Soy sauce is a true staple ingredient for me. It adds a salty, savouriness to a dish as well as a gorgeous colour. (Psst: have you tried my Soy Sauce Roast Chicken yet?) But not all soy sauces are created equal. In fact, I’d recommend stocking your pantry with three different varieties so you always have the right product to hand. But with ‘soy’ much to choose from, where do you start? If you’re wondering what type of soy sauce is best for your Asian (and even your fusion!) cooking, you’ll want to read this handy guide.
What’s soy sauce used for?
Soy sauce adds a strong umami flavour to dishes. Made from fermented soybeans, it’s salty and savoury and helps to level up the flavour profile of a number of Asian dishes, especially Chinese recipes. Try it as a dipping sauce for your dumplings, sushi or sashimi, to add extra umami goodness to soups, stews and broths, or as part of a marinade for meat and seafood.
What is soy sauce made of?
There are several varieties of soy sauce, and as such there can be variations when it comes to the ingredients. However, soy sauce is typically made using soybeans, wheat, salt and a fermenting agent – typically yeast.
What soy sauce should I buy?
It’s a good idea to keep your pantry essentials stocked up with a couple of different variations of soy sauce, as they are each have their strengths when used in certain dishes. Hopefully this guide to the types of soy sauce will help!
Light soy sauce
Usually, whenever one of my recipes calls for soy sauce, I’m using an everyday, Chinese variety, which for me is ‘light soy sauce’. It might sound a bit confusing at first, but the ‘light’ part actually refers to the colour, rather than its level of saltiness. Try it in my Traditional Pad See Ew recipe (which uses dark soy sauce, too!). Want to know what is the difference between light soy sauce and dark soy sauce? Read on!
I use two varieties of soy sauce in my popular Pad See Ew Noodles.
Dark soy sauce
Next up, I’d recommend having a dark soy sauce in your cupboard. It’s less salty than your regular light soy sauce, and has a darker, more intense colour. Because it’s been aged for longer, it has a richer flavour, and therefore adds more depth to a dish. I find it’s a good one for marinades, or when you want that deep brown hue adding to a dish. Try it in my Soy Sauce Chicken & Noodles.
The difference between light soy sauce and dark soy sauce is mainly what they are used for. Light soy sauce is saltier and used more for flavour, and dark soy sauce is generally thicker, less salty and slightly sweeter than light soy sauce, so ideal for adding colour.
Dark soy sauce adds intensity and colour to my Soy Sauce Chicken & Noodles.
Dark sweet soy sauce
Finally, a sweet dark soy sauce – such as your Indonesian kecap manis – will give your dish a beautiful mahogany colour and a lovely layer of sweetness. You’ll notice it has a much thicker consistency than the other soy sauces I mention above. Try it in my Indonesian Nasi Goreng.
My version of Nasi Goreng features kecap manis, or dark sweet soy sauce.
Bonus buy: a Japanese soy sauce
I know I said three soy sauces… but just throwing this additional one out there for consideration! When I’m cooking Japanese-style dishes, like with my Shoyu Ramen, I tend to favour a Japanese soy sauce. I find it gives a rounder flavour and isn’t as salt-aggressive as the Chinese-style varieties.
I favour Japanese soy sauce when cooking dishes that typically originate there.