Kamebishi Aged Shoyu: The World's Most Expensive Soy Sauce

Discover Kamebishi's Aged Shoyu, where centuries-old recipes and meticulous methods converge, redefining luxury in the realm of sushi and sashimi enhancers.

Kamebishi Aged Shoyu: The World's Most Expensive Soy Sauce
Japanese Shoyu - by CA Creative / Unsplash

Kamebishi's 20-year Japanese soy sauce, retailing at an impressive $125 for a 55ml bottle, defines opulence. Crafted from a cherished family recipe since 1753, this sauce is produced using the intricate mushiro koji method.

Its rich depth is frequently savored in omakase and kaiseki meals, often as a dip for sushi and sashimi, combined with a hint of wasabi.

What Is Kamebishi Soy Sauce?

Kamebishi soy sauce, known as "shoyu" in Japanese, is crafted from whole Japanese soybeans and aged for an exceptional two decades in cedarwood barrels. This traditional sauce boasts deep flavors of umami, roasted nuts, and a hint of cedar, making it distinct from typical soy sauces. Its prolonged fermentation enriches dishes with a unique taste and color.

History of Origin

Founded in 1753 by a former samurai and general to the Imperial Prince Ikoma of the Ako region, Kamebishi-Ya stands as a testament to tradition.

Located in the Hiketa district of Higashi-Kagawa, Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku island, it remains the only producer worldwide to practice the "mushiro kôji" method, where kôji mold grows on rice straw and bamboo mats.

Today, led by the 16th and 17th generations—mother and daughter duo, Okada San—they diligently uphold ancestral techniques passed down orally.

The essence of Kamebishi's unique flavor profile lies in the fusion of handpicked soybeans, traditional fermentation, and patient aging in cedar casks.

Their portfolio boasts a range of vintage moromi-aged soy sauces: from 2 to a staggering 38 years.

Each variant offers a symphony of rich aromas, potent fragrances, and a smooth finish, underscoring Kamebishi's dedication to craftsmanship and quality.

Here's why the Kamebishi Soy Sauce is So Expensive:

sushi near dip
Photo by Luigi Pozzoli / Unsplash

Traditional Production Method

Kamebishi soy sauce stands apart with its simple ingredients: just soybeans, salt, and water. Unlike many counterparts that incorporate wheat, its exclusion imparts Kamebishi with a unique flavor and consistency.

Below, we delve into the dedicated process of crafting this artisanal Japanese shoyu.

A Journey from Soybeans

Kamebishi distinguishes itself in the shoyu realm by using whole Japanese soybeans, unlike many large-scale producers who opt for oil-depleted dried soybeans. This choice preserves the flavorful fats, enhancing the richness of their sauce.

After soaking the beans overnight, they undergo a meticulous 18-hour steaming process in specialized equipment, ensuring uniform softening - a key step for optimal fermentation.

Locally-sourced wheat from the same prefecture as Kamebishi's base undergoes a roasting process at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead of the commonly used crushed form, Kamebishi grinds the roasted wheat into a texture akin to wholegrain flour.

This meticulous approach guarantees the wheat envelopes each soybean, fostering thorough fermentation. The blend of powdered wheat and softened soybeans is then primed with mold spores to commence the fermentation journey.

An Age-Old Secret: Koji

Koji, derived from grains with the mold Aspergillus oryzae, is fundamental to Japanese culinary traditions. With a history spanning thousands of years, it's the backbone of sake, miso, and mirin.

Unlike many producers who mechanize the process, Kamebishi values manual precision in handling koji.

Although rapid compared to fermentation and aging, this stage is vital. Kamebishi's brewers expertly mix koji mold powder with hand-ground wheat, then seamlessly blend it with soybeans.

This meticulous preparation paves the way for the revered mushiro method, affirming Kamebishi's mastery in soy sauce production.

The Art of Mushiro Fermentation

Kamebishi champions the ancient mushiro koji method over modern machinery for its soy sauce fermentation. In this process, koji is spread on straw mats atop bamboo trays, where mold enzymes transform soybean and wheat starches.

For three days, artisans carefully regulate temperatures — often by simply adjusting windows — to foster fermentation while preserving the mold.

Remarkably, even as the soybeans generate heat, Kamebishi maintains a tight 82 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit range.

This traditional approach may limit production, but it ensures unparalleled flavor, underscoring Kamebishi's dedication to authenticity over scale.

From Koji to Moromi: Kamebishi's Liquid Alchemy

Transitioning from the koji stage, Kamebishi introduces liquid to form moromi, a thick paste that serves as the soy sauce's foundation.

This paste, though unassuming in appearance, is a blend of art and science. The chosen salt, a mix of sun-dried Australian and Japanese sea salts, ensures the perfect mineral balance for depth of flavor.

Beyond flavor enhancement, the salt acts as a safeguard, naturally warding off unwanted bacteria and toxic mold.

As this concoction matures, mold enzymes further simplify grains into sugars and proteins into amino acids, with other microbes aiding fermentation and producing alcohol and lactic acid.

Cedarwood Barrel Aging

While many distillers highlight their oak-aged beverages, the barrel's influence on flavor is profound in soy sauce too.

Most brewers, like Kikkoman, choose stainless steel tanks for aging, ensuring a base of tanginess and umami without added character.

Kamebishi, however, opts for cedar vats. Not primarily for the cedar's taste, but its porous nature which promotes bacterial activity.

These centuries-old vats, housed in a controlled loft, harbor over 230 beneficial mold varieties, enhancing fermentation and deepening flavor.

A Month's Extraction of Shoyu

Kamebishi employs distinct methods for extracting soy sauce from fermented moromi. For brews under 10 years, the dense moromi is laid on cloth, stacked, and pressed, yielding 800 liters daily.

Post-extraction, it's heated to enhance flavor and color, then bottled. But for decade-aged moromi, which turns into a dry crust, Kamebishi uses a PVC pipe with gauze placed inside the moromi.

This slow-drip method can take a month to fill just one bottle, showcasing the dedication in every drop.

Kamebishi Shoyu Aging Tiers and Price Points

Kamebishi's soy sauce pricing directly correlates with its aging duration. A bottle aged for two years might retail around $40 for 900 ml, whereas a 20-year aged variant fetches about $120 for just 55 ml.

The 38-year-old sauce tops it off, priced over $300. Soon, the brand anticipates launching a half-century aged edition.

Kamebishi's aging period surpasses the typical duration, with their unique aging vessels adding an extra touch of tradition to the process.

Mastery in Limited, Smaller-Scale Production

Kamebishi, a family-run enterprise, differs from mass-market soy sauce makers. Their adherence to the age-old mushiro method and extended aging results in limited production, adding to the brand's exclusivity.

The artisanal approach and prolonged aging make their 20 to 35-year sauce rare, naturally elevating demand and price.


In summary, the Kamebishi soy sauce is not just a condiment, but a representation of centuries-old Japanese culinary tradition and artistry. Devotees of soy sauce are often ready to invest more for longer-aged varieties.

Extended fermentation introduces natural yeasts and alcohols, unveiling a spectrum of intricate flavors. This harmony of saltiness, umami, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness offers a depth unseen in many mainstream soy sauces.

Its limited production, extensive aging process, and unparalleled flavor profile make it a sought-after luxury item, hence its high cost.