What’s the Best Substitute for Soy Sauce? Here Are 10 Delicious Options
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It gives marinades a boost of umami, it makes a mean sauce for stir-fries and you can’t have sushi or dumplings without it on the side. Yep, soy sauce is one of our pantry heroes. It’s salty, tangy and savory in all the right ways, not to mention versatile. But if you have a soy or wheat allergy, the condiment is off-limits. Or maybe you’re watching your sodium intake and just trying to avoid it. Is there a worthy substitute for soy sauce? Yep, in fact, there are ten.

But first, what is soy sauce?

Chinese in origin, the salty brown liquid known as shoyu is actually made from a fermented paste of soybeans, roasted grains, brine (aka saltwater) and a mold called kōji. (Fun fact: It dates back to the Western Han dynasty in 206 B.C. and was historically used as a way to stretch salt, a luxurious and expensive commodity, per Science and Civilization in China, Volume 6.)

Traditional soy sauce takes months to make. First, soybeans are soaked and cooked, and wheat is roasted and crushed. Then the mixture is inoculated with kōji, mixed with brine and left to brew. The liquid is pressed from the solids, pasteurized and bottled, and voilà, it finally ends up on your table. Depending on the country and region of origin, soy sauce can taste different from bottle to bottle, and there are endless varieties and flavors. (Light, dark, sweet and thick are common ones.)

How to use soy sauce: 

Soy sauce does double duty, acting as a seasoning while also adding layers of umami flavor. You can use it in any recipe that would benefit from a savory boost, from simple fried eggs and steamed rice to sautéed vegetables, soups, marinades, salad dressings and sauces. Here are a few of our favorite soy sauce applications:

If you’re avoiding soy sauce for dietary reasons (or just plain ran out), don’t worry. You can substitute other comparable ingredients. The following ten substitutes for soy sauce can be swapped with success, but keep in mind that they aren’t exact matches and might change the flavor of the final dish. We always recommend starting slow and tasting as you go (instead of substituting in a 1:1 ratio) for the best results.

The Best Soy Sauce Substitutes

1. Tamari

If you’re not dealing with a soy allergy or monitoring your sodium intake, tamari is the closest in taste to soy sauce. That’s because it’s also made from soybeans and brewed in a similar way, but it doesn’t contain wheat, so it’s gluten-free. (However, some brands contain trace amounts of wheat, so check the label if you’re gluten-free.) This sauce can replace soy in a 1:1 ratio since it’s similarly saline. San-J is a favorite brand.

Try it in: Any dish that calls for soy sauce

2. Worcestershire sauce

Another fermented sauce, this British condiment usually contains a blend of malt vinegar, anchovies, spices, sugar, salt, garlic, onions, tamarind extract and molasses. It has the same umami quality as soy sauce, but much less sodium and no soy or gluten. (But if you’re allergic to shellfish or seafood, you’ll want to skip it.) We like Lee & Perrins Worcestershire.

Try it in: Dishes that use soy sauce for flavor but not saltiness, since Worcestershire is less salty

3. Coconut aminos

A sauce made from fermented coconut sap, coconut aminos has an umami flavor profile that’s similar to soy sauce. It’s a little bit sweeter, but it’s also lower in sodium (about 90 milligrams per teaspoon compared to 290 milligrams in soy sauce) and gluten-free. You can find brands like Coconut Secret in health food stores, well-stocked groceries and online.

Try it in: Any dish that calls for soy sauce

4. Liquid aminos

Liquid aminos (such as Bragg) is a liquid protein concentrate that’s made from soybeans but not fermented. Like coconut aminos, it’s gluten-free, but it does contain soy and has a similar sodium content. It tastes a lot like soy sauce, albeit milder and sweeter.

Try it in: Any dish that calls for soy sauce

5. Dried mushrooms

If you need a substitute for soy sauce that’s gluten- and soy-free and low in sodium, dried shiitake mushrooms can work in a pinch. Rehydrate the mushrooms in water, then use that soaking liquid in place of the soy sauce. It’s not the closest substitute in the bunch, but it packs an umami punch. You can find dried shiitakes in most grocery stores. (Look in the mushroom section).

Try it in: A dish that calls for only a small amount of soy sauce, since the flavor is less concentrated

6. Fish sauce

This flavorful condiment is made from fish or krill that’s fermented in salt for up to two years. Fish sauce has a savory, umami quality like soy sauce, but you probably won’t want to substitute it in equal amounts, since it’s more pungent than shoyu. Red Boat Fish Sauce is chef-approved and our go-to brand, but Squid is another, more affordable option.

Try it in: Any dish that calls for soy sauce

7. Miso paste

Like soy sauce, miso paste is a fermented ingredient made from soybeans, salt and kōji (although there are many varieties made with other grains like barley or rice). It’s salty and savory like soy sauce, too, and when blended with water, can be used as a substitute in a pinch. Miso Master is our recommended brand for its quality and selection.

Try it in: Soups and sauces with a lot of liquid, so the miso can melt in

8. Maggi seasoning

Maggi sauce is a Swiss condiment made from fermented wheat proteins, which means it has a ton of savory umami flavor. (It’s almost like a liquid version of Vegemite.) Since it’s particularly concentrated, you’ll want to add it to your dish in small increments.

Try it in: Any dish that calls for soy sauce

9. Anchovies

Swapping anchovies for soy sauce won’t work in every recipe, we’ll admit. But the tiny, chef-approved tinned fishes can add a punch of savory flavor, and they really don’t taste fishy—promise. If you’re making something like a cooked sauce or curry, a few finely chopped anchovies will melt right in. (But this wouldn’t be our first choice, just FYI.) Ortiz is our favorite brand, if you’re willing to splurge a little.

Try it in: Cooked sauces that call for soy sauce, which will give the anchovies a chance to melt into the dish

10. Salt

Just like salt, soy sauce is a seasoning for food. And while its flavor is much more complex than plain old Diamond Crystal (our preferred brand of kosher salt), you can use salt as a substitute in a pinch. Just keep in mind that you’ll lose the umami factor.

Try it in: A dish that doesn’t rely on soy sauce for all of its flavor, since salt is less complex

Does soy sauce go bad?

Maybe the reason you’re out of soy sauce is that you tossed an old bottle when you deep-cleaned your fridge. But even though the expiration date passed, you probably didn’t need to throw it away. Here’s why: Since soy sauce is a fermented product, it contains microorganisms that help preserve it for quite some time, even at room temperature. (Think of all those soy sauce packets you get with takeout—they’re not usually refrigerated.)

An unopened bottle of soy sauce can last as long as two or three years unrefrigerated, and you can safely leave an opened bottle out of the refrigerator for up to one year. Even then, it likely won’t spoil, though it will definitely lose some flavor. Storing it in the fridge will keep it tasting at its prime.

Want to make a homemade substitute for soy sauce? Here’s how.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons beef bouillon (regular or low-sodium)
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Pinch of ground ginger
Pinch of garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Step 1: Combine the ingredients

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the beef bouillon, molasses, apple cider vinegar, ground ginger and garlic powder with ¾ cup water.

Step 2: Simmer and reduce

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced to your desired flavor strength, 10 to 12 minutes.

Step 3: Season

Season to taste with a few cracks of freshly ground black pepper. The mixture will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

RELATED: Does Soy Sauce Need to Be Refrigerated? Because Our Fridge Is About to Burst

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