Soy sauce is a common ingredient in many households but if you need a substitution for any reason, we’re covering 15 soy sauce replacements. Whether you need a gluten-free option or just don’t have soy sauce at home, these soy sauce alternatives have you covered!
What is Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is a popular condiment and seasoning that originated in China around 2,200 years ago. It appears the original intent was to make salt go farther. Salt was very expensive and highly valued as a preservative and flavoring, and was scarce in some regions.
It’s a dark, salty liquid with a rich, savory yet tangy flavor, and it is often used to enhance the taste of dishes, particularly Asian cuisine. Its uses, however, transcend Asian cooking in use as a marinade, salt replacement, base for pasta sauce, or dipping sauce.
How is Soy Sauce Made?
The traditional method of making soy sauce involves the fermentation of soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. Soybeans are soaked in water and then cooked, and wheat is roasted and then ground.
The two are mixed, and this mixture is combined with a culture of mold, yeast, and bacteria and left to ferment for several months to years. The mixture is pressed to extract the liquid, which is the soy sauce. A step that has been added in recent years is pasteurization to kill any remaining microorganisms.
There are different varieties of soy sauce, including light and dark, and the flavor can vary depending on factors such as the length of fermentation and the specific ingredients used.
Common Soy Sauce Uses
Flavoring: It adds a salty and savory flavor to a wide range of dishes, including stir-fries, soups, marinades, and sauces.
Dipping Sauce: It is commonly used as a dipping sauce for sushi, sashimi, dumplings, and other foods.
Marinade: Soy sauce is often used as a marinade for meats, poultry, and seafood, imparting flavor and helping to tenderize the food.
Cooking Ingredient: It is a key ingredient in many Asian recipes, contributing to the umami (savory) taste in the dishes.
Table Condiment: In some cultures, soy sauce is also used as a table condiment, allowing diners to add more flavor to their meals as desired.
So Why Use a Soy Sauce Substitute?
Well, we hate to be Debbie downer, but soy sauce does have its drawbacks. Most of them are nutritional:
Sodium: A tablespoon (15 ml) of soy sauce contains around 900 mg of sodium with some variation between brands. Dark soy sauce is higher, typically containing 1200-1600 mg. The USDA recommends that we consume no more than 2,300 mg a day and says less is better.
They go on to assert that 90% of Americans consume in excess of the recommended daily limit. According to Harvard Health, excessive sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It can also cause calcium losses and inhibit mineral absorption. You can, however, find reduced-sodium soy sauce, but these will still contain around 600 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
GMOs: Over 90% of soy produced in the USA is from plants that are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). This isn’t an issue for many people, but for those avoiding GMOs, soy sauce is a problem.
Gluten: Since soy sauce is made from wheat, it contains gluten, and is not appropriate for those with gluten sensitivity unless you buy a gluten-free soy sauce.
Phytoestrogens: These are naturally occurring compounds found in certain plants, including soybeans. These compounds have a chemical structure similar to human estrogen, and some research suggests it can bind to estrogen receptors in the body causing hormonal and potentially thyroid problems.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that this is a complicated and unresolved issue. If you are concerned, you ought to read more from the NIH.
So while soybeans are a high protein and nutrient dense bean, soy sauce does present health concerns to many. Fortunately, there are a lot of good options if you are looking for a soy sauce alternative.
15 Soy Sauce Substitutes Graded from A to C
We’ve assigned a grade to our substitution options based on a few factors. The primary reasons being how similar it tastes to soy sauce and how easy it is to use in place of soy sauce.
Tamari (Grade A)
What is Tamari? This is a type of Japanese soy sauce that is traditionally made as a byproduct of miso paste. It is similar to soy sauce but is generally thicker, darker, and has a richer flavor.
Tamari is normally gluten-free (check the label), making it suitable for those with gluten sensitivities. Tamari is produced by brewing soybeans, sometimes in combination with roasted grains such as barley, and then fermenting the mixture. The liquid that is extracted after the fermentation process is tamari.
Why is Tamari the best soy sauce substitute? Tamari is basically a gluten-free soy sauce. Its flavor is not as strong and salty as soy sauce, and its color is generally closer to dark than light soy sauce. You can substitute it on a 1:1 basis.
Tamari Sodium Content: Around 900-1000 mg per tablespoon.
Coconut Aminos (Grade A)
What are Coconut Aminos? This is a sauce made from the sap of coconut trees. It is a popular soy sauce alternative, especially among those following a soy-free or gluten-free diet. Sap is collected from the flower buds of the coconut tree and then blended with salt.
The mixture is fermented and aged, resulting in a sauce with a flavor similar to soy sauce but slightly sweeter. All in all the taste is pretty close to soy sauce. It is naturally sweet and salty and does not impart a coconut flavor.
Why are Coconut Aminos a good substitute for soy sauce? This is a good gluten-free, soy-free, low-sodium option. You can substitute it on a 1:1 basis with soy sauce. It’s more expensive than soy sauce, but not break the bank.
Coconut Aminos Sodium Content: Around 400-500 mg per tablespoon.
Liquid Aminos (Grade A-)
What are Liquid Aminos? This is a liquid protein concentrate derived from soybeans. It’s made by treating soybeans with an acidic solution to break down the proteins into amino acids. The liquid is then neutralized and pasteurized, but it’s not fermented like soy sauce. It’s sweeter and milder than soy sauce, but just as salty tasting.
Why are Liquid Aminos a good substitute for soy sauce? Liquid aminos provide a similar salty and savory flavor as soy sauce while remaining gluten-free. You can substitute this as a 1:1 with soy sauce, but expect it to be a bit more expensive.
Liquid Aminos Sodium Content: Around 800-900 mg per tablespoon.
Ponzu (Grade B+)
What is Ponzu? It is a citrus-based sauce that originated in Japan. It typically combines soy sauce, citrus juice (such as yuzu or lemon), rice vinegar, mirin (a sweet rice wine), and sometimes seaweed or bonito flakes.
Why is Ponzu a good substitute for soy sauce? Ponzu provides a similar umami flavor along with a sweeter citrusy kick. It works well in dishes where you want the saltiness of soy sauce but with an added zing. Ponzu is not usually used as a cooking condiment, but is more commonly used as a dipping sauce or dressing. It can, however, work well in marinades due to its acidic content. Its suitability as a substitute just comes down to taste.
Ponzu Sodium Content: Between 300 – 500 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Teriyaki Sauce (Grade B)
What is Teriyaki Sauce? It is a sweet and savory sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It typically consists of soy sauce, sugar (or a sweetener like honey or mirin), sake or rice wine, and sometimes ginger and garlic.
Teriyaki sauce is made by simmering or reducing the ingredients together to create a thick, flavorful glaze. The combination of sweet and savory elements makes it a popular choice for marinating and glazing grilled or broiled dishes.
Why is Teriyaki Sauce a good substitute for soy sauce? It works best when you want a substitute for sweet soy sauce, as it has a decidedly sweet flavor. It serves as a great marinade for meats and as a glaze for grilled or roasted dishes.
The sweetness in teriyaki sauce can balance the flavors in a way that soy sauce alone might not. You can use it as a 1:1 replacement for soy sauce, but it is thicker, so you may want to cut it with a touch of water depending on the use.
Teriyaki Sauce Sodium Content: Between 200-600 mg of sodium per tablespoon with a wide variation between manufacturers.
Worcestershire Sauce (Grade B)
What is Worcestershire Sauce? It is a fermented liquid condiment that originated in Worcester, England, in the first half of the 19th century and has since become popular almost worldwide. Production methods vary, but it often contains anchovies, garlic, onions, molasses, tamarind, vinegar, salt, and various spices. After fermentation, the mixture is strained to remove solids, and the resulting liquid is bottled.
Why is Worcestershire Sauce a good Substitute for Soy Sauce? This all depends on your taste preferences. Worcestershire has a complex savory and tangy umami flavor that is not that close to soy sauce. It is, however, a salty fermented condiment like soy sauce that many people find an acceptable substitute even in stir-fries.
Worcestershire Sauce Sodium Content: Between 160-200 mg per tablespoon.
Fish Sauce (Grade B)
What is Fish Sauce? It is a condiment made from fermented fish, usually anchovies, and salt. It is a staple in many Southeast Asian cuisines and adds a savory, salty flavor to dishes. It is made by layering fresh fish with salt in wooden barrels and allowing the mixture to ferment for several months to a couple of years. The liquid that is extracted from this fermentation process is the fish sauce.
Why is Fish Sauce a good substitute for soy sauce? it provides a similar salty and umami flavor, so if you like a strong fishy flavor and it works in the dish you are putting it into, this is a good option.
Fish Sauce Sodium Content: Between 1200-1500 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Oyster Sauce (Grade B)
What is Oyster Sauce? It is a thick, brown sauce made from oysters, soy sauce, and other ingredients. Despite its name, it often doesn’t have a pronounced oyster taste but is noted for its rich, savory flavor.
Oyster sauce is typically made by cooking oysters in water until a flavorful broth is produced. This broth is then combined with soy sauce, sugar, and sometimes other seasonings. The mixture is simmered until it thickens into a syrupy consistency.
Why is Oyster Sauce a good substitute for soy sauce? Well for one it is made with soy sauce, but also because the umami flavor from the oysters complements some recipes, especially in Asian cuisine. This is a substitute you just have to experiment with to see if it works for you.
Oyster Sauce Sodium Content: Between 500-900 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Hoisin Sauce (Grade B)
What is Hoisin Sauce? This is a thick, dark, and fragrant sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine. It has a sweet and savory flavor profile and is often used as a glaze for meats, a dipping sauce, or in stir-fries.
Hoisin sauce is typically made from a combination of soybeans, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and various spices. Some recipes may also include sesame oil, red chili peppers, and other flavorings. The ingredients are fermented and then blended into a smooth, thick sauce.
Why is Hoisin Sauce a good substitute for soy sauce? Hoisin sauce provides a similar umami flavor but with additional sweetness and complexity. It works well in dishes where you want a sweet and savory element, such as in barbecue sauces, glazes, and marinades.
Hoisin Sauce Sodium Content: Between a wide range of 200-800 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Maggi Seasoning (Grade B)
What is Maggi Seasoning? This condiment originated in Switzerland but has become popular in many parts of the world, especially in Asia. It has a dark color and a strong, savory flavor. Maggi seasoning is often used to enhance the umami taste in a variety of dishes. It is a fermented product typically made from water, salt, soy sauce, wheat, and various flavorings.
Why is Maggi Seasoning a good substitute for soy sauce? Maggi seasoning shares a similar savory flavor, and is often used in soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. It is a good bit stronger than soy sauce, so start with only ½ of the soy sauce you would ordinarily use and taste test it from there.
Maggi Seasoning Sodium Content: Between 1000-1200 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Miso (Grade B-)
What is Miso? Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (a type of fungus) and sometimes other ingredients like rice, barley, or other grains. The mixture is then left to ferment for several months to several years, resulting in a thick paste with a unique, complex flavor. You can find it in white, red, and brown varieties.
Why is Miso a good substitute for soy sauce? Miso has a rich, umami flavor that works well in marinades, dressings, soups, and stews like soy sauce does. As it is not a liquid, but a paste, you can’t just substitute it in equal proportions to soy sauce. Use 1:1 as a planning figure, but mix miso paste into, say stir-fry a bit at a time until you know how much is right for your preferences.
Miso Sodium Content: Between 500-900 mg per tablespoon. There is a lot of variation between manufacturers, so check the labels.
Mushroom Broth (Grade B-)
What is Mushroom Broth? It is a liquid made by simmering mushrooms in water, extracting their flavors, and creating a savory broth. Shiitake or porcini mushrooms are typically used along with other ingredients like garlic, onions, herbs, and sometimes soy sauce or miso.
Why is Mushroom Broth a good substitute for soy sauce? It provides a rich umami flavor, fairly similar to soy sauce, but not typically as salty. It is a good option for those looking for a considerable reduction in sodium, or looking for non-GMO or gluten-free options.
Mushroom Broth Sauce Sodium Content: Between 30-50 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Balsamic Vinegar (Grade C+)
What is Balsamic Vinegar? Balsamic is a dark, concentrated, and flavorful vinegar that originated in Italy. It is made from freshly crushed grape juice, typically from Trebbiano grapes, which are known for their high sugar content.
It’s made by simmering grape juice to create a syrup, which is then fermented and aged in wooden barrels for several years. The aging process contributes to the vinegar’s rich, complex flavor and thick consistency.
Why is Balsamic Vinegar a substitute for soy sauce? Balsamic vinegar has a sweet, tangy, and sometimes slightly woody flavor. While it won’t provide the same umami flavor as soy sauce, it is often used in marinades, dressings, and sauces. Many people keep it in the pantry, so in a pinch it can be used as a substitute.
Balsamic Vinegar Sodium Content: There is substantial variation between brands, but it generally only contains 5-15 mg of sodium per tablespoon.
Salt (Grade C)
Why is Salt a possible sub for soy sauce? Salt really isn’t a good substitute, but if you just want to up the salty flavor of your food or recipe, it can work in a pinch. It is a straightforward way to enhance the taste of food without introducing additional flavors as all of our other recommendations will do.
Salt Sodium Content: A tablespoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. We think it unlikely you would use this much salt in replacing soy sauce, but even a small amount is very high in sodium.
Homemade Substitute for Soy Sauce (Ungraded, but we like it)
If you want to make soy sauce at home it’s pretty labor intensive as it involves cooking, mashing, and fermenting wheat and soybeans. To make a soy sauce substitute, on the other hand, can be quick and easy. Here is just one way:
- 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dark molasses
- 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Step 1: Mixing
- In a bowl, combine Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, and dark molasses.
- Stir until the molasses is well incorporated into the liquid ingredients.
Step 2: Seasoning
- Add salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper to the mixture.
- Mix well until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Step 3: Adjusting
- Taste the sauce and adjust the salt and pepper according to your preference. You can also add a bit more molasses if you prefer a sweeter taste.
Step 4: Storing
- Transfer the soy sauce substitute to a clean, airtight container.
Step 5: Resting
- Let the substitute sauce rest for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
This homemade soy sauce substitute works well in various recipes, such as stir-fries, marinades, and dipping sauces. Adjust the ingredients to match your taste preferences, and feel free to experiment with additional seasonings like perhaps ginger or a touch of sesame oil.
Substitutes For Dark Soy Sauce
All soy sauce subs are not the same, and some work better for dark soy sauce than others, so let’s first look at the differences.
Dark Soy Sauce vs. light Soy Sauce
Color: Dark soy sauce has a deep, rich brown hue, often close to mahogany or even black. Light soy sauce, on the other hand, has a lighter amber or golden color.
Flavor: Dark soy sauce has a more intense and complex flavor. It is less salty than light soy sauce and has a slightly sweet and savory taste. It often undergoes a longer fermentation process, which contributes to its deeper flavor and thicker consistency. Light soy sauce is saltier and has a lighter, fresher taste. It is used to enhance the natural flavors of ingredients without overpowering them.
Consistency: Dark soy sauce is generally thicker and more viscous than light soy sauce. Its consistency can add body and a glossy finish to dishes. Light soy sauce is lighter and more fluid.
Usage: Dark soy sauce is often used in small quantities to add color and flavor to dishes. It’s commonly used in braised dishes, marinades, and for coloring in recipes. Light soy sauce is used more as a seasoning during cooking or as a dipping sauce. It is versatile and works well in stir-fries, soups, and dipping sauces.
Cooking Time: Some dark soy sauces are aged for a longer time, contributing to their robust flavor. This makes them suitable for dishes with longer cooking times. Light soy sauce is typically used in dishes with shorter cooking times to preserve its lighter flavor.
The Best Dark Soy Sauce Substitutes
- Teriyaki Sauce
- Hoisin Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Oyster Sauce
- Coconut Aminos
- Homemade Soy Sauce
Low Sodium Soy Sauce Substitutes
For a low, or even, very low sodium alternative we recommend:
- Coconut Aminos
- Teriyaki Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Mushroom Broth
- Balsamic Vinegar (its lack of sodium is its best feature as a substitute)
Soy Free Soy Sauce Alternatives
If you want the taste of soy sauce without the soy itself, we recommend:
- Coconut Aminos
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Fish Sauce
This wraps up our look at soy sauce replacements. We hope you found one or more you want to use, and as always happy cooking!