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5 Types of Chinese Soy Sauce

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Soy sauce is widely used throughout East and SE Asia, from Japanese shoyu to Indonesian kecap manis. However, the Chinese invented this liquid sauce made from fermented soybeans. Here are the top five Chinese soy sauces, plus two of the more popular Asian soy sauces from outside of China:

1. Light Soy Sauce (thin soy sauce)

Used in stir-fry sauces, marinades, soups and even dipping sauces, light soy sauce is the most commonly used type of soy sauce in Chinese cooking. It’s what most North Americans would think of as regular soy sauce – use it whenever a Chinese recipe calls for "soy sauce," without further clarification. But don’t let the name fool you – 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 sodium-reduced soy sauces (such as Lee Kum Kee’s Salt Reduced Light Soy Sauce), where the level of sodium has been reduced by up to 40 percent.

Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce Substitute

2. Dark Soy Sauce

As the name implies, dark soy sauce is darker than light soy sauce, with a richer, sweeter flavor, thanks to a longer aging period and the addition of caramel and sometimes molasses. It is used to lend flavor and enhance the color of a dish, for example red cooked dishes. You’ll frequently find it paired with light soy sauce in recipes.

Light or Dark Soy Sauce? An Easy Way to Tell the Difference

3. Mushroom Flavored Soy Sauce

This is a dark soy sauce that is infused with either dried straw mushrooms or (less common) dried Chinese black mushrooms. It’s used in place of dark soy sauce to add an earthy flavor to dishes, and also as a table condiment. Feel free to try using it as a replacement for regular dark soy sauce in recipes, particularly red cooked dishes.

4. Thick Soy Sauce (also called Soy Paste or Soy Jam)

Thick soy sauces are sweeter and have a thicker consistency than dark soy sauce, due to the addition of sugar, more wheat in the fermentation process, and sometimes, a starch thickener. It takes only a small amount to add flavor to fried rice dishes.

Learn more about fried rice

5. Shrimp Flavored Soy Sauce

Popular in Eastern China, in this case the soy sauce is infused with the brine from dried shrimp (dried prawns).

6. Other Types of Asian Soy Sauce: Indonesian Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce):

Ubiquitous in Indonesian cooking, Kecap manis is a thick, very sweet soy sauce that is made with fermented soybeans and a variety of sugar and spices, including palm sugar, star anise and garlic. It is used as a condiment and also in cooking, for example in the famous Indonesian fried rice dish Nasi Goreng.

Learn more about Nasi Goreng

7. Other Types of Asian Soy Sauce: Japanese Tamari

A byproduct of making miso, tamari is thicker than other Japanese soy sauces, with a rich color and flavor. Authentic tamari contains very little or no wheat, making it suitable for gluten-free diets. However, in the 1960’s, George Oshawa (credited with first popularizing the macrobiotic diet), introduced a Japanese soy sauce containing wheat that he labeled tamari into the United States. Today, both wheat-containing and wheat-free varieties of tamari are sold, so those with a gluten intolerance should read the bottle label carefully.

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