Bottled Teriyaki Sauce
A good bottled sauce can be a timesaver, but could we find a balance between salty and sweet?
How We Tested
Here in the United States, the word “teriyaki” probably brings to mind the salty-sweet bottled sauce available at most supermarkets. However, true Japanese teriyaki has little to do with this sauce. In Japan, teriyaki is a cooking technique that involves grilling meat or fish over hot coals and brushing it a few times (and sometimes at the end) with a sweetened soy glaze. Loosely translated, “teri” means “glazed” and “yaki” means “to grill.”
Traditionally, the glaze used in Japanese teriyaki is a simple combination of soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar; it has a thin consistency and a glossy appearance. Debra Samuels, Japanese culinary curriculum developer and cookbook author of My Japanese Table (2011), told us that Japanese teriyaki glaze is thin because it’s typically used as a finishing—rather than a stir-fry—sauce. Samuels said that while you can find Japanese-style teriyaki glazes in the United States, most of the bottled teriyaki sauces sold in American supermarkets are thicker and have more flavoring ingredients. According to an article in the East Bay Times, Japanese immigrants in Hawaii played a role in developing these sauces, which contain ingredients such as brown sugar and pineapple juice.
Today, bottled teriyaki sauce is used in stir-fries, as a marinade, for grilling, and more. To find the best product, we rounded up six supermarket teriyaki sauces, priced from about $0.20 to about $0.70 per ounce, and tasted them plain and in Teriyaki Stir-Fried Beef with Green Beans and Shiitakes as a replacement for the homemade marinade and glaze.
The Importance of a Moderate Texture
The consistency of the sauces we tasted varied widely, from runny and thin to goopy and viscous. The ingredient list of the thinnest product most closely resembled that of a traditional Japanese-style sauce; it contained no thickeners and was notably runny. Tasters commented that its consistency was like soy sauce. Conversely, four of the sauces contained one or more thickening agents such as cornstarch, corn syrup, locust bean gum, arrowroot, or xanthan gum. While we liked thicker sauces, especially when making a stir-fry where we wanted the sauce to cling to the meat, some products were far too thick. The one product that uses locust bean gum was notably goopy both plain and in the stir-fry, with one taster comparing its gelatinous texture to “glue.”
The consistency of the best sauce fell somewhere between thick and thin. Our favorite, which contained no starchy thickeners and had a balanced, viscous texture, glazed the meat well and was neither watery nor gloppy like some of the other sauces.
Flavor: A Balance of Saltiness and Sweetness Was Key
Tasters readily identified two main flavors in the sauces: salty and sweet. Our favorite sauces struck a balance between the two.
We examined the ingredient labels and discovered that the sodium levels of the sauces ranged from 370 to 620 milligrams per 1-tablespoon serving. Sauces with sodium levels on the low end of that range were a bit bland when tasted plain and their flavors got lost when added to the stir-fry. One sauce on the higher end of the range tasted more like soy sauce than a complex, salty-sweet teriyaki. We preferred a product that had a more moderate 580 milligrams of sodium per serving, which tasters found to be balanced yet still flavorful enough to hold its own in a meaty stir-fry.
The amount of sugar in each sauce also varied—between 2 and 8 grams per 1-tablespoon serving. Sauces with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving tasted more flat. However, the one sauce with 8 grams of sugar per serving tasted a bit cloying and saccharine to some. We preferred the sauce with about 7 grams of sugar—it caramelized when cooked and produced a robust, flavorful glaze that wasn’t overly saccharine.
In addition to salt and sugar, the sauces contained other flavoring agents, which tasters had varying opinions on. Some found the flavors of apple cider vinegar and plum juice concentrate in one sauce to be distracting, while others favorably described the sauce that contained whole sesame seeds, pureed ginger, and bits of dried ginger and garlic as being “complex.”
The Best Bottled Teriyaki Sauce: Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce
Our favorite teriyaki sauce, Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce, struck the right balance in both consistency and flavor. Neither too thick nor too thin, its consistency worked well in the stir-fry, where it clung nicely to the meat and vegetables. Its robust flavor, which was buoyed by moderate amounts of sugar and salt, gave it presence in the meaty stir-fry. Most tasters really liked this sauce’s whole sesame seeds, pureed ginger, and dried garlic, all of which added complexity. Despite these additions, its ingredient list was the shortest of all the sauces we tried (it contained no thickeners or preservatives).
- Six supermarket teriyaki sauces, priced from about $0.20 to about $0.70 per ounce
- Samples were randomized and tasted blind to eliminate bias
- Taste plain
- Taste in Teriyaki Stir-Fried Beef with Green Beans and Shiitakes
- Sodium and sugar levels are based on a 1-tablespoon serving