addition of fermented soybean paste. Teriyaki sauce utilizes soy sauce as an actual base but includes a number of other ingredients. It usually produces a sweeter flavor, while soy sauce is more salty in nature.

Both of these sauces are high in sugar and salt and are therefore available in reduced forms. Oftentimes at restaurants or in stores, a low-sodium soy sauce or low-sugar teriyaki sauce can be found. There is also a price disparity between teriyaki sauce and soy sauce. Typically, teriyaki sauce costs more. This makes sense given that more ingredients are in teriyaki sauce, which results in more labor and a greater initial expense.

Soy beans.
Soy beans.

While soy sauce is basically a derivative of the soybean with water and salt, teriyaki is slightly more complicated. Teriyaki includes all of the ingredients of soy sauce with brown sugar, ginger, and garlic in addition. To further complicate the process, some chefs like to prepare teriyaki sauce with sesame seed oil and green onions as well.

The method in which all of these ingredients are combined tends to vary from chef to chef. The ratio of ingredients is also not a constant. For example, one chef may go heavy on the ginger and garlic, while another might prefer less of these ingredients.

Soy sauce is commonly used with sushi.
Soy sauce is commonly used with sushi.

Teriyaki sauce and soy sauce both are very versatile in the culinary world. They are used for dipping, glazing, and marinating, as well as playing roles in bigger recipes. Soy sauce is used strictly for dipping more than teriyaki. One example of this is in the sushi realm, where almost no roll comes without the option of soy sauce.

Used more than people realize, teriyaki sauce and soy sauce exist in a number of popular platters and dishes that don't advertise their use. Both sauces have also emerged onto the Western culinary scene, now being used in many Americanized versions of Asian dishes. While both sauces are similar in many ways, teriyaki is basically a jazzed up version of its soy little brother.

FAQ on Teriyaki Sauce vs Soy Sauce

What are the main differences between teriyaki sauce and soy sauce?

Bacon-wrapped scallops with a teriyaki dipping sauce.
Bacon-wrapped scallops with a teriyaki dipping sauce.

Teriyaki sauce and soy sauce differ primarily in their ingredients and flavor profiles. Soy sauce is a basic condiment made from fermented soybeans, wheat, water, and salt, offering a salty, umami flavor. Teriyaki sauce, on the other hand, includes soy sauce as a base but is enhanced with additional ingredients like sugar, ginger, garlic, and sometimes mirin or sake, creating a sweeter, more complex flavor that's both savory and tangy.

Can I use soy sauce as a substitute for teriyaki sauce in recipes?

Teriyaki sauce has more ingredients and is usually more expensive than soy sauce.
Teriyaki sauce has more ingredients and is usually more expensive than soy sauce.

While soy sauce can be used as a base for creating a homemade teriyaki sauce, it is not a direct substitute due to the significant flavor differences. To mimic teriyaki sauce, you would need to add sweeteners like brown sugar or honey, and possibly ginger and garlic to achieve the characteristic teriyaki taste. Simply using soy sauce alone will not provide the same sweet and glossy finish that teriyaki sauce offers.

Is teriyaki sauce healthier than soy sauce?

Healthiness can be subjective and depends on dietary needs. Teriyaki sauce typically contains more sugar and calories than soy sauce due to its additional ingredients. However, soy sauce is higher in sodium. For those watching their sugar intake, soy sauce might be the healthier choice, while those needing to reduce sodium may prefer teriyaki sauce in moderation. Always check labels for specific nutritional content.

How do the uses of teriyaki sauce and soy sauce differ in cooking?

Soy sauce is versatile, used as a seasoning, marinade, or dipping sauce, adding saltiness and depth to dishes. Teriyaki sauce, with its thicker consistency and sweeter flavor, is often used as a glaze for meats and vegetables or as a finishing sauce. It caramelizes well when cooked, which is ideal for grilling or broiling, whereas soy sauce is more commonly used in stir-fries, soups, and sauces.

Are there different types of soy sauce that can affect the taste of teriyaki sauce?

Yes, there are several types of soy sauce, such as light, dark, tamari, and shoyu, each with unique flavors and uses. Light soy sauce is thinner and saltier, while dark soy sauce is thicker, less salty, and slightly sweet. Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce that's typically gluten-free and has a richer umami flavor. The type of soy sauce used can influence the overall taste of teriyaki sauce, with darker varieties contributing to a richer flavor profile.

Discussion Comments


I've noticed that Japanese restaurants tend to offer soy sauce as a condiment, but they seem to cook with teriyaki and use it as a hot sauce to drizzle over food before serving it. I've never seen teriyaki offered in a dipping tray.

You can order things like teriyaki salmon, chicken, shrimp, or steak, but you won't see soy salmon or soy anything on the menu. It is like Japanese ketchup, and it is meant to be used as a dip.

I suppose this is a good thing, considering that soy sauce is so salty. If they poured it over my food, then it might be too salty to eat. I can always enjoy something cooked in teriyaki sauce, though.


@John57 – I also make a sauce using both soy and teriyaki, but I add mayonnaise to enhance the texture. This makes a peach-colored sauce that you can either dip food into or pour over the top of a meal.

I heat the mayo, soy, and teriyaki together in a pot over low heat. This makes everything blend together well. I put it in a squeeze bottle and use it like ketchup over noodles, stir-fry vegetables, chicken, and shrimp.

If you store it in the fridge, it will last for weeks. Just remember to shake it up before using it again, in case the ingredients have begun to separate.


I love the last line of this article that refers to teriyaki as a “jazzed up version of its soy little brother!” That is a great way of putting it, and it is so true.

When I first started cooking Asian food, I had no idea what soy and teriyaki were made of, and I treated them as if they were two totally separate things. After awhile, I learned to use teriyaki when I wanted a hint of sweetness and soy when I wanted a dish to be savory.

I use both teriyaki and soy sauce in my chicken teriyaki. That results in a powerful salty yet sweet flavor that intensifies the dish.


@julies – I have seen several recipes for Asian food with sauces that called for soy sauce, brown sugar, and mirin. Basically, that is teriyaki sauce!

I don't know why the recipes didn't just call for terikayki instead of all those extra ingredients. Most of them also used ginger and garlic in some way, so there would have been no difference.

If I see a recipe like this, I just leave all the extra stuff out and substitute teriyaki sauce. It tastes great to me, and it requires half the effort!


When I make my own stir-fry at home, I like to mix a little of teriyaki sauce and soy sauce together. The combination of the two is really good.

I find that soy sauce on it's own is a little bland, so like to add some teriyaki sauce for some sweetness and spice. Just about any kind of rich dish is enhanced when using one of these sauces.

I know some people see these sauces as being almost the same thing, but I think there is a big difference in the taste between the two.


I go through a bottle of teriyaki sauce pretty quickly. We love to marinade almost all of our meat in this sauce. This makes for a tender meat with just the right amount of spices.

While I like to use teriyaki sauce for marinating, I will use soy sauce to dip my egg rolls in. They have bottles of soy sauce on the table at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants. I have never seen bottles of teriyaki sauce sitting out like this.

It is hard to imagine eating any kind of Asian cuisine without some kind of soy sauce of teriyaki sauce.


I like to make my own teriyaki sauce at home, and the recipe I use calls for soy sauce. When I make teriyaki sauce, the key ingredient is mirin which is a Japanese sweet rice wine.

When I add soy sauce to this recipe, I like to use the low-sodium sauce. Both of these sauces can contain a lot of sodium and sugar, so this is one easy way to cut down on the amount of salt.

Sugar, ginger and garlic are what really make the sauce special. Since I love a garlic taste, I usually add more than most people do. This is a wonderful marinade for chicken.

Once I make up a batch of this sauce, I store what I don't use in the refrigerator until I am ready to use it again.


I have always wondered what the difference was between these two sauces. I have a bottle of each of these in my cupboard, but have never really read the list of ingredients on them.

Neither of these bottles get used very often and I wonder how long of a shelf life they have. When we eat Asian food, we usually go out to eat, so rarely find myself using these sauces at home.

I find that my soy sauce bottle lasts longer than the teriyaki sauce does. I like the teriyaki because it has a sweeter flavor to it.

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    • Sushi is often served with soy sauce.
      By: BlueOrange Studio
      Sushi is often served with soy sauce.
    • Soy sauce.
      By: photoliving
      Soy sauce.
    • Soy beans.
      By: terumin
      Soy beans.
    • Soy sauce is commonly used with sushi.
      By: rustamir
      Soy sauce is commonly used with sushi.
    • Bacon-wrapped scallops with a teriyaki dipping sauce.
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      Bacon-wrapped scallops with a teriyaki dipping sauce.
    • Teriyaki sauce has more ingredients and is usually more expensive than soy sauce.
      By: ginauf
      Teriyaki sauce has more ingredients and is usually more expensive than soy sauce.