Regular soy sauce is a staple in many household’s pantries or refrigerators, but dark soy sauce is far less common, especially in the United States. If you want to create a recipe that asks for dark soy sauce, you may be wondering if you can use an alternative, ideally something you have on hand.
Luckily, there are several alternatives you can use instead of dark soy sauce, though this thick soy sauce adds lots of great color and depth to a dish. In this article, we go over what dark soy sauce is and what ingredients can be used in its place.
What is dark soy sauce?
Dark soy sauce is a condiment and a type of soy sauce used commonly in Asian cuisine. It has a salty flavor and dark color with a rich umami flavor. If a recipe calls for dark soy sauce instead of regular soy sauce, it’s likely because dark soy sauce adds a darker color and a stronger flavor. It also has a bit of sweetness to it and is thicker than regular soy sauce.
How is dark soy sauce made?
To make regular soy sauce, first cooked soybeans and wheat are ground up into a paste. Then mold is added (don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe). The mold starts a fermentation process. Then, the fermented paste is pressed and the byproduct you are left with is soy sauce.
To make dark soy sauce, the soybeans and wheat are fermented for longer, leaving a thicker, sweeter and darker end product. Sometimes palm sugar or other sweeteners are added to enhance the sweetness already present in the sauce.
What’s the difference between regular and dark soy sauce?
As mentioned in the previous section, the fermentation process of dark soy sauce is longer than regular soy sauce leading to the darker color and thicker consistency. They have a pretty similar flavor profile, but dark soy sauce is a bit sweeter than the regular kind. The main difference is the color, which is why dark soy sauce is commonly used to give several dishes their infamous caramel-y coat.
9 Best Dark Soy Sauce Substitutes
Below are the nine best substitutes for dark soy sauce, ranked based on how good of a substitute they are. Why none of these options will perfectly replicate the flavor, color and texture of dark soy sauce, they get pretty close and the difference likely won’t even be noticeable.
1. Regular Soy Sauce
Regular soy sauce is a great substitute for dark soy sauce and you likely already have some in your pantry or refrigerator. The flavor profile is similar to that of dark soy sauce since it’s made quite similarly as mentioned above. If you want to mimic the sweetness of dark soy sauce, add a pinch of sugar to your recipe alongside the regular soy sauce.
2. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is another good substitute because it is thicker than regular soy sauce, similar to dark soy sauce. This being said, it is thicker than dark soy sauce so you may want to cut it with a small amount of water or regular soy sauce to mimic the texture. Hoisin sauce is made out of soy sauce, salt, sweet potato, sesame, cornstarch, garlic, flour and spices.
3. Sweet Soy Sauce
Sweet soy sauce or kecap manis can be another good alternative to dark soy sauce because it’s thicker and sweeter than the regular kind, making it very similar to dark soy sauce. It is made using black soybeans and has a generous amount of palm sugar added to it, giving it its sweet taste. In fact, it is sweeter than dark soy sauce so keep this in mind when using it.
4. Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is another great alternative. Though it looks quite similar to hoisin sauce (at least in my opinion) it doesn’t actually contain any soy. It is made with oyster extract, sugar, water, salt and cornstarch to thicken. It is sweet and has a strong fishy flavor coming from the oysters. It does have a very umami-flavor which makes it similar to dark soy sauce, which is why I like it as a substitute.
5. Teriyaki Sauce
Teriyaki sauce is one of the best options for a dark soy sauce alternative because it’s a sweet sauce made from soy sauce. The ingredients for teriyaki sauce vary depending on where you buy it, but traditional teriyaki sauce contains soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sake. When I make it I omit the mirin and sake and add ginger and garlic, but this is more of a Hawaiian-style teriyaki.
6. Black Soy Sauce
Black soy sauce is another good alternative for dark soy sauce due to its dark color and thick texture. In fact, they are often confused for each other though they are different. Black soy sauce is typically sweetened with molasses, which gives it more of a caramel-y flavor compared to dark soy sauce or sweet soy sauce.
7. Tamari Sauce
Tamari sauce is often confused with regular soy sauce, but there is one big difference. Tamari does not contain any wheat. This means that tamari can be a great alternative to dark soy sauce if you have a wheat allergy, celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It isn’t very sweet, so I would recommend adding some sugar if you use this as an alternative.
8. Coconut Aminos
If you have a soy allergy, coconut aminos can be a good choice. It is quite similar to soy sauce in color and flavor, but it’s closer to dark soy sauce when it comes to sweetness. I find that when I use coconut aminos as a replacement for regular soy sauce I don’t need as much sweetener, making it a great replacement for dark soy sauce.
9. Worcestershire Sauce
Worcestershire sauce can be another good replacement for dark soy sauce, though it does have a stronger vinegary flavor which is why it’s at the bottom of the list. It’s made with vinegar, water, molasses, sugar, salt, spices, anchovy and thickener. While its flavor profile is a bit different, it can still be a good alternative to dark soy sauce.
Difference between dark and black soy sauce
Dark soy sauce and black soy sauce are confused for each other very often. This is likely because “dark” and “black” are similar words and the two sauces look quite similar to each other. Despite this, it’s important to note that they do have slight taste differences.
Black soy sauce is typically sweetened with molasses, giving it a very strong caramel-y flavor. It also has a sweeter flavor than dark soy sauce, though both are sweet. Dark soy sauce doesn’t have as strong of a caramel flavor and is less overwhelming in flavor.
Where to find dark soy sauce
You may be able to find dark soy sauce in grocery stores in your area. Your best bet is to check at any Asian markets. They will most likely have an array of brands selling dark soy sauce. If you can’t find any in store, you can always purchase some online. Most brands are shelf stable so they should ship to your place of residence easily.
Best dark soy sauce brands
There are several brands that sell dark soy sauce in the United States. Below I’ve listed a few of my favorite brands that sell dark soy sauce. Always double check to make sure you are getting dark soy sauce not black soy sauce before purchasing. Personally, I use Lee Kum Kee but any of these are great options:
How to store dark soy sauce
Dark soy sauce can be stored in the pantry before it is opened. Check the date on the bottle to see how long it can be stored before it is tossed. Once opened, move your dark soy sauce to your refrigerator. This way it will retain quality for longer and it won’t spoil as soon. Since dark soy sauce is fermented and contains salt and sugar to preserve it, it will last a while in storage.
Recipes that use dark soy sauce
There are plenty of recipes that use dark soy sauce in noodle dishes, meat dishes, seafood dishes and vegetable dishes. It is even used as a dipping sauce and in other applications in Thai and Chinese cooking. Here are a few recipes that use dark soy sauce:
- Char Siu
- Soy Sauce Chicken
- Hong Kong Style Fried Noodles
- Beef and Broccoli
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Mapo Tofu
- Soy Braised Pork Belly
- Black Bean Sauce Noodles
- Sweet and Sour Pork
- Hainanese Chicken Rice
Depending on the recipe, some of these dishes may ask for regular soy sauce instead of dark soy sauce. But traditionally, most of these dishes require dark soy sauce to get the right color and consistency.
Can you make your own dark soy sauce?
The difference between regular soy sauce and dark soy sauce is the length of the fermentation process, so unless you are making your soy sauce from scratch, you can’t make dark soy sauce at home. That being said, you can make a sauce that is very similar to dark soy sauce at home.
The blog Woks of Life has a simple recipe that can be used as an alternative to dark soy sauce. Simply combine 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, ½ teaspoon of molasses and ⅛ teaspoon of sugar. Stir until well combined. Add more molasses or sugar until the desired taste and consistency is reached.