Soy sauces including dark soy sauce and light soy sauce and some of the other less famous types, are the most essential ingredients in Chinese cooking. Many of you may familiar with light soy sauce and sometimes get wondering what's dark soy sauce when reading the recipes. One bottle of dark soy sauce in the kitchen can use over 1 year even in my daily cooking Chinese kitchen. It is a very old condiment with a super powder to enhance the color of the dish. So it is less famous. We will understand what it is, how it is used in cooking, and the best substitutes.
Since dark soy sauce is less famous than light soy sauce or regular soy sauce, sometimes you don't have it in the pantry. Don't worry, I figured out the best alternative options for you.
What is Dark Soy Sauce?
Before we decide whether you should skip dark soy sauce or find a substitute for it. Let's know some basics about this old seasoning. Dark soy sauce (老抽) is made from a paste of fermented soybeans, grains, salt brine, and molds. It is one of the world’s oldest condiments. During the fermentation process, the liquid becomes sweetened, and the umami flavors develop.
Dark soy sauce is the slightly more viscous, darker, but lighter cousin of light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce has had a little more time spent in the fermentation process than light soy sauce, which is what makes it darker in color. But the taste of dark soy sauce is fainter than light soy sauce in terms of the umami flavor.
The Role in Cooking - adding colors
Dark soy sauce is mainly used as a color enhancer in the dishes it’s used in. It’s most often to glaze meat like pork, beef, or even vegetables. Dark soy gives dishes that deep amber glow. It also brings out the savory flavors of the vegetables in the dish and brings a tantalizing taste to noodles and rice. In a famous Chinese dish named soy sauce fried rice, dark soy sauce is a must for the deep color.
I have found some vinegar like Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar can have a similar color to dark soy sauce.
Dark soy sauce Substitute
There are a few easy-to-find alternatives that you can reach for if you run out of your dark soy sauce brand.
option 1: Caramelized sugar + light soy sauce
The top and the most successful substitute for dark soy sauce is caramelized color + light soy sauce because it is very similar to the original format of dark soy sauce. Here is the step about how to achieve.
- Add sugar to oil or water. The caramelized sugar color can be achieved with both oil and water. The sugar first melts, then it turns yellow, and finally amber.
- At this stage, add a small amount of hot boiling water. Turn off the fire and mix well.
That's caramelized sugar color, which is called sugar coloring (糖色). Sugar color can be made with either water or oil. Caramelized sugar not only brings color but also great unique flavors. I use this method in all of the red braised dishes like red braised pork belly, red braised ribs, and red braised chicken wings.
Light soy sauce
Seems simple, and it is. While this alternative won’t have the same flavor as dark sauce, it’ll still give you a great umami flavor. Of course, this substitute won’t deliver the same depth of color, but for certain dishes, that’s okay. Although the two have different sodium levels, dark soy sauce usually used a small amount. So you can replace it with an equal amount.
Regular soy sauce
Dark soy sauce and light soy sauce is a unique concept for Chinese seasonings, you can find regular soy sauce which combines light soy sauce and dark soy sauce together. Use the same portion to replace dark soy sauce.
Oyster sauce has a much thicker texture than soy sauce but it has a similar savory taste base. You can substitute dark soy sauce with oyster sauce in an equal amount.
Worcestershire sauce is a combined sauce made with vinegar, and aromatics like garlic, molasses, spices, and tamarind. It contains similar components to dark soy sauce such as molasses. And thus can be used as a substitute for dark soy sauce both in color and flavor.
This will get you the color you’re looking for and a decent flavor, especially when working with meats, stir-fries, and soups.
Mushroom-flavored soy sauce
This is an excellent option if you can’t get hold of dark soy. Mushrooms are high in natural umami and will give your dish the flavor enhancement and lovely deep color that it deserves. But this one might be even harder to hold.
Fish sauce - soy-free
Although the flavor of fish sauce is not strictly the same as dark soy sauce, it is a good substitute in terms of umami flavor. But the fish sauce is much more salty than dark soy sauce. So you need to use ½ tablespoon of fish sauce to replace 1 tablespoon of dark sauce. But it can't provide the color.
Coconut aminos - soy-free
Coconut aminos are widely considered a gluten-free soy sauce. It goes through a similar fermentation process as soy sauce. Instead of soybeans, coconut aminos are made from coconut blossoms. It also has unami flavors but can't work really well for the color.
Can you skip dark sauce directly?
Sometimes you may find the recipe only calls for a very small amount of dark soy sauce, to enhance the color of the meat. Simply skip it and let it go. Make sure your light soy sauce is added. There is no big difference in the taste.
- Caramelized sugar + light soy sauce , best color match
- Light soy sauce
- Regular soy sauce
- oyster sauce
- Worcestershire sauce , similar in color and flavor
- mushroom flavored soy sauce
- fish sauce , soy free option
- Coconut aminos ,soy -free option
- Find and see which type of sauce you have in the pantry.
- Replace it with dark soy sauce in recipe.
Brands of Dark Soy Sauce
But if you really want to buy some, here are a couple of the most popular dark soy sauce brands available:
Pearl River Bridge, Superior Dark
Described as bold and intense, this variant is part of a popular range. The brand describes its product as having intense sour bitterness and substantial umami depth. In terms of how to use it, this soy sauce is great for dishes where you want lots of colors. Great for chicken, pork, or marinated beef. It’s a good product for cooking rather than for dipping.
Lee Kum Kee Dark Soy Sauce
One of the most popular and highly rated dark soy sauce brands on the market. Lee Kum Kee’s dark soy sauce is a little thicker in consistency than other dark soy sauce brands and has an intense and layered flavor. A little goes a long way with this ingredient due to its intensity. This soy sauce has a great “cling” and is lovely over vegetables. Great for cooking and dipping.
Ganko Tamari Shoyu Dark Soy sauce
This is a great gluten-free option for soy sauce. It is made with soybeans only and no wheat grains. This is a lovely dip for sushi platters. This brand is known to use delicious ingredients and high-quality sauces. They claim to be free from toxins, additives, and GMO ingredients.
Bluegrass Soy Sauce
Made in Kentucky in the US, this soy sauce is GMO-free and full of natural flavor. This soy is fermented in bourbon barrels which gives us something a little special.
Dark Soy Sauce VS Light Soy Sauce
Color difference: there are a couple of pronounced differences between light and dark soy sauces, the main one being the color. As the name tells you, dark soy sauce is a lot darker than light soy, almost black. Light soy sauce is more of a transparent reddish color.
Flavor differences: the flavor is the other difference between these two. Light soy sauce has a stronger salty and unami flavor. While dark soy sauce is much milder in flavor. It also has a faintly sweet taste.
Texture difference: light soy sauce has are thinner, inkier body than dark soy sauce, which is a little more syrupy. So, viscosity is another point of difference.
Usage difference: The lighter version of soy is often used as a dipping sauce for stir-fries as well as a splash of seasoning. Dark soy is better known as a glaze or marinade. It’s great to glaze meats and vegetables with. Dark soy sauce is a beautiful flavor enhancer. Depending on your chosen brand, dark soy can also be used as a dipping sauce.
It’s advisable to have both dark and light soy sauce in your pantry as they both have their own unique features and benefits.
Is Dark Soy Sauce Gluten-free?
Most dark soy sauces are not gluten-free. This is because the process of making it includes wheat grain. There are gluten-free dark soy sauce options on the market to cater to gluten-free needs.
Is Dark Soy Sauce Keto Friendly?
The answer is as clear as mud. Dark soy sauce is considered acceptable by some to include in their keto meal planning because it is a low-carb ingredient. For those following a super strict Keto plan, the element is considered a no-no due to its inclusion of wheat and soybeans.
This rich and ancient condiment has so many interesting points to learn about, and it is genuinely a wonderful flavor enhancer. Soy sauce brings so much to the table in terms of what it can offer – from taste to color to viscosity, it is genuinely a highly effective ingredient to have in your armory. If you find something other great options, leave me a comment.