Looking for a dark soy sauce substitute, without another trip to the market? I’ve compiled 3 options you can use in its stead, including one you won’t need to adjust at all.
But first, let’s look what what dark soy sauce is— a sweeter, slightly saltier, and much thicker version of the soy sauce you’re used to. The flavor enhancer is most popular in Chinese dishes, where it’s used to add color and a more savory flavor to dishes like fried rice and to dipping sauces, like for gyoza. It helps other ingredients stick to meat and rice or noodles, so it’s also often used in marinates and stir-frys. The best substitute for dark soy sauce will cover the same complex flavor notes as it does.
What Makes Up Dark Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce originated in China. This ubiquitous seasoning has been used for more than 2,200 years. Preparing beans and then fermenting them with salt, water and wheat are the long and tedious process in the art of making soy sauce.
Chinese soy sauce comes in many forms: light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and sweet soy sauce. Light soy sauce is created in the first stage, then dark soy sauce and sweet soy sauce are made when aged soy sauce is combined with other sweeteners.
What distinguishes dark soy sauce from light soy sauce is important in substitutions.
All-around light soy sauce is mainly used for cooking and as a dipping sauce because of its thin consistency and salty, umami flavor. The darker-colored, sweeter, and more viscous Chinese dark soy sauce is frequently used as a marinade or glaze. Aside from their taste, consistency, and functionality, dark soy sauce and light soy sauce differ in their fermentation length – dark soy sauce is left to ferment longer.
One variety of brewed, blended soy sauce is dark soy sauce. It’s sweeter and less salty than light soy sauce, and some varieties may be aged longer to produce additional flavor as it ferments. It can be blended with sweet or savory ingredients to add a different layer of flavor, texture, or color, and some even contain molasses, which enhances its lustrous caramel color.
Some dark soy sauces are enhanced with straw mushroom broth to create a richer flavor than plain dark soy sauce. The resulting product is called mushroom-flavored dark soy sauce or mushroom dark soy sauce. Additionally, Chinese dark soy sauce and Japanese dark soy sauce are not the same things.
Japanese dark soy sauce, also known as koikuchi shoyu, is an all-purpose seasoning similar to Chinese light soy sauce – used for both cooked and raw applications such as marinades, dipping sauces, stews, and stir-fries. A few premium Japanese soy sauces prepared from whole soybeans offer a richer, more nuanced flavor, best reserved for dipping sauces and finishing flavors.
How to Use Dark Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is widely used as a flavor base in many dishes around the world. Dark soy sauce in particular is used in soy sauce caramels drizzled on ice cream, to flavor finished fried rice and noodle stir-fry dishes, on sloppy joes, and in barbecue sauces utilizing soy sauce as a flavor and color enhancer.
As the main component in marinades, stews or sauces, dark soy sauce shines. When used as a marinade for Chinese soy chicken, spare ribs, or char-siu, this powerhouse ingredient delivers not only a richer mouthfeel but also a deeper color.
It is employed in slow, prolonged cooking methods including braising and slow-cooking. The incredibly flavorful sauce fueled by dark soy sauce gives Malaysian tau yew bak (braised pork belly), Chinese red-braised pork belly, and Korean galbi jjim (beef stew) a complex and addictive taste.
Dark soy sauce adds a wonderful color and somewhat sweet undertone to stir-fried noodles, such as Thai pad see ew. To maintain a balanced flavor while stir-frying veggies, add the soy sauce at the end and just use a small amount.
It may also be used as a dipping sauce, on gyoza, dim sum, or dumplings as well as a finishing sauce in a wide variety of dishes such as ramen, or even just plain soup. Have you ever tasted your soup after adding the vegetables and meat, and found that something is still missing? Add a splash of dark soy sauce to it and open up your taste buds.
5 Dark Soy Sauce Substitutes
If you don’t mind a bit of garlic and ginger flavor, teriyaki sauce is the best dark soy sauce substitute. It has the thickness and the sweet & salty flavor you’d get from dark soy sauce, because soy sauce + sweeteners form the base for teriyaki sauce. However, you should look carefully at the ingredients list for your particular brand of teriyaki sauce, as additions can vary from white sugar and molasses to pineapple juice or orange juice.
Some brands may also add vinegars, oils, hot spices, and thickeners that may change the final taste, so double check the ingredients on your bottle before adding. If they’re acceptable, teriyaki sauce can be used as a 1-to-1 substitute for dark soy sauce.
Light Soy Sauce + Molasses
While not as straightforward as teriyaki sauce, light soy sauce (or regular soy sauce) only needs minimal enhancements to make it a great dark soy substitute. You just need soy sauce and molasses (or caramelized sugar, though that’s a more involved process). For every tablespoon of dark soy sauce that your recipe calls for, add 1/2 teaspoon of molasses and blend well, then use as directed.
Coconut Aminos + Oyster Sauce
Coconut aminos is a sweet & salty alternative to regular soy sauce, but to be a substitute for dark soy sauce, it needs a bit of enhancing with the help of oyster sauce. To use coconut aminos instead of dark soy sauce, here’s a recipe you can use on a tablespoon-by-tablespoon basis. You’ll need coconut aminos, oyster sauce, salt, and molasses.
For one tablespoon of dark soy sauce, measure out 1.5 teaspoons coconut aminos, 1 teaspoon oyster sauce, 1/2 teaspoon molasses, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Blend well with a fork or whisk, and use as directed. This will keep in a well-sealed container in the fridge for at least 1 year.
Tamari + Hoisin
Compared to dark soy sauce, tamari has a somewhat higher soybean percentage, a stronger flavor and a somewhat thicker texture. It’s perfect for those looking for a gluten-free option, as several tamari brands are completely gluten-free. Always check the label on your tamari sauce bottle because some manufacturers now list wheat in their ingredients list.
It is crucial to remember that there will be subtle flavor variances when substituting ingredients. Mix 1 Tbsp Tamari with 1 tsp. Hoisin sauce. This tamari mixture can be used as a 1-to-1 substitute for dark soy sauce. When making dipping sauces, this tamari mixture works well as a substitute for dark soy sauce, and can also be used to season stir-fries, rice, and noodle dishes.
Compared to light soy sauce made in China, shoyu, also known as Japanese soy sauce, has a somewhat sweeter flavor profile. It tastes more like dark soy sauce because of the equal amounts of soybeans and wheat, as well as the addition of starches and alcohol.
To use shoyu as an alternative to dark soy sauce, measure out one tablespoon of shoyu to a tablespoon of dark soy sauce.