Soy sauce is a pretty familiar ingredient to most cooks, but what about “dark soy sauce?” What’s the difference between dark soy sauce and regular soy sauce, and do you need to have dark soy sauce in your pantry?
The short answer is yes. Dark soy sauce is one of our 10 Essential Chinese Pantry Ingredients, and in this article, we’ll tell you why.
What Is Dark Soy Sauce? How’s It Different from Regular Soy Sauce?
Dark soy sauce (lǎo chōu, 老抽) is thicker, darker, and slightly sweeter than regular or light soy sauce. Like regular soy sauce, it is used to flavor dishes, but more importantly, it’s used to darken the color of sauces, fried rice, noodles, etc.
Most people think that dark soy sauce has less salt than regular soy sauce. However, dark soy sauce actually has about 15% more sodium than regular/light soy sauce. Its mild sweetness offsets the saltiness, making it only seem less salty.
How Is Dark Soy Sauce Used?
It’s commonly used in braised/red-cooked dishes like Red Cooked Pork, or to achieve that tantalizing dark amber color in stir-fries like Beef & Broccoli or rice/noodle dishes like Supreme Soy Sauce Fried Rice and Cantonese Pan-fried Noodles.
You only need a teaspoon or two to take a dish from pale to amber brown. Taste often when adding more dark soy sauce, so you don’t over-season your dish!
See the photo below of adding dark soy sauce to white rice…
And what the rice looks like after it’s been stirred in (along with eggs and scallions):
Buying & Storing
We prefer Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce. You can buy it in 500ml bottles or larger bulk jugs (1.8L). You can also try Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce.
You may also see other varieties, such as Mushroom Flavored Dark Soy Sauce and Double Black Soy Sauce.
Mushroom Flavored Dark Soy Sauce has a bit of extra (you guessed it) mushroom flavor, which adds umami to dishes. You can use it interchangeably with regular dark soy sauce in recipes. Double Black Soy Sauce is basically soy sauce with added molasses, making it darker, thicker, and a bit sweet.
You can see below that the light soy sauce on the left is pretty thin in consistency, while the dark soy sauce in the middle is thicker and darker. The double black soy sauce on the right has a consistency similar to dark soy sauce.
If you don’t have a Chinese market near you, you can also find dark soy sauce online. Store your dark soy sauce in a cool, dry place like the pantry. No need to refrigerate.
What Can I Substitute for Dark Soy Sauce?
A small amount of dark soy sauce is usually called for in a recipe mostly for color, so if you don’t have any, you can simply omit it. Your dish will be lighter in color, but still tasty.
That said, if you really want your version of a recipe to look like the photographs, and that recipe calls for dark soy sauce, don’t leave it out.
If you have double black soy sauce on hand, use it in place of dark soy sauce. You can also use mushroom flavored dark soy sauce interchangeably with regular dark soy sauce.
You can also mix together molasses, regular soy sauce, and a pinch of sugar to make a passable substitute.
Gluten Free Dark Soy sauce
We have not seen any brands that produce a gluten-free dark soy sauce but you can make your own using the dark soy substitution recipe in this post. All you have to do is use a gluten-free soy sauce in place of regular soy sauce in the recipe to make a gluten free dark soy sauce.
Our Favorite Dishes That Use This Ingredient:
- Chinese Stir-fry Sauce
- Cantonese Soy Sauce Pan-fried Noodles
- Supreme Soy Sauce Fried Rice
- Instant Pot Soy Sauce Chicken Bowls
- Soy Sauce Chicken
- Caramelized Soy Sauce Noodles with Sweet Potato & Mushrooms
- Hong Kong Style Clay Pot Rice
If you have further questions about dark soy sauce, let us know in the comments––we try to answer every single one.
Dark Soy Sauce Substitution
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce (regular or light soy sauce or gluten-free soy sauce)
- 1/2 teaspoon molasses
- 1/8 teaspoon sugar
Substitution Option A:
- Double black soy sauce or mushroom flavored dark soy sauce (both can be used interchangeably with dark soy sauce)
Substitution Option B:
- 2 teaspoons regular soy sauce mixed with 1/2 teaspoon molasses and 1/8 teaspoon sugar.
Substitution Option C:
- 2 teaspoons gluten-free soy sauce mixed with 1/2 teaspoon molasses and 1/8 teaspoon sugar.