Soy sauce has been a store cupboard favorite in many households for years. If you are a fan of Asian cuisine, you’ll understand why this pungent seasoning is a key ingredient in many Chinese and other Asian recipes.
But what if you’re lacking this incredible ingredient – what is the best substitute for dark soy sauce? You can use similar flavored salty or oriental sauces as substitutes for dark soy sauce. If you need an ingredient with a flavor as close as possible to dark soy sauce, then the best option is either light soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or oyster sauce.
Cooking a recipe that requires dark soy sauce, but your pantry shelves are bare? Don’t panic, we have some great substitutes which will make sure your dinner still tastes delicious!
Let’s take a look at the 9 best substitutes for dark soy sauce and how to use them.
What Is Dark Soy Sauce?
Most of us take dark soy sauce for granted, splashing this rich and salty seasoning onto our food without even thinking about it. But what exactly is in this miraculous little condiment?
Soy sauce is an ancient ingredient, which was originally created over 2000 years ago!
Originating from China, soy sauce has been used for thousands of years as a condiment and seasoning. Now popular around the world, soy sauce is a staple ingredient in Asian cookery.
Soy sauce is a liquid condiment that can come in different varieties. In its most basic form, soy sauce is created from the byproduct of fermented soybeans. This is mixed with brine to create the rich, salty sauce we are all familiar with.
As with any ancient recipe, soy sauce has been modified and adapted over the centuries. Many soy sauces are made with wheat as well as soybeans, and some Japanese adaptations also contain rice wine.
Dark soy sauce is a Chinese version of soy sauce, which is much darker in color than the more widely used light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is also thicker in texture and is used solely for cooking.
The fermentation process for dark soy sauce is traditionally a lot longer than for light. It also sometimes contains added sugar or molasses.
What Does Dark Soy Sauce Taste Like?
It is unlikely that many of us would enjoy the flavor of dark soy sauce straight from the bottle! Its counterpart, light soy sauce, has a more delicate flavor and is often used as a base for dipping sauces.
Dark soy sauce is too rich and punchy to be consumed in this way and would overwhelm the tastebuds.
Dark soy sauce is very dense and thick, although it does not taste as salty as light soy sauce.
Strangely, dark soy sauce contains no less salt than light, but the stronger soy flavor counteracts it! Dark soy sauce also contains added sweetness in the form of molasses or sugar, resulting in a sweet and salty flavor.
What Is Dark Soy Sauce Used For?
Dark soy sauce is used solely for cooking, often added at the last stages of the cooking process.
It is used to flavor and season sauces, adding depth of flavor as well as saltiness. Interestingly, dark soy sauce is also commonly used to add color to sauces.
This rich and pungent sauce is very popular in dishes such as braised meats, stir-fried rice, and pan-fried noodles.
It gently caramelizes and adds a rich, sweet, and salty layer of flavor. Dark soy sauce can transform a dish from dull and bland to rich and exciting in a matter of minutes!
The 9 Best Substitutes For Dark Soy Sauce
There are plenty of options for substituting dark soy sauce available if you ever find yourself in a pinch, so don’t be disheartened if your dark soy sauce supply has run out!
Here are the 9 best substitutes for dark soy sauce!
1. Light Soy Sauce
All types of soy sauce have a flavor profile described as umami. This word originates from Japan and is widely used in Asian cooking.
Umami is best described as something which tastes savory and is most reminiscent of rich broths and fermented foods such as fish sauce.
If your recipe calls for dark soy sauce, the main aim likely is to provide a source of umami, as well as to add color to your dish. Therefore, the most effective substitute will be a different type of soy sauce, such as light soy sauce.
Light soy sauce can be added in the same quantities as dark soy sauce. It will give a similar salty, umami flavor. However, it is not quite as sweet as dark soy sauce, so you may need to adjust other elements of your recipe accordingly.
Using light soy sauce will not change the color of your dish as much as when dark soy sauce is used. So, if it is the dark color as well as the flavor you are looking for, opt for a different substitute.
2. Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is made from oyster extract but does not have a fishy flavor at all. It contains concentrated caramelized oyster juices, combined with salt and sugar.
Some oyster sauces also contain soy sauce, and they might be thickened with cornstarch.
The flavor of oyster sauce is earthy, sweet, and salty, similar to that of dark soy sauce. It is also very dark in color, so will give the same delicious caramelization your recipe calls for.
One word of caution when using oyster sauce as a substitute for dark soy sauce – it can be much sweeter in flavor! So, you might want to try adding half as much at first, to check the level of sweetness.
It is also sometimes much thicker than dark soy sauce, depending on the brand. So you may need to add some water to dilute the oyster sauce and prevent burning.
3. Teriyaki Sauce
Teriyaki sauce is a simple sauce that is packed full of flavor. It contains four basic ingredients: soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and either sake or mirin. Sake is the name for Japanese rice wine, and mirin is the lower-alcohol alternative.
Some teriyaki sauces also include flavors such as garlic. It is similar in consistency to dark soy sauce and has the same dark color.
The umami, salty and sweet flavor of teriyaki sauce makes it an excellent substitute for dark soy sauce. It is a smooth and glossy sauce that will give a shiny finish to your recipe.
One thing to bear in mind when using teriyaki sauce as a substitute is that it will contain other ingredients such as ginger and garlic. So, if your recipe asks for these ingredients, you may wish to decrease the amount you add accordingly.
If you are on the lookout for a simple dark soy sauce substitute, then sometimes a dash of molasses is enough to do the trick.
Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar-making process and has a rich, bitter-sweet flavor. It is popular in dishes that benefit from its rich sweetness, such as barbeque sauce.
The main difference in flavor between molasses and dark soy sauce is the lack of salt. Therefore, you might need to increase the amount of salt in your recipe to compensate for this.
Molasses has the same color as dark soy sauce but can be thicker in texture. This syrupy sauce may also burn easily, so should not be added to dishes until they are almost ready to serve.
5. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is a flavorsome sauce commonly used to glaze meat or add richness to stir-fries. It also makes a great dipping sauce.
The basic hoisin sauce contains fermented soybean paste, fennel, chili, and garlic. Some brands also include vinegar, sugar, and Chinese five-spice powder.
Hoisin sauce has a similar flavor profile to dark soy sauce, with a sweet, umami, and salty flavor. It shares the same color and will darken your recipe in the same way as dark soy sauce.
However, remember that hoisin sauce contains some elements which are normally absent from dark soy sauce.
Check your recipe carefully and adjust any spices accordingly. You may find that flavors such as fennel or Chinese five-spice clash do not work well with your recipe.
6. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is one of the main ingredients used to add umami to Asian cooking. Made by fermenting fish in salt for up to two years, this sauce has a punchy and strong flavor, similar to dark soy sauce in many ways.
This can make a great substitute for dark soy sauce, particularly for seafood and fish dishes. However, the fish flavor may overpower other meats and poultry, so is best avoided for these.
Fish sauce can work well in vegetable dishes but just make sure you don’t have any vegetarians coming to dinner!
Fish sauce has a strong and intense flavor and is very salty. We’d suggest that you use half the amount to start with in your recipe and adjust to taste accordingly.
7. Worcestershire Sauce
Originating from the United Kingdom, Worcestershire sauce is a rich and flavorsome sauce adored by the British!
Although it comes from the other side of the world, Worcestershire sauce has a lot in common with its oriental counterparts.
The main ingredients in this incredible sauce are fermented onions, fermented garlic, vinegar, molasses, tamarind paste, cured anchovies, salt, and sugar.
It also contains a mix of spices and seasonings including mustard seeds, coriander, cloves, citrus peel, and pepper.
The flavor of Worcestershire sauce is savory, tangy, and salty. It is not quite as sweet as dark soy sauce, so you may need to add an alternative sweetener such as sugar or honey.
Worcestershire sauce is also very strong, so you will need half as much compared to dark soy sauce. It is thin and watery in texture, so not ideal for creating sticky, caramelized glazes.
Tamari is the Japanese equivalent of soy sauce. It is made in the same way, but contains no wheat and is gluten-free. In terms of flavor and color, it sits midway between light and dark soy sauce.
This dark soy sauce substitute can be perfect if you are looking for a gluten-free option. It also has similar levels of salt as dark soy sauce but is not quite as sweet.
The color is slightly lighter, but you will still get some darkening and caramelization of your dish.
9. Balsamic Vinegar
Using balsamic vinegar as a dark soy sauce substitute is a bit of a last resort, but with some creativity, you can make it work!
Balsamic vinegar is a traditional Italian condiment, produced by concentrating and then fermenting the juice from freshly harvested grapes.
Balsamic vinegar has a strong and intense taste, so you will only need a small amount to add some color and depth of flavor to your dish. It has a sweet and sour flavor but is very acidic and will need some sugar to balance this out.
Due to the concentrated nature of this condiment, it can also be a good idea to dilute it with water before adding it to your recipe.
Now that we’ve gone over the absolute best substitutes for dark soy sauce, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject.
Can I make dark soy sauce at home?
You might be wondering if it is possible to make dark soy sauce at home? Well, to make any type of soy sauce from scratch is a tricky business, but we can cheat when it comes to making dark soy sauce!
However, you will need some light soy sauce to start with.
To make dark soy sauce at home, mix 1 cup of light soy sauce in a saucepan with 2 cups of dark brown sugar and half a cup of water. Stir well to dissolve as much of the sugar as possible, then put the pan onto a gentle heat.
Continue stirring until the sugar has completely melted and your liquid is a syrup-like consistency.
Remove the pan from the stove and allow your syrup to cool down completely. Pop your DIY dark soy sauce into a sealed container and store it in the refrigerator.
Your sauce should remain in perfect condition for several weeks, giving you plenty of opportunities to create amazing Asian-inspired dishes!
What is double black soy sauce?
As if dark soy sauce wasn’t intense enough, then along came double black soy sauce!
Double black soy sauce is a super-rich soy sauce that is used to add color and flavor to Asian-inspired foods. Double black soy sauce contains added molasses, giving it a darker color as well as a sweet, intense flavor.
Chefs like to use double black soy sauce for rich dishes such as caramelized meats and braised vegetables. Take care when using this pungent sauce, as a little goes a very long way!
How do you make light soy sauce from dark soy sauce?
If you only have dark soy sauce in your cupboard, can you use it in place of light soy sauce? Or can you modify it in any way to turn it into its lighter counterpart?
The good news is that light and dark soy sauces are pretty much interchangeable. Many recipes call for both types to be used, as they bring slightly different qualities to your dish.
However, if you only have one or the other, your recipe should still turn out perfectly delicious.
To use dark soy sauce in place of light soy sauce, add a tiny splash of water and a pinch of salt to lighten the flavor of the sauce.
Is soy sauce healthy?
Soy sauce is used in such small amounts that any health benefits or side effects on our bodies are likely to be minimal. However, if you are a soy sauce fan, should you be concerned about how much you are putting on your food?
Research has shown that soy sauce is high in antioxidants, which may prevent cell damage from free radicals. Soy also contains compounds called isoflavones, said to lower cholesterol and reduce menopause symptoms.
However, the benefits of soy sauce might be outweighed by the unhealthy downsides.
The levels of salt in soy sauce are so high that 1 tablespoon contains up to 40% of our daily sodium intake. High levels of salt may increase blood pressure, leading to a risk of heart disease and stroke.
How many calories are in soy sauce?
If you are following a healthy eating plan, you might be wondering how many calories are in soy sauce. This rich and flavorful condiment is very low in calories, containing just 53 calories per 100 grams of sauce.
Soy sauce is used in such low amounts that even a tiny bit goes a long way. Most recipes will ask for about a tablespoon of soy sauce, which will contain just 8 calories.
This means you can use soy sauce to your heart’s content, without worrying that it will make your dish too calorific!
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