Soy sauce is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes. Light soy sauce is particularly popular in Chinese-style cooking as well as some specific Japanese dishes.
If you’re in the midst of cooking a buffet of food and find yourself without light soy sauce, before you panic, there are several viable substitutions.
What are the best light soy sauce substitutes? The best light soy sauce substitute in terms of matching flavor is tamari, another soy-based sauce that is made without any wheat. Other options include miso, coconut or liquid aminos, and Worcestershire, hoisin, teriyaki, oyster, or fish sauce.
How you replace light soy sauce may depend on whether you’re trying to eliminate soy or gluten from your diet, simply don’t have any soy sauce on hand, or are trying to reduce sodium in your cooking.
This article will provide solutions for all of your soy sauce replacement needs, so read on!
What Is Light Soy Sauce?
Replacing light soy sauce in a recipe is a lot easier when you understand the subtleties of flavor that it is responsible for.
Soy sauce is a salty, umami sauce made by fermenting soybeans and wheat in water and salt.
It is traditionally an Asian condiment, and there are slight differences between Japanese and Chinese soy sauce, as there are differences between the light and dark varieties.
Difference Between Light and Dark Soy Sauce
Light soy sauce has approximately 7% sodium content and dark soy sauce has upwards of 9% sodium.
Ironically, however, light soy sauce tends to have a more intense salty flavor than dark. This is because dark soy sauces are fermented longer, creating a stronger soy flavor that mellows the saltiness.
Dark soy sauces often also include other ingredients such as molasses or sweeteners.
The most common soy sauce on the market right now is dark Japanese soy sauce, such as Kikkoman’s soy sauce. It’s a fantastic all-purpose soy sauce.
What Is Light Soy Sauce Used For?
Light soy sauce is the most commonly used type of soy sauce in Chinese cuisine, whereas dark is more common in Japanese cooking.
If a recipe calls specifically for light soy sauce, the recipe demands the more assertive salty umami flavor in comparison to the sweeter, saltier taste of dark soy.
If the recipe further specifies Japanese light soy, it will benefit from notes of sweet rice wine. On the other hand, if it specifically requests Chinese light soy sauce, it is searching for a pure and mellow yet complex flavor.
Recipes such as chow mein, chop suey, and fried rice are commonly made with light soy sauce.
Many recipes for dipping sauces or salad dressings are also made with light soy because the dark is often considered too salty.
How to Make Light Soy Sauce from Dark
If you have a recipe that calls for light soy sauce and all you have is dark, you can try to add customize your dark soy sauce to meet the requirements of your recipe.
You may need to add a little extra salt and possibly thin the soy sauce with a bit of extra water. There may still be stronger flavors from the dark sauce, so it won’t be an exact match, but it is very similar.
If you have all-purpose soy sauce, you can use that as a substitute for light soy sauce as well and this will actually be an even closer substitution match.
If you don’t have any soy sauce at all, the rest of the article is dedicated to sharing delicious alternatives to match your recipes.
Best Substitutes for Light Soy Sauce
Light soy sauce is mainly salty in flavor, but it is also highly unique and specific.
It’s important to understand that none of the suggestions on this list are going to give you an exact match, but many options can elevate your recipes to a new, interesting level if you’re willing to get creative.
Here is a handy chart comparing the tastes of each substitute and explaining their conversion rates.
Light Soy Sauce Substitution – Conversion Chart
Here’s a quick reference chart for substituting different ingredients and foods for light soy sauce:
|Tamari||Strongly flavored soy sauce||1:1|
|Miso||Earthier and tangier, slightly less salty||1 teaspoon + 2 teaspoons of water = 1 tablespoon light soy sauce|
|Coconut Aminos||Nutty, less salty soy sauce||1:1|
|Liquid Aminos||Slightly sweeter, less salty soy sauce||1:1|
|Worcestershire Sauce||Tangy, sweet, salty and fishy||¼ as much as called for, then also to taste|
|Hoisin Sauce||Sweet, tangy, and salty||1:1, may need rice wine vinegar|
|Teriyaki Sauce||Sweet and salty||1:1, made need to be thinned or tempered with rice wine vinegar|
|Oyster Sauce||Smoky, slightly sweet umami flavor||1:1, may need to be thinned|
|Fish Sauce||Fishy, sour saltiness||¼ as much as called for, then also to taste|
There is no one perfect substitution for light soy sauce, but if you take a look to see what’s in your fridge or cupboard, there are definitely solutions worth experimenting with.
Tamari is one of the closest alternatives to soy sauce because it is also made by fermenting soybeans. There is a difference in flavor, however, because there is no wheat involved.
For this reason, tamari is also a great substitution if you’re avoiding soy sauce because of gluten intolerance or allergy, but always be sure to still look for the gluten-free certification if you’re very sensitive.
Tamari uses more soybeans than soy sauce, giving it a stronger flavor. It is best used as a substitution for dipping sauces.
If you have miso paste available, this would make a very good substitution for soy sauce, especially in Japanese recipes, though not a perfect flavor match.
Miso paste is essentially what is left when soy sauce is made. The fermented soybeans are crushed to extract the liquid, which is turned into soy sauce, and the solid matter is sold as a separate condiment.
They have similar flavors because the base ingredient is the same, but miso is earthier, with more tang from the fermentation and not quite as much saltiness.
There are multiple different kinds of miso paste, some being slightly more bitter, sweet, or salty.
To use as a substitute for light soy sauce, combine 1 tsp of miso paste with 2 tsps of water for every 1 tbsp of soy sauce.
3. Coconut Aminos
Coconut aminos is a savory sauce made from coconut sap. It is one of the only choices on this list that is entirely soy-free.
If the reason you are searching for a substitute for soy sauce is that you’re avoiding soy, coconut aminos is going to give you the closest flavor match with none of the soy.
Speaking of flavor, the taste is not the exact same as soy sauce. Coconut aminos is slightly nuttier, sweeter, and less salty, but the spirit of soy sauce is there.
If reducing your sodium intake is a happy bonus for you, this is a good choice. If the flavor just doesn’t work because something is still missing, add a bit of extra salt to your recipe to compensate and balance out the extra sweetness.
Another bonus of using coconut aminos is that this sauce is also gluten-free.
4. Liquid Aminos
Liquid aminos is another gluten-free alternative to light soy sauce, but it is still made from soy, unlike coconut aminos. It also provides a similar, umami flavor of soy sauce, though not as intense and somewhat sweeter.
Liquid aminos is not made with fermented soybeans, so the flavor is somewhat different. It also tends to be less salty.
You can use the same amount of liquid aminos as the recipe calls for, but depending on your preferences you may want to add a touch of salt to get the same power as soy sauce.
5. Worcestershire Sauce
Worcestershire sauce is different from soy sauce, but they have a very similar appearance and tangy taste that cause some to mix the two up.
If you couldn’t guess by the name, Worcestershire sauce is a British condiment rather than an Asian one. It is fermented though and provides a savory, umami quality similar to soy sauce without using any soy or gluten.
This condiment is made by fermenting anchovies with malt vinegar and a blend of sweet and savory spices.
There are undeniably fishy notes supported by a tangy, sweet, and almost spicy foundation. Of course, there is also plenty of salty-savory flavor.
If you are using Worcestershire sauce as your substitute for soy sauce, start with ¼ as much as the recipe calls for and add more to taste.
6. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is popular in Chinese cuisine and is used mainly as a glaze or an ingredient in a dipping sauce, as it is thicker than soy sauce and has a much bolder flavor.
It is a better substitute for teriyaki sauce, but can also work in many recipes that call for light soy sauce.
Hoisin sauce has sweet, tangy flavors partnered with the signature saltiness of soy sauce. Soy sauce is actually an important ingredient in hoisin sauce, though there are many additional flavors as well.
If you’re using hoisin sauce as a substitute for soy sauce, it will work best in thicker sauce recipes, such as for stir-fries or dipping sauces.
The sweetness will come through, so you will either need to balance that by adding a bit of rice wine vinegar or simply play it up by pairing it with pineapple or other sweet, tangy ingredients.
Teriyaki sauce is another condiment commonly found in fridges that has several applications.
Using it to substitute for light soy sauce is an option that is best suited to dishes that also incorporate some sweet ingredients, but not at the expense of a very savory meal.
Soy sauce is one of the base ingredients in teriyaki, so you will get the salty flavor your recipe calls for. However, the multitude of other ingredients will also compete for attention, including ginger, garlic, and plenty of sugar.
Using teriyaki as a substitute for soy sauce would be best suited to dipping sauces or glazes, rather than as flavoring for recipes like Chow mein or fried rice.
You can use the same amount of teriyaki sauce as the recipe calls for in soy sauce, but you may have to adjust the recipe slightly to taste. Adding a bit of rice wine vinegar can temper the sweetness, and you may still want to add a bit more salt.
8. Oyster Sauce
The taste of oyster sauce is such a close match to soy sauce that soy sauce can substitute oyster sauce as well!
It is a thick condiment made by reducing oyster juices until they caramelize, and then adding salt and sugar. Some sauces even use soy sauce as a flavoring agent and many use some form of starch to thicken the sauce into a syrupy consistency.
It tastes like a sweet, thick, slightly smoky soy sauce, so it does make a good substitute. It is less salty, so your recipe may benefit from a bit of added salt.
You may want to thin out the sauce by adding some water or broth to get the consistency closer to soy sauce, but this will need to be done as you’re cooking.
Because oyster sauce is often thickened with starch, it is easier to thin it out once it is warmed.
Oyster sauce often contains soy and MSG. Both ingredients add to the savory umami flavor but may also be irritants to some people.
9. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is a salt condiment made from fermented krill. It has an umami flavor similar to soy sauce but takes on the fermented sourness more than the sweetness of soy sauce. It’s also very fishy tasting.
Fish sauce is a great substitute for soy sauce for people who love the taste of fish sauce. In both, the purpose is to enhance the flavor of the dish and they both work very nicely with Asian-style cooking.
If you don’t like the flavor of fish, this is not a good substitute for you.
You will need much less fish sauce than the recipe calls for, so start with a light hand and adjust to taste. You may also want to combine fish sauce with one of the other substitutes listed above for more layers of flavor in your recipe.
Soy Sauce Substitute Recipe
If you still aren’t convinced that any of the above substitutes are suitable for your recipe or taste preferences, you can make a substitute from ingredients you probably have in your kitchen already.
- Broth – Beef broth or bone broth will add a traditional Asian flavor base, but you can also use vegetable broth if you’re vegetarian.
- Vinegar – A touch of vinegar will provide the fermented flavor that is crucial to a good light soy sauce, though is usually masked by the saltiness. Balsamic vinegar also provides a hint of sweetness, but you could also use rice wine vinegar or a combination of the two.
- Molasses – Adding a small amount of blackstrap molasses will bring in some depth and complexity with some sweet bitterness, but you don’t want to use too much, especially if you’re substituting for light soy sauce. The molasses will also create the color of soy sauce.
- Spices – Adding some spices to your sauce can increase the flavor impact and balance out the sauce. Our favorite spices that evoke an Asian cuisine taste profile are onion powder, garlic powder, and ginger.
- Salt – This is the most important ingredient in your soy sauce and you can add it to taste.
With all these ingredients together, simply combine them in a pot and simmer until it starts to reduce and the flavor intensifies.
As with most of the options on this list, making your own soy sauce substitute won’t have the same flavor, but it will provide an umami taste experience that is perfectly suited to either Chinese or Japanese cuisine.
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