Light vs Dark Soy Sauce: What’s the Difference
Soy sauce is one of the world’s oldest condiments and a favorite the globe over when it comes to fresh and healthy Chinese meals. Whether it’s to add some delicious, savory flavor to simple noodles, to use in your stir-fry or create a more elaborate meal, the sauce is versatile and easy to use.
But there’s a lot more to soy sauce than you think, and with two varieties – dark and light – you may be using the wrong sauce in your cooking without realizing. We explore what is the difference between light and dark soy sauce and the best way to cook with both.
What Is Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is the most well-known of the Chinese condiments and was created back in the Second Century AD. Its previous incarnation was known as jiang, a savory paste made from
fermented meat, fish or grain. These ingredients were eventually replaced by the soybean, which has been cultivated by the Chinese for thousands of years. Soy sauce has influenced Chinese cuisine for centuries, with variants of the sauce becoming a staple in other Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam.
There are two main varieties of original soy sauce: light and dark.
How Is Soy Sauce Made?
Although made from soybeans, Chinese soy sauce also contains grains, such as wheat or barley, although there are some gluten-free soy sauce brands available. The basic soy sauce recipe consists of fermented soybeans – made by adding aspergillus mold to the beans and leaving them to ferment for several days – salted water and a variety of roasted grains. The result is a mixture called moromi which is then left to age, from six months to up to a couple of years, before the sauce is strained and pasteurized.
When it comes to the health benefits, there’s a lot to like about soy sauce nutrition. The fermenting process means soy sauce contains enzymes called oligosaccharides which help support happy bacteria in the gut. The sauce is also a source of vitamin B3 as well as antioxidants such as manganese and isoflavonoids. In fact, soy sauce is thought to have 10 times more antioxidants than red wine. Soy sauce is also protein rich although it’s high in sodium too.
The Difference Between The Sauces
The most obvious differences between light and dark soy sauce are their color and texture. We take a more in-depth look at both varieties.
As the name suggests, light soy sauce is almost translucent and is a light reddish-brown in color, with a thin consistency – much thinner than dark soy. Produced from the first press of fermented soybeans, light soy can be a little more expensive than the darker variety, but its moreish salty and savory taste makes this sauce super versatile in Chinese cooking.
How to use: The thinner texture makes light soy sauce ideal for seasoning and dipping although it is also used widely in cooking. More salty than dark soy and without the added sweetness, light soy brings a delicious savory flavor to your food and can be used as a light sauce in a stir-fry or as an additional seasoning to a more complicated Chinese dish.
Light Soy is also widely used as a dipping sauce for your favorite Chinese appetizer, from crispy duck pancakes to spring rolls or dumplings. You can also use it to dress cold dishes or whip up with other ingredients such as rice wine vinegar and sesame oil for a delicious Chinese-style salad dressing.
Aged for a longer period of time than the lighter variety, it’s the color and consistency that sets dark soy sauce apart. During production, molasses or caramel is added to the sauce, along with a little corn starch to make dark soy deeper in color and thicker in texture. The result is a rich, glossy sauce that has a more full-bodied flavor but is also less salty than its lighter counterpart.
How to use: dark soy sauce is predominately used for cooking as well as to add color and a dense, slightly sweet flavor to marinades and sauces. Dark soy sauce really needs heating to bring out all those flavors which is why it’s such a staple of Chinese wok cuisine.
Dark soy sauce is an essential ingredient for red-cooked dishes – Shanghai-style braised meat or vegetable dishes – but can also be used in dipping sauce recipes. Dark soy is also generally used as a way to add the final touch of flavor and seasoning during the last stages of cooking.
The Final Word
So, there you have it, the difference between light and dark soy sauce. Used on their own, or together as part of multi-dish meal, you not only add flavor, color and consistency to your favorite Chinese dish, or side order, but there’s also a host of nutrients and healthy protein in both varieties. In short, soy sauce is the ultimate versatile condiment which is why a couple of bottles of light and dark soy sauce should always be in your kitchen!
- Soy sauce recipes – BBC Good Food
- Are You Using The Right Soy Sauce? Here’s How To Find Out – HuffPost