Soy sauce is a classic flavour of Asian cuisine and is particularly prominent in Chinese, Thai and Japanese cooking. The strong musty flavour of dark soy sauce combines very well with ginger, garlic, wasabi, star anise and other important herbs and spices used in Asian cuisine. Dark soy sauce is often preferred when cooking. There are cases of soy related allergies and other reasons people may choose to avoid dark soy sauce. Fortunately, there are quite a few options to replace dark soy sauce if need be. The appropriate option will depend on a few things. So what makes up dark soy sauce and what positive qualities does it have?
Dark Soy Sauce
Dark soy sauce goes by the Chinese name Lao chou, which means old extract. This is an appropriate name for the aged soybean extract that we call dark soy sauce. Soy sauce is a Chinese creation which is made from a fermented soybean paste, roasted wheat grains, brine and a fungal agent. Soy sauce recipes can be dated as far back as 180 BC. Making it one of the oldest condiments known to man. There are many varieties of soy sauce including dark, light and sweet among others. Dark soy sauce has molasses and sometimes cornstarch added to it in the steeping process. The traditional process for making soy sauce takes around 6 months. A modern method that uses chemical hydrolisation takes around 2 days to produce soy sauce. Dark soy sauce will still need to be further aged from this. Soy sauce has very few things that can be compared to it.
Homemade Dark Soy Sauce
Let’s start with a direct substitute if your problem is just that you couldn’t find dark soy sauce or only have regular soy sauce on hand and don’t have the time to go and look for dark soy sauce. You can make imitation dark soy sauce and it’s easier than you might think. All you need 2 parts regular soy sauce mixed with half a part molasses and one eighth part sugar, preferably brown. Mix enough for the sugar to dissolve. This is great for basting and marinating.
Coconut aminos are a great substitute for dark soy sauce. The sauce is soy-free, gluten-free and vegan friendly. Coconut amino sauce is made from the sap of coconut trees mixed with sea salt. However, coconut amino sauce is low in sodium. To add that coconut amino sauce is high in protein. The drawback of coconut amino sauce is that it is not widely available. Taste-wise coconut amino sauce is a little sweeter than dark soy sauce and also has a sweeter aftertaste.
Another sauce you can try as a substitute for dark soy sauce is fish sauce. Fish sauce is made from strong flavoured fish like anchovies and krill, small crustaceans, that have been coated in salt and fermented for up to two years. Fish sauce has a very strong flavour akin to dark soy sauce. Great for seasoning, marinating and for use in dipping sauces. Fish sauce is widely available and while that works in its credit it’s flavour isn’t quite like soy sauce. Use with caution as a dark soy sauce substitute. It’s great for those who are soy or gluten intolerant but not for vegans.
Seasoning sauce is a broad name for different sauce recipes that are sold around the world and usually tailored to the Cuisine of the region. An example is Maggi seasoning sauce. The sauce, unfortunately, may contain gluten or soy depending on the recipe so do check the ingredients if you are allergic to any of these. Seasoning sauce is available just about everywhere in the world. If you’re just looking for something different it will work. It will work in marinades, basting, dipping sauces and stews.
A sauce that is probably more famous for how difficult its name is to pronounce Worcestershire sauce makes a very good dark soy sauce substitute. It hits the same spot on the tongue with similar flavours to soy sauce and blends very well with other ingredients that you will often find in recipes that need soy sauce. It contains neither soy nor gluten and is available just about the world over. It’s so versatile you can use it in beverages like the bloody Mary.
White Nama Shoyu Sauce
White Nama shoyu is sometimes referred to as soy sauce without the soy. This is slightly misleading as many nama shoyu recipes include soy. White nama shoyu sauce is made with double the toasted wheat and those who love it cite its lack of a colouring effect on food as a positive. It hits the same part of the palate as soy sauce and other sauces listed here. The biggest downside for white Nama shoyu is that it is not widely available.
Liquid amino is a health food supplement that contains concentrated amino acids. It is derived from soy so may not be appropriate for those with soy allergies. Because the liquid is concentrated you will need to be careful to use less of it than soy sauce. Liquid aminos do very well to match the flavour of dark soy sauce as they are also derived from soy. The availability of the substitute is not clear but should be available in most of the world in health shops or from online retailers.
Hoisin sauce is a great dark soy sauce substitute. If you have no problems with soy or gluten and are just looking to try something different then hoisin sauce is perfect. The sauce is of Chinese origin and was traditionally made with toasted mashed soybeans. Beijing-style hoisin sauce is the variant you are most likely to find and it includes sweet potato, wheat, rice, water, sugar, soybeans, sesame seeds, white distilled vinegar, salt, garlic, red chilli peppers, and preservatives. Hoisin is amazing as a marinade or basting sauce. It is widely available though not as easy to find as dark soy sauce.
There are many substitutes you could use for dark soy sauce in recipes. If you do not have an allergenic problem with soy and wheat hoisin sauce would be the best pick. If you have an allergy to soy or gluten consider Worcestershire sauce as the best substitute followed by fish sauce.