Shoyu is Japanese soy sauce and is arguably the most popular variety of soy sauce in the West. It is used in recipes for a variety of Japanese dishes and condiments. It’s great in gyoza dipping sauce as well as in the glaze for teriyaki chicken. While it helps to have shoyu on hand when making certain dishes, it is far from irreplaceable. Several other soy-based condiments can provide the same flavor profile and color. Here is a look at some of the best shoyu substitutes.
Your best bet: Light Chinese soy sauce
While there are many different varieties of soy sauce across Asia, most that you will find in Asian grocery stores will be either Chinese or Japanese. Light Chinese soy sauce is the best shoyu substitute for a few reasons, including the fact that it has a similar color and consistency. If you shake it, you will notice that light Chinese soy sauce doesn’t coat the inner surface of the bottle the way darker varieties do.
It is also aged, which accounts for the color and some aspects of the flavor. Aging has a lot to do with how light and thin a soy sauce is — the longer it has been aged, the lighter and thinner it becomes.
Light Chinese soy sauce is also a lot like Japanese soy sauce when it comes to ingredients. In the past, Chinese soy sauce was made without wheat while the Japanese included it in shoyu. These days, the ingredients are similar since both types of soy sauce are made with wheat.
Most importantly, light Chinese soy sauce has a stronger and sweeter flavor than the dark varieties. The stronger flavor makes it a better match for shoyu. The lighter color means that you can use it in Japanese dishes with no change to the color of those dishes.
A decent second choice: Tamari
Tamari has a similar appearance and flavor to Japanese soy sauce but it is made with little or no wheat, only soybeans. Shoyu evolved from tamari, which began as a byproduct of miso. Tamari will provide the same umami character your dishes that shoyu would provide.
Tamari does have a thicker consistency and deeper color than shoyu. If the color and consistency are a problem, you remedy them by diluting it with water. If you need a shoyu substitute because you are trying to avoid gluten, note that tamari will be your best bet; however, read the label carefully. While some tamari is gluten-free, others can have trace amounts of it.
For the adventurous (with time on their hands): Homemade shoyu
Soy sauce is not one of those products that people typically think about making at home. Because of the extensive aging time, it is certainly not a great emergency substitute; however, you can certainly use it if you need a shoyu alternative for other reasons. It is entirely possible to make shoyu at home, but it is labor-intensive and can involve a lot of trial and error. You will need to purchase and cook soybeans then allow them to grow mold and ferment with wheat and salt over several months.
Liquid aminos are a popular substitute for all varieties of soy sauce. Liquid aminos provide the umami profile that you find in soy sauce but without as much salt.