Ask anyone who regularly cooks Asian food at home if they keep soy sauce in the kitchen and the answer would most likely be ‘yes’. This brownish liquid which is mostly made from a blend of soybeans, wheat, water, and saltis a staple across many east and southeast Asian cuisines, and just a bit of it is all you need for that savoury umami kick to round out the other flavours on your plate.
But when you’re confronted with many varieties of soy sauce at the Asian supermarket, figuring out the type you need can be hard. We’ll give you an overview of the two most common types — light soy sauce and dark soy sauce — which might not appear too different from one another on first glance; but we’re here to tell you: there’s more than meets the eye.
Light soy sauce
Whenever recipes call for a “standard” or “regular” soy sauce, they probably mean this. By far the most often used type in Asian cooking, light soy sauce is thinner and lighter in colour than its darker cousin but don’t be fooled — it’s also saltier.
Most brands of light soy sauce you’ll find at Asian supermarkets in Germany come from Japan or China. The former tends towards a clearer, sweeter, and thinner profile than the latter. Because light soy sauce is so versatile, you might want to always have some on standby for stir-fries, soups, and as a dip or marinade.
Dark soy sauce
Dark Chinese soy sauce has undergone a prolonged aging process with caramel or molasses added to it; which makes it darker, thicker, sweeter, and less salty. Its full flavour won’t develop until you apply heat to it, which is why it’s often added towards the end stages of cooking to bring colour and depth to whatever you’re cooking.
Dark soy sauce may not feature as prominently as light soy sauce in Chinese cooking, but the opposite is true when it comes to Japanese cuisine, where it accounts for more than 80% of all soy sauces produced in Japan. Made from an equal amount of soybeans and wheat, dark Japanese soy sauce is a staple in all Japanese kitchens and is sought after for the rich and salty umami flavour it adds to dishes.
Although light soy sauce and dark soy sauce may dominate the supermarket aisles and in recipes, they’re only two species out of a dizzying array of soy sauces you’ll come across in Asia. And since their individual characteristics vary according to the country of origin, it certainly helps to take a closer look at the label to find out where it’s produced to make sure you get the right one. Happy cooking!