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Top 7 Substitutes for Soy Sauce

Top 7 Substitutes for Soy Sauce
Olga Yastremska /123RF

There are many substitutes for soy sauce. Some work best in combination, others for specific dishes. Be prepared to compromise.

Once upon a time, soy sauce was just for Asian food—sushi, Chinese, and Korean dishes. But today, soy sauce found its way into an astounding number of dishes.

I often use a bit of soy sauce when marinating steaks or roasting a chicken, or I add it to mayonnaise to make a stunning dip for French fries.

Soy sauce is a must-have cooking ingredient and condiment. But unfortunately, we don’t have a limitless supply, and some people need to avoid it for health reasons.

That’s why we’ve found these seven alternatives. They will not drastically alter your food, but some work better than others on certain dishes.

But do remember, using substitutes for soy sauce is a compromise. Nothing will completely replace it—there will be pros and cons, and this will depend on what you want to use soy sauce for.

What Can I Substitute for Soy Sauce?

Here are our top seven suggestions for substituting soy sauce.

1. Table Salt

No doubt, table salt is a potential soy sauce substitute you must have in your kitchen, making it one of the most practical if all you need is a salty pinch and you have no better alternatives.

Obviously, salt will not work as a soy sauce substitute alone if you need to add a sauce to your dish, so you should find something appropriate to combine it with according to the dish.

How to make it work: A dash of salt could work on its own, or as soy sauce is higher in sodium than many of the other substitutes in this list, table salt can be used to make them a better substitute.

2. Balsamic Vinegar

For some meat sauces, I combine balsamic vinegar and soy sauce—both are acidic and similar in color.

Other types of vinegar can also be used (including a specific variant in this article), though balsamic will likely be an obvious choice for many because of the color and consistency.

How to make it work: Don’t overdo it, a small amount will likely do. Balsamic vinegar is a bit sweeter than soy sauce, so you may want to counter that with a bit of salt. Olive brine can also work.

3. Fish Sauce

Made from fish (so, not okay for vegetarians and vegans) to add extra flavor to fishy meals, fish sauce, like soy sauce, is umami but packed with a salty-sweet taste.

Unsurprisingly, fish sauce is the best substitute for soy sauce when making something for fish. So, it’s probably not advised for chicken or other meats that don’t use fins to swim.

How to make it work: When appropriate, fish sauce can replace soy sauce on a one to basis. To weaken the fishy taste, you can add a bit of lemon juice. Fish sauce will not provide the same color.

4. Umeboshi Vinegar

Another key vinegar, umeboshi vinegar is common in Japan and made of plums. Like soy sauce, it is salty but packs a more flavorful punch.

Umeboshi vinegar will not be an issue in dishes where a stronger, fruiter taste will not change everything. It is also a great option for vegetarians, especially over fish sauce.

How to make it work: To make umeboshi vinegar a better substitute for soy sauce, add coconut aminos or a bit of salt. A one-to-one swap should work fine.

5. Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce are like cousins and often meet in marinades. Both are salty fermented sauces that add flavor to dishes and are dark with a similar consistency.

But do note, Worcestershire might not be vegetarian because it may use anchovies, just like fish sauce. So, for some, Worcestershire sauce is a no-go.

How to make it work: Add salt to make the taste closer to soy sauce. Avoid adding too many spices or herbs because Worcestershire sauce already has plenty.

6. Bouillon

Bouillon can be found in many online recipes for replacing soy sauce and is best used in soups or stews, and—depending on the variety—fish and chicken.

Store-bought bouillon will need to be mixed with water or a sauce you’ve prepared, so like salt, for it to be a successful soy sauce substitute, you will want to combine it with something else from this list.

How to make it work: For the best substitute, add cider vinegar, pepper, and molasses. Try to use what you already have not to get too watery.

7. Tamari

The best till last, supposedly Tamari is the closest thing you’ll find to soy sauce and probably the best alternative if you need something healthier. 

Tamari and soy sauce are made from soybeans using a similar process. However, tamari is lower in sodium and gluten-free.

How to make it work: In most cases, you can swap tamari and soy sauce in equal parts, though, as tamari is richer, you may want to use a little less or water it down to substitute soy sauce.

What’s the Best Substitute for Soy Sauce?

Here’s a quick summary of the best soy sauce substitutes and what they’ll work best with:

  • Closest to soy sauce: tamari.
  • Best for fish: fish sauce.
  • Best for sodium: salt.
  • Best for soups and stews: bouillon.
  • Best for marinades: balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.

In the end, you may want to combine a couple of these condiments to achieve an effective soy sauce substitute but bear in mind that different dishes need different assistance.

And on top of that, don’t add all these ingredients together. You will likely make something very overpowering. Soy sauce should help meals, not invade the dish.

Most substitutes lack the saltiness of soy sauce which is high in sodium and so salt is the obvious companion, though you may find better companions with a similar effect.

There are other things you can use that can create a similar taste to soy sauce, such as dried mushrooms (shiitake are often suggested).

But if you want a soy sauce substitute to be a sauce, mushrooms are not ideal. The texture would completely change which we don’t think is very practical, so we’ve opted not to include them.

Lastly, consider if you really need soy sauce at all. If you are using a wealth of other sauces, herbs, and spices, could it be possible that soy sauce would just be overwhelmed?

If so, don’t seek out a soy sauce alternative (or two), maybe what you’re making is fine enough as it is.

Some last-minute honorable mentions that you also may want to try, aside from the seven above:

  • Molasses.
  • Maggi seasoning sauce.
  • Miso paste.
  • Coconut aminos (works well with umeboshi vinegar, mentioned above).
  • Liquid aminos.

How Much Salt to Substitute for Soy Sauce?

If you decide to use salt alone to substitute soy sauce, do be cautious not to overdo it. While soy sauce is salty, putting salt directly into your cooking, could easily go wrong.

Chloe Nannestad of Tasting Table says to try to put “a quarter teaspoon of salt for every teaspoon of soy sauce” or 2half a teaspoon of salt per serving of your dish.”

Do note, though, Nannestad highlights that this will work only for dishes that don’t rely on soy sauce for much of their flavor.

What Is a Low-Sodium Substitute for Soy Sauce?

Balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce are significantly lower in sodium than soy sauce.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, 100ml of soy sauce contains approximately 5,943.8mg of sodium.

Meanwhile, 100ml of Worcestershire sauce contains 1,126.7mg (five times less), and balsamic vinegar is enormously lower at 25mg (almost 240 times less).

Tamari, while heralded as a healthier alternative to soy sauce, can still be relatively high in sodium, with some brands over 4,000mg per 100ml.

It goes without saying that whatever substitute you decide to use for soy sauce, skip out on the salt which is often needed to create a closer substitute.

Substituting Light and Dark Soy Sauce

The different varieties of soy sauce can often be categorized as either light soy sauce or dark soy sauce.

As you can guess, you can differentiate them by color, light soy sauce looks slightly brown and dark soy sauce is closer to black

But the two varieties also serve different purposes and can be substituted in different ways.

What Can I Substitute for Light Soy Sauce?

Light soy sauce is more popular than dark soy sauce, so if you’re not sure which you might need it’s most likely light.

So, with this in mind, you can use most of the substitutes listed above to replace light soy sauce. For example, tamari, Worcestershire sauce, or balsamic vinegar.

What Can I Substitute for Dark Soy Sauce?

Dark soy sauce is great for pork and other meats, and interestingly, while light soy sauce may taste saltier, dark soy sauce actually contains more salt.

The easiest way to substitute dark soy sauce is by mixing light soy sauce with a small amount of sugar.

If you don’t have light soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce or tamari are the best substitutes.

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As children, we’re told not to play with our food. But I find that food tastes best when you experiment with it. I love trying out new recipes and cooking techniques almost as much as I love eating the end result. | LinkedIn | Muck Rack


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