Soy sauce is widely used throughout East and Southeast Asia, from Japanese shoyu to Indonesian kecap manis. The Chinese invented this liquid sauce that is made from fermented soybeans and used so often in Asian cooking. Learn more about the five most common Chinese soy sauces, plus two of the more popular Asian soy sauces from outside of China.
01 of 07
Light Soy Sauce (Thin Soy Sauce)
Used in stir-fry sauces, marinades, soups, and even dipping sauces, light soy sauce is the most common type used in Chinese cooking. It’s what most North Americans would think of as "regular" soy sauce. You can use it whenever a Chinese recipe calls for "soy sauce," without further clarification.
Don’t let the name fool you, though. While light soy sauce is thinner and has a lighter color than dark soy sauce, it is also saltier. If sodium is a concern, you can find reduced-sodium soy sauces such as Lee Kum Kee’s Salt Reduced Light Soy Sauce. You'll find that these reduce the sodium level by as much as 40 percent.
02 of 07
Dark Soy Sauce
As the name implies, dark soy sauce is darker than light soy sauce. It has a richer, sweeter flavor, thanks to a longer aging period and the addition of caramel and sometimes molasses. Dark soy sauce is used to lend flavor and enhance the color of a dish, for example, in red-cooked dishes. You’ll frequently find it paired with light soy sauce in recipes as well.
03 of 07
Mushroom-Flavored Soy Sauce
This is a dark soy sauce that is often infused with dried straw mushrooms. Less frequently you can also find this style made with dried Chinese black mushrooms.
Mushroom soy sauce is used in place of dark soy sauce to add an earthy flavor to dishes. Feel free to use it as a substitute in your favorite recipes that call for dark soy sauce. It's particularly useful in those famous red cooking dishes like soy sauce chicken with shiitakes. It also makes a nice table condiment.
04 of 07
Thick Soy Sauce
Thick soy sauces (also called soy paste or soy jam) are sweeter and have a thicker consistency than dark soy sauce. That is due to the addition of sugar, more wheat in the fermentation process, and, sometimes, a starch thickener that is used to make it. It takes only a small amount to add flavor to fried rice dishes. If you cannot find thick soy sauce, it's rather easy to make it yourself.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Shrimp-Flavored Soy Sauce
Popular in Eastern China, this style of soy sauce is infused with the brine from dried shrimp (dried prawns). It's not very common, though you may be able to spot a bottle at your local Asian foods market. It seems obvious, but it works particularly well in a seafood Chinese stir-fry. Like the mushroom soy sauce, it's a good condiment as well.
06 of 07
Indonesian Kecap Manis
Ubiquitous in Indonesian cooking, kecap manis is a thick, very sweet soy sauce. It is made with fermented soybeans and a variety of sugar and spices, including palm sugar, star anise, and garlic. Kecap manis is used as a condiment and also in cooking, such as the famous Indonesian fried rice dish nasi goreng. Like that recipe, you'll find it used often in Dutch cuisine as well. This is because Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch. If you pick up a bottle of kecap manis, be sure to try the pork dish babi ketjap and perhaps try a Dutch satay sauce.
07 of 07
A byproduct of making miso, tamari is thicker than other Japanese soy sauces, all of which are called shoyu. It has a rich color and flavor. Authentic tamari contains very little or no wheat, making it suitable for gluten-free diets. During the 1960s, George Oshawa popularized the macrobiotic diet. At the same time, he introduced a Japanese soy sauce to the U.S. that does contain wheat and that was labeled tamari as well. Today, both wheat-containing and wheat-free varieties of tamari are sold. Anyone with gluten intolerance should read the bottle labels very carefully.