Sweet soy sauce is one of the best condiments for stir fry and recipes that requires a punchy flavor. But what can you use as a substitute to get the same benefits?
What are the best substitutes for sweet soy sauce? The best substitutes for sweet soy sauce are tamari sauce, hoisin sauce, and tianmian sauce. You can even make a quick and customized sweet soy sauce at home by mixing regular soy sauce with honey, palm sugar, brown sugar, and more.
Read below to learn more about sweet soy sauce, its characteristics, and some of the best substitutes for it!
What is Sweet Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is used in abundance in Asian cuisine and is recognized as one of the most flavorful condiments in the world – but there is one variant of this salty sauce that is not that well-known: sweet soy sauce.
Pioneered in Indonesia, sweet soy sauce is also known as “Kecap Manis” where “Manis” means “sweet”. This type of sauce is widely used to bring out a broad range of flavors in any vegetable or meat-based recipe.
While it is also used as a marinade, sweet soy sauce is perhaps best used in stir fry because it lends a lot of flavor to the ingredients, especially as the sugar caramelizes in the wok.
But the distinction between sweet and regular soy sauce isn’t just its obvious sweetness, but also its consistency and other small nuances that make it so special.
Characteristics of Sweet Soy Sauce
Here are all the important characteristics of this delicious condiment:
Sweet soy sauce can be prepared using a lot of different sweeteners.
While it is traditionally made with palm sugar, it can also be mixed with honey, brown sugar, or even sugar-free alternatives.
The traditional variant has a mildly sweet and salty flavor with an underlying umami-based flavor.
It is also important to note that while regular soy sauce has a very slight bitterness, its sweeter counterpart has no traces of any bitter flavor notes – or at least you can’t taste them because of all the sugar!
When prepared with honey, the sauce will develop a very rich flavor that will work well with just about any type of meat or veggie recipe.
You can also find many commercial varieties of this sauce that are made from different types of honey, which can lend it an even deeper level of flavor.
When cooked in the wok, the sauce tends to develop a slightly more mature flavor that centers around umami notes.
This happens due to the caramelization of sugar which when paired with the salty notes, produces a rich and lip-smacking flavor!
Texture is where sweet soy sauce will differ the most when compared to its regular counterpart.
Sweet soy sauce comes in two consistencies:
- Syrup-like sweet soy sauce
- Runny Sweet Soy Sauce
The syrupy soy sauce offers a richer texture and can adhere better over ingredients. While it isn’t overly thick, it can have enough viscosity to drip down like maple syrup. The syrupy sweet sauce also usually has a more concentrated flavor in some cases!
The runny variety looks more like regular soy sauce with just a bit of thickness. This type of soy sauce is usually found in many budget brands that use corn syrup or other cheaper sweeteners to flavor the sauce without changing the underlying consistency.
Sweet soy sauce can be used with rice, meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, and just about any recipe that calls for regular soy sauce.
Even though this condiment predominately provides sweeter notes, its uses are universal when it comes to savory recipes, especially when it is paired with garlic and chilies.
For example, the syrupy sweet soy sauce variety can be used as a marinade for meat dishes (even duck!), and you can use the sauce to add flavor, color, and even a sticky texture.
Similarly, sweet soy sauce can also be used to balance the heat of any spicy recipe.
A few dashes of sweet soy sauce in traditional Chinese soup recipes can help bring out a lot of flavors without adding any other condiment too!
Why Substitute Sweet Soy Sauce?
Even though sweet soy sauce helps add an added dimension of flavor and texture, not everyone enjoys a particularly sweet condiment in their recipes.
The problem with many commercial sweet soy sauce options is that they can vary a lot in flavor and can’t be customized for every recipe.
For example, some noodle recipes don’t require a sweeter sauce and you can drastically change or even mask the flavor notes in some recipes if you use sweet soy sauce.
Another practical reason why one would want to avoid sweet soy sauce is due to dietary restrictions. See, sweet soy sauce can contain up to 12-15g of sugar per serving – that’s roughly around 4-5 teaspoons of sugar!
Soy sauce can also trigger allergies and may not even be suitable for people with gluten sensitivity. While you could opt for healthier sweet soy sauce alternatives, it’s best to avoid this sauce if you are on a diet or are looking to cut down your consumption of sugar.
But if you are someone who just ran out of their stock of sweet soy sauce at home, then we have just the alternatives for you – and some of them may even be better than the real deal!
9 Best Substitutes for Sweet Soy Sauce
Here are the best substitutes for sweet soy sauce:
1. Oyster sauce
Although oyster sauce has a slightly different overall flavor, it can easily mimic the general flavor notes of a traditional sweet soy sauce.
It has the right level of sweetness and can provide both saltiness and umami notes! Oyster sauce can also be used in the same way as sweet soy sauce too.
You can use it as a general condiment to cook with, or you could also use it for marinating meat and veggies!
Oyster sauce also shares more or less the same consistency as sweet soy sauce and if you feel that it isn’t as sweet, then you can always add more sugar to the recipe to get the right flavor.
We recommend going with 1 tbsp of oyster sauce for every tablespoon of sweet soy sauce.
2. Coconut Aminos
If you don’t know what coconut aminos are then you are about to find out the best alternative for soy sauce – and no, they aren’t white or look anything related to most coconut products!
Coconut aminos are made from the fermented sap of coconut trees. The result is a dark and thick liquid that mimics the same saltiness as soy sauce.
Don’t worry, you won’t add a coconut-like flavor to your recipes!
In fact, coconut aminos provide a much more potent umami flavor with a slight sweetness that you can’t find in any traditional soy sauce. This means that you might not even need to add additional sugar to the sauce to make it taste sweet.
We recommend going with equal portions of coconut aminos when substituting in any recipe.
3. Hoisin sauce
Hoisin sauce can be seen as an upgrade from regular soy sauce in some recipes since it is also made from soybeans and provides a rich umami-laden flavor with hot and sweet undertones.
If you need a quick sauce for marination then we highly recommend going with hoisin sauce instead of sweet soy sauce.
With hints of garlic and chilies, this sweet and savory sauce will easily substitute sweet soy sauce in virtually any recipe.
Go with a 1:1 ratio when using hoisin sauce as a substitute.
4. Tamari Sauce
If you are looking for a quick and slightly less sweet substitute, then we suggest going with tamari sauce.
By definition, tamari sauce is just Japanese soy sauce, but since it is prepared a bit differently, you get a more rounded and balanced flavor profile with hints of sweetness and saltiness instead of the sharp and predominately salty flavor in regular soy sauce.
Tamari sauce is thicker than regular soy sauce but may be a bit runnier when compared to the syrup-like consistency of sweet soy sauce. But you can still use it with a bit of sugar to get more or less the same flavor notes.
We recommend using 1 tablespoon of tamari sauce for an even tablespoon of sweet soy sauce!
5. Shoyu sauce
Here’s another Japanese soy sauce that provides the same umami-laden flavor as regular soy sauce but without the added saltiness.
Although the base version of shoyu sauce isn’t as sweet, you can always add a bit of brown sugar or table sugar to add a rounded flavor.
Shoyu sauce is best used as a general condiment and can be added to any recipe that calls for sweet soy sauce. You can also make it thicker by either cooking the sauce with sugar or by adding a thickening agent, like corn flour.
To get the most out of shoyu sauce, use 1 tablespoon for every portion of sweet soy sauce in any recipe.
6. Liquid aminos
Liquid aminos, much like coconut aminos on this list, provide the same delicious umami flavor – and even though liquid aminos are derived from soybeans, they don’t have the same characteristic saltiness to them.
On their own, liquid aminos taste more like a rich and flavorful liquid stock with a light sweetness. You can use them in the same way as sweet soy sauce; just add a sprinkle of sugar to brighten up the overall flavor!
Liquid aminos can be found in any good supermarket and their consistency can also be altered by reducing them with a bit of corn starch.
For the best results, use a 1:1 ratio to get the same flavor benefits!
7. Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar
If you don’t have sweet soy sauce at home then you can quickly substitute it by using a simple combination of soy sauce and brown sugar.
Brown sugar adds a caramel-like flavor to the sauce and also helps curb the overall saltiness of soy sauce.
Whipping up this mixture is also extremely easy since you will only need a cup of water, a cup of soy sauce, and a cup of brown sugar.
Cook the soy sauce and water until it boils, then bring down the heat and add the sugar. Reduce until you have a beautifully thick and tasty brown sugar soy sauce!
Use 1 tablespoon of brown sugar soy sauce for every tablespoon of sweet soy sauce.
8. Worcestershire Sauce
Don’t have regular soy sauce at home? Then try using Worcestershire sauce instead!
Worcestershire sauce has a tangy, salty, and sweet flavor that is bursting with umami notes. This sauce can be used as a marinade or as a general table condiment.
If you want it to be thicker, then just reduce the sauce with water and sugar until you have the right consistency and use it in the same way as sweet soy sauce.
Go with equal portions of Worcestershire sauce and sweet soy sauce in any recipe. Just don’t forget to adjust the sweetness of Worcestershire by adding sugar!
9. Homemade Sweet Soy Sauce
Sweet soy sauce is so basic that you can easily whip up your batch at home without relying on commercial varieties that may come loaded with preservatives, artificial colorings, and enhancers.
We recommend going this route, especially if you have a high-quality and authentic Chinese soy sauce at home.
To make sweet soy sauce you can choose between brown sugar, honey, and white sugar – and you can even add herbs like garlic, ginger, and star anise to add a delicious flavor and aroma to the sauce.
Start by boiling 1 cup of water and 1 cup of soy sauce in a saucepan, then add sugar (1 cup for brown/white sugar, 3/4th cup for honey) and stir for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Now optionally add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 small piece of grated ginger, and one star anise pod.
Bring down the heat to avoid burning the sugar and reduce until you have the right consistency. If the mixture seizes then you can simply add a splash of water to make it runny again.
Strain the mixture (if needed) and store it in an airtight glass jar. Store the jar in the fridge and consume within 2-3 weeks!
Sweet soy sauce is very easy to substitute and you can also use easily available ingredients to make a quick batch at home!
Now that you know the best substitutes for it, here are some related questions:
Is sweet soy sauce and black soy sauce the same?
Sweet soy sauce and black soy sauce are almost the same, except sweet soy sauce is slightly sweeter and has a thicker consistency. Although both types of sauces can be used interchangeably, you will likely need to add a thickener to black soy sauce to get the right consistency.
Is sweet soy sauce similar to Chinese Bead Molasses?
Yes, Chinese Bead Molasses is another name for sweet soy sauce. Both of these may be sold separately but will usually provide the same flavor and consistency. You can use Chinese Bead Molasses in the same way as sweet soy sauce!
Is there a diet-friend sweet soy sauce?
Sweet soy sauce is also available in sugar-free options but we recommend that you make your own sugar-free sauce at home to skip the preservatives and chemicals that are usually found in commercial varieties.
Cook the sauce using our recipe above with stevia or other natural sweeteners and add cornstarch to thicken the sauce!