If you love eating and making Chinese food but are wondering why your home cooked meals don’t have the same color, depth, and flavor as restaurants or take out, I’m here to tell you! The secret ingredient is *dark* soy sauce. Soy sauce is a pretty common ingredient, and most home cooks are well versed with regular soy sauce, but do you know about dark soy sauce?

What is dark soy sauce?

Dark soy sauce 老抽 or lǎo chōu is a thick, super opaque, slightly sweet soy sauce. Just like light or regular soy sauce, it’s for flavoring, but more so for adding that classic caramel color to a variety of dishes. It’s darker than regular soy sauce because it’s been aged longer.

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What is the difference between dark and light soy sauce?

  • Light soy sauce, also just referred to as soy sauce, is light in color, almost a see through reddish brown, and thin in viscosity. It’s salty and delightful and essential to Chinese cooking. It’s used for seasoning as well as for dipping.
  • Dark soy sauce is thicker, darker, and tastes slightly less salty then regular/light soy sauce. It’s almost black and has the look of soy sauce, but reduced. It is for flavor, but mainly for adding color to dishes. The color comes from a longer fermentation of the soy bean and there’s a very mild minute sweetness to it as well.

What is it sauce used for?

It’s mainly used in braised dishes like: three cup chicken, stir fried noodles like bork belly and kale fried noodles, and tossed noodles, like lo mein. You only need a tiny bit, but it adds so much color and flavor!

scallion noodles | www.iamafoodblog.com


There are two main brands that we prefer:

As a general rule, go for naturally brewed, “superior” or “premium” soy sauce.

Where to buy

You can almost always find it in Asian grocery stores or online. Sometimes, a well stocked grocery store might have it in the International aisle.

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Dark soy sauce substitute

There’s no real substitute for it but if you don’t have any dark soy sauce you can omit it or add a tiny bit more regular soy sauce. Your final dish won’t have the same color and flavor as intended, but it won’t ruin your dish. Warning: reducing regular soy sauce will not achieve the same effect.

How to use

Most Chinese recipes call for a combination of light and dark soy sauces for a balance between flavor, color, and salt content. If you use just light soy sauce, your dish will be salty, but very light in color and not balanced in flavor. If you use just dark soy, your dish will end up strong tasting and be very dark. Use light soy sauce to add saltiness and add a bit of dark soy to bump up the umami and color.

Chinese sticky rice with sambal oelek | www.iamafoodblog.com

Recipes that use dark soy sauce:


  1. Sabrina says:

    no, never knew or distinguished light from dark soy sauces! Makes sense that a dark version would be aged versus not aged for light, and yes that’s one of many many things that separate my cooking from a restaurant, but nice to add one more arrow to the quiver so to speak, thank you!

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