Let’s face it: there are some things in life you simply can’t live without. If you’re a keto dieter, that list includes butter and cheese. But have you ever found yourself in the middle of making dinner and realized that you’ve run out of your favorite sweet soy sauce?
Or maybe you’re on a paleo diet and want to add some teriyaki flavor to your chicken stir-fry. You could make an emergency trip to the store or get creative with these sweet soy sauce substitutes.
You can always make some homemade Kecap Manis or substitute regular soy sauce and some sugar, coconut aminos, sweetened tamari, or oyster sauce to name a few options.
What is Sweet Soy Sauce or Kecap Manis?
Sweet soy sauce or kecap manis is a thick, dark, and sweet sauce made from soybeans. It’s used in many Asian dishes for the added umami flavor. It’s made by boiling down soy sauce with palm sugar and other spices.
In Indonesian cuisine, it’s commonly used as a condiment for nasi goreng (fried rice), lontong (rice cakes), and ayam goreng (fried chicken).
It’s darker than your average regular soy sauce and has a much thicker, more syrupy, consistency. The additional sweetness comes from palm sugar or molasses. Sometimes you’ll find additional spices too, like cinnamon, peppercorns, coriander, clove, and anise.
Sweet soy sauce is a popular addition to marinades and glazes for meats, and a flavor additive to stir-fries and many dishes.
Can You Use Regular Soy Sauce Instead of Sweet Soy Sauce?
Regular soy sauce is saltier, less sweet, and less syrupy than sweet soy sauce. Regular soy sauce is made from soybeans, whereas sweet soy sauce has additional palm sugar.
Regular soy sauce has a darker color than sweet soy sauce so it’s not as obvious when you use regular instead of the real thing.
You can’t simply swap out sweet soy sauce for regular soy sauce. The flavor profiles are too different to make the recipe taste anywhere near the same.
If you want to use regular soy sauce, you’ll need to sweeten it first. Check out any of the options below to use your favorite soy sauce.
What Can I Use Instead of Sweet Soy Sauce?
There’s always the option of sweetening something you already have at home. The best option is probably trying your hand at making your own homemade Kecap Manis.
1. Homemade Kecap Manis
It’s not a hard job making your own sweet soy sauce. As long as you have soy sauce and a sweetener you can easily make it on your stovetop.
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar (coconut or brown sugar are also options)
- Star anise is optional
Bring your ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently.
You don’t want a violent boil. If that starts, remove it from the heat while stirring and get it to settle. You don’t want to burn the sugar.
Keep cooking until it reaches it thickens to a similar texture to maple syrup.
2. Soy Sauce with brown sugar
Mix equal parts of brown sugar and your average soy sauce (like Kikkoman soy sauce). For instance if you need ½ cup of sweet soy sauce, then mix together ¼ cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup of soy sauce.
You’ll need to heat this mixture enough to dissolve the sugar. This can easily be done in the microwave.
If you don’t want to sit at the stove and boil your own sweet soy sauce, this is your best combination. You won’t get the typical caramel flavors in real sweet sauce, but you’ll still get the sweet umami flavors for the dish.
3. Soy sauce with palm sugar
In a pinch, mix equal parts of regular soy sauce with palm sugar. Much like above, this means that if you need 1/2 cup of sweet soy sauce then you’ll mix ¼ cup soy sauce with ¼ cup of palm sugar.
This is a great option if you can’t or don’t want to boil your own sauce and wait for it to cool, or if you only need a small amount.
Because you’re not boiling it, only dissolving the sugar, you won’t achieve the same syrupy consistency, but you’ll still get the sweet umami flavors.
4. Soy sauce with maple syrup
There are several sweeteners you can mix with regular soy sauce that will achieve desirable results. Again, you’ll want to mix equal parts of regular soy sauce and maple syrup.
The nice thing about using maple syrup is that you’ll get that thicker consistency and the caramel, smoky flavors of the palm sugar.
5. Soy sauce with molasses
Sweeten up your soy sauce with the caramelly molasses for a nice touch. The caramel notes in the molasses will come very close to those in palm sugar.
Use equal parts of both ingredients and make sure the molasses dissolves in the soy sauce. If you need a little help, pop it in the microwave for a few seconds.
6. Soy sauce with honey
The last soy sauce and sweetener combo will use honey. In this case, you’re not going to mix equal parts. Honey is exceptionally sweet and as such you’re only going to want to add half the amount of honey compared to soy sauce. If you’re using ½ cup of soy sauce, only add ¼ cup of honey.
You can microwave this combination as well if the honey doesn’t want to incorporate into the soy sauce.
7. Coconut aminos
Coconut aminos are a soy sauce substitute made from coconut sap and sea salt. They’re often used as a healthy alternative to traditional soy sauce, which can contain high amounts of sodium and additives.
Coconut aminos can be found at most health food stores or online retailers like Amazon.
To use coconut aminos in place of sweet soy sauce, simply replace it with equal parts in any recipe! You may need to add more salt if your recipe calls for a lot of sweetened sauces (such as teriyaki).
While not as sweet as kecap manis, it’s a great substitute. If you’re not worried about your sugar levels, you can always add some sweeteners. Even so, it’s a wheat-free, soy-free, and sugar-free option for those on special diets.
8. Sweetened tamari
This Japanese soy sauce is made without any wheat, only soybeans. Regular soy sauce can be made with up to 50% wheat.
Tamari has a richer flavor and is thicker and darker than regular soy sauce. Even with these differences, you can substitute tamari for soy sauce in most recipes.
Just like the recipes above with other soy sauces, you can sweeten tamari with any of the sweeteners like palm sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, and brown sugar.
9. Oyster Sauce
This is a dark sauce made from caramelized oyster juice. Oyster sauce is sweet and slightly salty. Your modern, off-the-shelf, oyster sauce isn’t quite sweet enough though. You’re going to want to add a ¼ part maple syrup and a little splash of dark soy sauce to make it a great sweet soy sauce substitute.
10. Hoisin sauce
This sauce is made from fermented soybean paste which gives it the umami flavors you’re looking for.
With additional ingredients like sweet potato, wheat, rice, sugar, sesame seeds, vinegar, salt, garlic, chili peppers, and other spices, you’re looking at the perfect umami flavors for your dish.
Hoisin sauce tends to be quite thick. You can thin it with water or soy sauce to use it as your perfect sweet soy sauce substitute.
11. Tianmian sauce
Also known as sweet bean sauce, sweet flour sauce, or sweet wheat paste, this thick, dark, paste is used primarily in Chinese cooking. It’s higher in wheat content than your soy sauce with 19 parts wheat to 1 part soybean.
It’s similar to hoisin sauce in texture but has milder sweet flavors like kecap manis.
Add a splash of soy sauce to thin it out a little and use it as a kecap manis substitute.
12. Shoyu sauce
As another Japanese soy sauce, Shoyu sauce has all those umami flavors you’re looking for. It has a salty and sweet umami flavor that’s used in a lot of dishes and as a table sauce. It can be used in marinades and sauces, stir-fries, dressings, and even dips.
You can use it in equal parts to the sweet soy sauce called for in your recipe.
13. Liquid Aminos
This shelf stable cooking additive (not to be confused with coconut aminos) is made from soybeans and therefore has similar flavors compared to soy sauce. With less salt, they have that sweeter umami flavor that you’re looking for.
They’re a great way to get those umami flavors in all your dishes without any added preservatives, chemicals, or artificial colors. Give it a quick taste and make sure it has the sweetness you’re looking for.
Summing it Up
We hope that you’ve found a sweet soy sauce substitute that works well for your needs. This incredibly versatile condiment is a great addition to your kitchen.
If you’re looking for something more traditional, we recommend trying the homemade version or coconut aminos. Both have a similar flavor profile but offer some unique benefits as well!