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6 Best Light Soy Sauce Substitute Options

Soy sauce is a common Asian condiment with a prominent aroma and distinct salty flavor, known for adding umami richness to a range of foods.

These days, soy sauce is no longer specific to Asian cuisine. Many chefs and home cooks alike have been getting creative with this seasoning across the globe. If you want to cook something but don’t have light soy sauce on hand, the best light soy sauce substitute in terms of flavor matching is tamari, another soy-based sauce made without wheat.

A low-sodium variety of tamari is best if you want to reduce your salt intake and find a healthier substitute. Continue reading to learn more about light soy sauce, and our top 5 suggestions for light soy sauce substitutes.

What Makes Up Light Soy Sauce?

Let’s begin by talking a bit about soy sauce, in general. What is light soy sauce, anyway?

China, the birthplace of soy sauce, has been producing the world’s oldest condiment since 500 B.C. Soy sauce was thought to have originated from the Chinese’s need to preserve meats, vegetables, and grains with salt, and it later became the most commonly used seasoning, replacing expensive salt. Soybean jiang was first mentioned in the Ch’i-min yao-shu around AD 535, and liquid soy sauce was later mentioned in Korean historical records in AD 683 and Japanese historical records in AD 775.

Wheat was traditionally fermented with soybeans, water, and salt. Soy sauce eventually evolved from this combination, and the staple ingredient spread throughout Asia before reaching the West in the 1800s.

Chinese soy sauce, also known as jiangyou (酱油), contains less wheat flour and wheat bran in its recipe than other Asian soy sauces. Soy sauce varies by region in China, and even more so in neighboring Asian countries, so the soy sauces available in Asia vary much more than the ones here in the States.

Soy sauce is divided into two categories: light and dark. Light soy sauce is made by pressing or drawing fermented soybeans for the first time. The subsequent or second press is dark soy sauce, which is frequently blended with molasses, while the final press is sweetened thick soy sauce, which is mixed with wheat flour and more molasses.

This light brown sauce is thinner and more opaque than the darker dark soy sauce. The first press is considered to be the best quality, and it is because of this freshness that the term “light” was coined. Light soy sauce is frequently used in cooking to add salty umami flavors with a slightly sweet undertone. It is also excellent as a dipping sauce to uplift the flavor of dishes, and is more than likely the kind in your fridge.

How to Use Light Soy Sauce

Soy sauce can be found in a variety of dishes around the world, including Philippine adobo (soy vinegar braised pork), Indonesian chicken satay, Cantonese fried rice, and noodle stir-fries, Japanese yakitori (char-grilled meat skewers), Korean fried chicken with soy garlic glaze, and Taiwanese pork sauce rice.

If a recipe specifies light soy sauce, it usually needs a stronger salty umami flavor and a lighter, less noticeable color. Dips, marinades, and stir-fries can all benefit from the addition of light soy sauce, including American-born sauces, like Mumbo sauce.

Many common Chinese takeout dishes employ the use of light soy sauce, from fried rice and noodles, to meat and vegetable stir-fries. Try your hand at using it by making yang chow fried rice or a vegetable chow mein with light soy sauce as a flavor enhancer. Because the sauce already adds amazing umami flavors to dishes, you don’t need to season with salt & pepper afterwards.

There are many other dishes that employ light soy sauce’s incredibly salty, briny, slightly sweet umami richness. Here are several recipes that you can try.

6 Light Soy Sauce Substitutes


Tamari is a strong-flavored, high-soybean-content soy sauce. This is an excellent substitute for light soy sauce not only because it tastes similar, but also because many tamari brands offer gluten-free sauces. So people who are allergic to wheat and looking for a gluten-free option can safely opt for tamari. 

Like light soy sauce, tamari is made by fermenting soybeans. However, there is a flavor difference because there is no wheat involved in making this sauce. It works best as a substitute when making dipping sauces. When substituting tamari for light soy sauce, use a 1:1 ratio. 

Dark Soy Sauce

Dark soy sauce is thicker, less salty, and has a stronger flavor than light soy sauce. So a little tinkering with dark soy sauce can yield a good substitute for light soy sauce. Add a pinch of salt and a splash of water to thin the soy sauce. There may still be stronger flavors added from the dark sauce, so it’s not an exact match, but it’s very close; use in a one-to-one ratio.

All-Purpose Soy Sauce

Just like light soy sauce, all-purpose soy sauce lends a salty umami flavor to dishes without overpowering the dish. This versatile flavor enhancer can be used as a substitute for light soy sauce, with or without a dash of water to thin it out. This type of soy sauce is the closest in flavor and consistency to light soy sauce, and can be used at a 1:1 ratio.  

teriyaki sauce made with a soy sauce base

Coconut Aminos

Coconut aminos are an excellent substitute for light soy sauce in your cooking, especially if you’re watching your salt intake or avoiding soy or gluten. Coconut aminos have a nutty, sweet & salty flavor, overall less salty compared to light soy sauce. If you’ve never heard of coconut aminos, they’re a gluten-free alternative to light soy sauce, made from fermented coconut sap.

If you don’t mind a very mild coconut flavor in your food and prefer less salty options, this is an excellent substitute. Use the same amount of coconut aminos as directed in the recipe. Depending on your taste, you may want to add a pinch of salt to offset the slight sweetness of the coconut aminos and achieve the same salty flavor as soy sauce.

Though the flavor will not be the same, the color, flavor, and overall outcome of the dish will only be slightly altered. 

Liquid Aminos

Another gluten-free alternative to light soy sauce, liquid aminos have a sweet, salty taste. While still made from soy, they are unfermented and less salty compared to light soy sauce. They also provide a similar, umami flavor of soy sauce, though not as intense and somewhat sweeter. 

As a result, if you choose this option, you will need to adjust the overall amount of salt, accordingly. To substitute this in your recipe, you can begin with an equal ratio (1:1) and gradually increase the amount to suit your needs.

Teriyaki Sauce

Teriyaki sauce is a Japanese sauce that has been incorporated into many cuisines around the world due to its versatile, balanced flavor. Soy sauce is one of the ingredients in teriyaki sauce, which is also thick, sweet, and salty. It only matches the salty characteristic of light soy sauce. Thin it with water and season with salt to use as an appropriate substitute for light soy sauce. When you’ve achieved the flavor and texture you want, you can use it in a 1:1 ratio.

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