This week’s Tea Time Talk covers the difference between dark soy sauce vs. light soy sauce and when to use one or the other.
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What we’re lovin’ this week
We’re down to the wire, with 8 days left until our wedding day. We tripled down on batch cooking and defrosted frozen meals to save time (reaping the seeds we sowed weeks ago).
- Bison chili with black beans and chickpeas: Inspired by John at John the Dev, we added chipotle to the slow-cooked Instant Pot chili. It was smoky and rich.
- Israeli-style hummus (recipe from my friend Yan): Made with dried chickpeas. They taste far better than canned chickpeas and are much cheaper.
- Kari’s Shiitake Mushroom Meat Sauce: Over steamed vegetables and rice noodles. We froze a few cups so we can enjoy this when we’re back from Sacramento.
Try out this recipe
Get the recipe for Kari’s Shiitake Mushroom Meat Sauce.
I can’t stop thinking about…
How different light soy sauce and dark soy sauce are.
After almost 3 decades of pouring soy sauce over my food, it’s intuitive when to use dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, and when to mix both sauces.
In writing the recipe for Kari’s Shiitake Mushroom Meat Sauce, it became obvious that the difference between the two is not clear to most people who didn’t grow up eating Chinese food. Kind of like the difference between concealer vs. foundation and why some people wear both.
Light soy sauce is what comes to mind if you suddenly think “soy sauce”. It is the salty soy sauce you eat with sushi and find most commonly in non-Asian grocery stores.
Light soy sauce
- Is lighter in color and thinner than dark soy sauce
- Is saltier and doesn’t have a rich caramel flavor
- Is designed for stir fries, porridge, eggs, silken tofu, and other dishes where you want to add salt and some soy sauce umami without masking the other flavors
- Offers a refreshing taste
For example, use light soy sauce with silken tofu.
Ingredients in my Kimlan Light Soy Sauce: water, salt, soybeans, wheat, sugar.
Dark soy sauce
- Is darker in color and thicker than light soy sauce
- Is less saltier and has a deep, sweet molasses-like flavor
- Is designed for braising, stewing (like pork belly), heavy stir fries (like the Northern Chinese style with a lot of chili peppers), and other dishes where you want richness
- Offers a full-bodied and bold taste
For example, use dark soy sauce with marinated tofu cakes.
Ingredients in my Lee Kum Kee Dark Soy Sauce: water, salt, caramel color, sugar, soybeans, wheat.
When do you add both dark soy sauce and light soy sauce?
In the Kari’s Shiitake Mushroom Meat Sauce recipe, I call for both dark and light soy sauce. Of course, if you only have access to one type of soy sauce, then use whatever is available to you.
I will use both dark and light together because I want the richness of dark soy sauce especially when I’m braising meat. I want the dark soy sauce to caramelize the ground meat and give it a full-bodied punch. It is a similar effect to when you add red wine to meat stews and braises.
To balance the richness, I want the salty and refreshing umami that light soy sauce brings. It adds a crispness that accompanies steamed vegetables and salad well. Too much dark soy sauce and you end up with a heavy meat sauce that feels overwhelming after just 3-4 bites.
Next time you’re wondering which soy sauce to use, experiment with adding one and later adding both. Notice how the light and dark soy sauces change the flavor of your dish.
Which soy sauce is your favorite? Are you a dark soy sauce lover (like Alex is)? Or do you prefer light soy sauce?