What Is a Soy Sauce Marinade?

Cynde Gregory

The primary purpose of any marinade is to add flavor. Many marinades also have a secondary purpose, which is to break down connective tissue in meats to make them more tender. The acidic ingredients found in vinegar, beer, wine, and some other foods are necessary to the tenderizing process. The soy sauce in a soy sauce marinade also fulfills this function.

Soy sauce.
Soy sauce.

Soy sauce marinades suffuse a wide range of meats and veggies with dark, mysterious flavor reminiscent of Asian cooking. Beef, chicken, and pork all benefit with a marinade soaking of several hours, while shellfish, seafood, and nonmeat substitutes such as tofu or tempeh require much less time. A good soy sauce marinade can be as simple as soy sauce, a little oil, and perhaps some garlic, but many creative cooks experiment with a wide range of other ingredients to add dimension.

At its most basic, soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, aspergillus, water and salt.
At its most basic, soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, aspergillus, water and salt.

A squirt of lemon, lime, or orange juice is one popular addition. Citrus brings a high note to match the darker tone of the soy sauce. This type of soy sauce marinade is especially good with fish steaks or filets, as well as shellfish. Fish has little connective tissue, so it’s important not to let it spend excessive time in the swim as that will actually cook the flesh and turn it mushy.

Soy sauce marinades can be used with red meat or pork.
Soy sauce marinades can be used with red meat or pork.

Red meat and pork can stand up to an intensely flavored soy sauce marinade. Heat from mustard, horseradish, or hot sauce adds fire. Finely minced ginger and garlic and perhaps a splash of wine or sherry is another option. Some cooks find that ketchup or even diced tomatoes deepen the flavor, and others opt to add steak sauce or liquid smoke.

A popular chicken marinade requires few ingredients. In addition to the soy sauce and oil, some minced ginger and garlic add depth, and a squeeze of lemon or lime supplies some additional flavor. Just a few drops of sesame oil give this marinade a wonderful taste twist. To intensify the Asian theme, a little five-spice powder works nicely. Alternatively, a little curry powder or paste adds zip.

Marinades aren’t limited to meat. Tofu, tempeh, seiten, and other vegetarian proteins take on soy sauce marinade beautifully. These kinds of foods don’t require tenderizing, so 20 minutes or so is sufficient time to add flavor. Even some vegetables respond to marinating. Mushrooms, carrots, and root vegetables like parsnips or turnips are good candidates. As with fish and vegetarian nonmeat substitutes, a soaking of just a few minutes is time enough.

Soy sauce marinade may feature garlic.
Soy sauce marinade may feature garlic.

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Discussion Comments


My husband makes a delicious pineapple chicken dish, and he uses soy sauce in the marinade for both. For the chicken, he mixes soy with worcestershire, and brown sugar. For the pineapple, he leaves out the worcestershire.

He soaks the chicken longer than the pineapple, because the pineapple could easily start to deteriorate. While he is grilling both, he keeps a container of each soy marinade next to the grill. He bastes them now and then to keep them from drying out.

He also bastes them whenever he flips them over. When everything is done, it retains the wonderful flavor of the marinade.


@kylee07drg – That sounds delicious! The only salmon I have ever eaten was fried and shaped into patties, and I didn't care for it that much. I will have to try marinating it in your soy marinade and baking it.

Steak is the meat that I generally marinate with soy sauce. I add lime juice and garlic to the mix. The lime juice is really potent, so it will tenderize the steak rather easily.

If I will be cooking a thick steak, then I go ahead and put the lime juice in the soy marinade the night before. If I will be slicing it really thin, I wait and add it about an hour or so before I start to grill.


Zucchini and squash are two vegetables that I often see in Asian cuisine. I pour soy sauce over these and let them soak in it for about five minutes before tossing them into the wok.

I mix some powdered ginger into the soy sauce before marinating the veggies in it. I wait until I start cooking them to add the garlic, though. I think that garlic's full potential isn't realized until it heats up, so I don't see any need to add it to a marinade. It will impart a lot of flavor to the food just by cooking with it in the wok.


I like to soak salmon in soy sauce with just a hint of lemon. Salmon goes so well with the flavor of soy that this has become my favorite dish.

I chop up some onions and garlic and add these to the marinade. That really intensifies the flavor, and I let the fish soak for about fifteen minutes before baking it in the marinade for twenty.

I cook it for ten minutes on each side. When I flip it over, I add more marinade to replace what may have evaporated in the oven. This results in really flavorful, moist fish.

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