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Soy sauce is a rich and salty sauce used in a very large variety of dishes to take their flavor to a whole new level. It helps deepen stocks and stews, can be used to add some nice contrast to a salad, and is also exceptional at deglazing a stir fry. While there are two types of soy sauces, we will talk about them later. however, if you are fresh out of your favorite dark soy sauce, or have any soy allergies, and a recipe calls for it, what can you substitute dark soy sauce with?
Table of Contents
What is soy sauce?
Fundamentally, soy sauce is a rich and thick liquid condiment that originally came from China. It is made from a paste from fermented soybeans, roasted grain, brine, and Aspergillus oryzae. Soy sauce is known for having a deep umami flavor, which is one of the five basic tastes associated with food. Umami is found in meats and tomatoes and is regarded as being the embodiment of ‘savory’ flavors.
Aspergillus oryzae is a filamentous fungus that is used in East Asian cooking to make a lot of alcoholic drinks such as sake, a traditional and very strong Asian rice wine. The use of this in making a sauce such as soy sauce is what gives the condiment its dark and rich flavor.
Soy sauce comes in two main types, and that is dark soy sauce and light soy sauce. They are quite different, but both are equally as useful in a kitchen.
Light soy sauce
Light soy sauce is made with natural fermentation and other production methods and has a nice golden brown color with a thin viscosity. It has a very aromatic umami flavor and is perfect for flavoring any dish you want to. It can also be great as a dressing or a marinade.
Dark soy sauce
The main difference between light and dark soy sauce is that dark soy sauce has an added ingredient of brown sugar which caramelizes and then mixes with the sauce. This heightened flavor of sweetness is what makes the sauce taste so much deeper than its light counterpart. The sugar is also responsible for the color difference between the two and why dark soy sauce is so much thicker.
Because of this, dark soy sauce is not only used as a flavoring but is also valued for the coloring effect that it has on any food it interacts with. Dark soy sauce is often used alongside light soy sauce as they both have a great flavor together, but sometimes the deep brown color from the dark soy sauce is needed, especially in restaurants where presentation is very important. It is especially useful for the presentation of meats as they are considered unappealing and uncooked if they are a bit too bright, but some cooking methods such as sous vide can leave them unchanged in color but they are still properly cooked. This is where they will be marinated in dark soy sauce until they have a more appealing look. The same is done with hard-boiled eggs for ramen as the bright white color of the eggs contrasts the rest of the dish too much, so chefs marinate the eggs in dark soy sauce to not only darken their color but also give them a nice flavor. After this change in appearance, the eggs match the warm aesthetic of the dish a lot more.
Dark soy sauce substitutes
Now you know what dark soy sauce is and how it is used, you now need to learn what to do when you run out of it. Finding a substitute may not be the perfect replica that you are looking for but we are trying to find a flavor that helps the dish in the same way. It is all about food science and learning how the flavors work on their own and together. For instance, once you break something down to its flavor components of sweet, salty, spicy, etc. you can easily swap in other items instead with a similar flavor profile, and they should work completely fine if you do it right. The flavor profile for dark soy sauce is umami, salty, savory, and a hint of sweet. Therefore, we need to try and find other sauces and condiments that match this as closely as possible.
Don’t worry, I will list these for you. I don’t expect you to instantly have ideas of substitutes.
Teriyaki sauce perfectly matches the sweet and salty flavor that dark soy sauce has. On top of this, it also has the same dark and glossy look that will color your dish similar to how dark soy sauce does. Teriyaki sauce is the perfect candidate to replace dark soy sauce in your dish and not only this but it also used soy sauce as an ingredient so that it tastes similar as well. There will be hints of ginger and garlic in your dish due to the teriyaki sauce but they are more than likely going to pair well with the rest of the dish.
Another dark-colored sauce, oyster sauce matches the flavor profile of dark soy sauce quite well. It is best paired with seafood and vegetables instead of other meats but you can still try it. Oyster sauce is named after the flavor it carries, which is oysters. So, if you do not like the oyster flavor then you will need to find an alternative. That being said, if you do like oysters then this sauce will be your new best friend whenever you have your next broccoli dish.
One of the most popular Asian sauces, hoisin sauce is made from sesame seeds, chili pepper, and garlic. It will certainly help with your food and take the place of dark soy sauce, however, the flavors are quite different and the hoisin sauce will impart a different, unique flavor that soy sauce does not have. By this I mean, the dish will still turn out really well as the flavor profiles still match and compliment each other but as for the actual taste, you will taste hoisin sauce instead of dark soy sauce.
This may seem a bit surprising in a list mostly comprised of Asian sauces, but Worcestershire sauce can really help any dish instead of dark soy sauce. Similar to the hoisin sauce, it has a different flavor which will be noticeable, but it will still make the dish work very well. The flavor is quite bold so it is ensured you will not have a bland dish by any means. The viscosity of Worcestershire sauce is a lot more watery than soy sauce and is also less sweet, so you have to expect this before using it. It will still work well in a dish, but it may tamper with the consistency of any sauce you have already used due to how watery it is.
Is homemade dark soy sauce easy to make?
Unless you are completely out of light soy sauce, making your own dark soy sauce is surprisingly easy. All you will need is;
- Two cups of dark brown sugar
- Half a cup of water
- One cup of light or regular soy sauce
Once you have the ingredients ready, you can make your own dark soy sauce with the delicious flavor you know and love. All you need to do is heat up your sugar and water on the stove while stirring until the consistency of syrup is reached. After this, slowly add your regular soy sauce and continue stirring all the time until it is fully incorporated and mixed in. The sugar dissolves into the water, making a syrup and then that syrup should mix with the soy sauce until a balance between the two consistencies is found. Remove your sauce from the stove and let it cool while you stare at its pleasant dark appearance.
What to use dark soy sauce for
Dark soy sauce has so many applications that it is one of the best sauces to keep in stock, as long as you like the cuisine it is meant for. If you do, then it is for sure going to be your new favorite sauce.
Dark soy sauce can be great at adding a hint of flavor to something by dipping them in it. This is incredibly popular for dishes such as sushi or sashimi. There will oftentimes be a little bowl full of soy sauce about 1cm deep which is used for dipping the sushi in to add a slight hint of salt flavor to it. This can really improve the experience of your sushi.
People who love spice also like to add some fresh wasabi to this soy sauce and mix it together until it is spicy soy sauce. However, this is discouraged by sushi chefs as it taints the flavor of both items. The proper way to do it is to add some wasabi to the fish portion of the sushi, and then dip that piece of sushi, fish side down, into the soy sauce so that nothing gets oversaturated and both flavors remain intact.
Deglazing a stir fry
When you have come to almost the end of cooking your stir fry, it is nice to deglaze the pan with some soy sauce. This gets all of the fond, browned food residues, off of the pan and helps add flavor from both the fond and sauce to the dish itself. After deglazing, it is best to let the dish simmer and cook a tiny bit longer to reduce the soy sauce for a deeper flavor. Wine and other alcohol can also be used to deglaze, but soy sauce matches your typical Asian stir fry thanks to its salty flavor.
FAQ – What is a dark soy sauce substitute?
Can I use soy sauce instead of dark soy sauce?
Soy sauce will taste almost the same as its dark counterpart but it will lack the sweetness found in it. This means you can still substitute it for dark soy sauce. If you are wanting to use dark soy sauce to help color your food then regular soy sauce will not help.
Is dark soy sauce the same as hoisin?
No, they are both very different sauces. They have the same flavor profiles and can be used in each others place, but the overall flavor will be different.