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5 Best Sweet Soy Sauce Substitutes (Kecap Manis)

Need to make a delicious Indonesian dish like goreng or nasi goreng, but out of one of the best Asian sauces? Well, I’ve got several sweet soy substitutes you need to try! You can substitute kecaps manis with hoisin sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Tianmian Sauce, and a homemade sauce. But I’ll show you how to make these sweet soy sauce swaps the perfect sauces for just your needs. Let’s jump right in!

A sauce bowl of kecap manis with chopsticks.

🤷 What is Sweet Soy Sauce? (Kecap Manis)

Sweet soy sauce, also known as Kecap Manis or Indonesian sweet soy sauce, is a thick, dark, and sweet condiment that’s commonly used in Indonesian and Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s made from a combination of soy sauce, palm sugar, water, salt, and sometimes other ingredients like ginger or molasses.

🥄 How to make Sweet Soy Sauce

To make sweet soy sauce, start by heating up the palm sugar and water in a saucepan until the sugar has fully dissolved. After that, add the soy sauce and stir well. Then, let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until it thickens up. Once the sauce has thickened, remove it from the heat and let it cool down. If you don’t have palm sugar, you can substitute it with brown sugar or molasses. The result won’t be exactly the same, but it’ll still be just as tasty.

📌How to Use Kecap Manis

Marinade: It’s actually the marinade used in an Indonesian favorite— chicken satay. The sweet soy sauce marinade tenderizes the meat and enhances the flavor. It can also be brushed onto and used as a sauce for pork chops before grilling to lend greater flavors and a lustrous finish, not unlike a natural MSG.

Dipping Sauce: Sweet soy sauce serves as the foundation for peanut dipping sauce, satay’s partner in caloric crime, which is typically made from a thick mixture of ground peanuts, garlic, shallots, lime juice, and chilis. Meanwhile in Singaporean cuisine, kecap manis stars as one of the three main dipping sauces for Hainanese chicken rice and roast duck, and a base ingredient for the sauce in Thai pad see ew.

Other Uses: When using kecap manis, however, you are not limited to Asian cuisines. Pair it with meatloaf, steaks, pork chops, sea bass, or anything else you think will benefit from a sweet, salty punch of flavor. It will undoubtedly enhance the taste, aroma, and flavor of your dishes.

A wooden chopping board full of kecap manis ingredients.

💡 5 Best Kecap Manis Substitutes

Soy Sauce + Sweetener

Sweet soy sauce can be made by combining soy sauce and any sweetener, like some maple syrup substitutes. Light soy sauce (which is less salty and less sweet than dark soy sauce) combined with brown sugar is an excellent substitute for sweet soy sauce. You can even use some light soy sauce substitutes for a better experience. But you can use whatever sweetener you have on hand, even molasses. Just make sure to add 1 teaspoon of sweetener to each tablespoon of soy sauce.

Homemade Kecap Manis

Make a flavorful yet healthier kecap manis by combining a soy sauce or a soy sauce substitute with palm sugar or coconut sugar. Tamari is another good substitute for soy sauce in our mock kecap manis recipe. You can enhance the flavor of the mixture by adding ginger, garlic, star anise, clove, or other spices of your choosing, then reduce it until it reaches a syrupy consistency.

A bowl of oyster sauce with lime, oyster shell, and chili.
oyster sauce

Oyster Sauce + Soy Sauce + Sweetener

Oyster sauce is a great substitute for kecap manis due to its distinct sweet-salty umami flavor. The flavors, though similar to kecap manis, are briny since they come from oysters. We would recommend adding dark soy sauce to lend a deeper color and palm sugar to bring the sweetness closer to that of kecap manis. You can use some dark soy sauce substitutes if you don’t have any around.

Hoisin Sauce + Soy Sauce

If you’re comparing hoisin sauce and oyster sauce, hoisin is a more direct substitute for kecap manis. This popular dipping sauce in Cantonese cuisine is thickened by cornstarch, whereas kecap manis is reduced to a syrupy state. The sauce is sweeter than kecap manis, so I recommend increasing the saltiness by adding light soy sauce. If the mixture is still too paste-like, thin it out some more with water. 

Tianmian Sauce + Soy Sauce / Sugar

Tian Mian sauce, also known as sweet bean sauce or sweet flour sauce, is popular in Chinese cooking. This thick dark brown or blackish condiment varies from sweet to savory. So using whatever variety you have on hand, tweak the taste to mimic kecap manis by adding either more soy sauce or sugar.

🧐 FAQs

Is Kikkoman Soy Sauce Sweet?

Kikkoman soy sauce is not primarily known for being sweet. Instead, it’s known for its well-balanced and savory umami flavor. Traditional Kikkoman soy sauce has a rich and salty taste, which is a result of the fermentation process used in its production.

How is Sweet Soy Sauce made?

Kecap manis is made with traditionally-brewed soy sauce and specific seasonings. More precisely, it’s made from a fermented paste of boiled soybeans, various roasted grains, salt, water, and Aspergillus wentii mold, into which palm sugar is mixed.

Is there a gluten-free option for dark sweet soy sauce?

Yes, there are gluten-free options for dark-sweet soy sauce. One option is to use tamari sauce, which is a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce. Another option is to use coconut aminos, which is a soy sauce substitute made from coconut sap.

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