I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different sweet soy sauce (also know as kecap manis) substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding sweet soy sauce is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best sweet soy sauce substitutes are other varieties of soy sauce, homemade kecap manis, or soy sauce with a pinch of sugar. Teriyaki, hoisin, and oyster sauce are convenient options you can find in your local store. For a gluten-free alternative, use tamari or coconut aminos mixed with sugar.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made nasi goreng to try out all the sweet soy sauce substitutes I could find.
Sweet soy sauce (or kecap manis) is a dark, syrupy Indonesian condiment. It’s sweeter than your regular soy sauce, but you still get a salty, umami taste.
I was looking for a substitute with the same sweet-savory combo to jazz up my dishes.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Other soy sauce varieties||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Homemade kecap manis||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Soy Sauce + sweetener||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Teriyaki sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Hoisin sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Oyster sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, adding brown sugar to taste||8/10|
Common dishes that use sweet soy sauce and the substitutes
Here are some popular ways to use sweet soy sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For marinades – other kinds of soy sauce, soy sauce + sweetener
- For stir-fries and braises – homemade kecap manis, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce
- For dipping sauces and glazes – other kinds of soy sauce, homemade kecap manis, teriyaki
Other soy sauce varieties
Kecap manis isn’t the only soy sauce in the world with a sweet twist.
Here are some other varieties you might find in your local Asian market that will work well as a substitute:
- Thai Sweet Soy Sauce – this soy sauce nails kecap’s sweet-savory notes and syrupy consistency. My nasi goreng tasted very authentic.
- Thai Dark Soy Sauce – this soy sauce has added palm sugar molasses to add sweetness, but it’s not as sweet as kecap manis.
- Chinese Dark Soy Sauce – like the previous soy sauce, this is also made with molasses, so it has a prominent hint of sweetness.
How to substitute: replace sweet soy sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade kecap manis
Homemade kecap manis
If you can’t find kecap manis, you can make it from scratch using your trusty bottle of soy sauce and a couple of added ingredients.
I used this recipe from Daring Gourmet, which only took about 20 minutes to make.
The most important ingredient is the sweetener – this recipe recommends using palm or brown sugar.
Palm sugar will impart a rich, caramel-like flavor. While brown sugar will be sweeter.
Then to add more depth of flavor, spices like cloves, garlic, and star anise are added.
How to substitute: replace sweet soy sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade kecap manis.
Soy sauce + sweetener
For a quick and easy kecap manis replacement, simply combine soy sauce with a sweetener of your choice.
Palm sugar or molasses will give you the closest flavor to sweet soy sauce, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting with different sweeteners!
You can try honey, maple syrup, or even stevia for a sugar-free alternative.
If you’re after a gluten-free option, consider using tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.
This substitute will give you the sweet-and-savory flavor of kecap manis, but wont have as much complexity.
Pro tip: the gluten-free options already have a subtle sweetness, so you won’t need to add as much sweetener.
How to substitute: replace sweet soy sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with your soy sauce and sweetener mixture.
Teriyaki sauce is another solid and easy-to-find alternative to sweet soy sauce.
This beloved Japanese condiment boasts a similar sweet and salty flavor profile, although it’s less sweet.
Good thing that’s an easy fix – just mix your teriyaki sauce with a dash of sugar.
Westernised brands of teriyaki sauce typically have a thicker consistency than sweet soy sauce, but you can easily thin it out with a bit of water.
How to substitute: replace kecap manis in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with teriyaki sauce.
Hoisin had mixed reviews as a sweet soy sauce substitute, but it worked wonders for me!
Hoisin has a distinctive flavor thanks to the 5-spice mixture (which is made up of things like star anise and cloves). And kecap manis also have hints of these warming spices, so I thought they were an okay flavor match.
The main difference is that hoisin sauce is saltier than kecap manis (so I recommend holding back on added extra salt) and has a deeper umami taste.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing! My nasi goreng didn’t taste super authentic, but it was still delicious.
How to substitute: replace kecap manis in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with hoisin sauce.
Oyster sauce is another convenient alternative to sweet soy sauce.
It has a salty-sweet flavor, although I found its sweetness too subtle in my nasi goreng.
A dash of brown sugar will help enhance the existing caramel-like notes of the oyster sauce. Add the sugar in slowly to taste.
How to substitute: replace kecap manis in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with oyster sauce.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks for sweet soy sauce substitutes, but they’re not the only options.
Here are some other options you can use if you have them on hand:
- Eel sushi sauce – this dipping sauce has a soy sauce base that’ll give you similar salty, umami notes to sweet soy sauce. And although its sweetness is more sugary compared to kecap manis’ caramel notes. Kikkoman is a popular brand that sells this.
- Tian mian sauce – this is also called sweet bean sauce, although it’s usually made with wheat flour. It has a sweet-savory flavor reminiscent of sweet soy sauce but also comes with a funky kick due to fermentation.
Substitutes to avoid
These substitute options were mentioned in a few different places, so I tested them with my nasi goreng. But they didn’t work out, so I don’t recommend them.
- Fish sauce – this has sweet undertones, but it’s much more salty and briney than sweet. It added a nice hit of umami to my nasi goreng, but they flavor was too far away from kecap manis.
- Worcestershire sauce – Worcestershire sauce also has a nice umami flavor. But it’s very savory and meaty rather than sweet. The more complex flavor profile can easily overpower your dish and I don’t think the flavor works that well with other Asian ingredients.
Sweet Soy Sauce Substitutes
- 1 cup soy sauce use any brand you like
- 1¼ cup palm sugar or brown sugar
- 1 tbsp molasses
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and halved
- 2 whole star anise
- 2 whole cloves
- Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat medium-low and let the mixture cook for about 10-15 minutes. Stir frequently until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to thicken.
- Turn off the heat. Leave it to rest until completely cool before fishing out the whole spices. Transfer to a jar with a lid and store in the fridge.