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Dark soy sauce vs. light soy sauce

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Could someone tell me the difference between the two soy sauces (the Chinese dark & light), as opposed to "light soy sauce" that is the low sodium variety.

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  1. I quote from Shizuo Tsuji's "Japanese Cooking"--the best brief explanation I've found:
    "Light soy sauce is amber in color, is cleaer and thinner...but it is also saltier.... Dark soy sauce has a deeper color and more body. It is less salty and used in relatively greater quantities."
    He goes on to explain that "If you do your shopping at a Japanese store, you will have no problem obtaining both types. All Kikkoman light soy sauce is imported from Japan. It is generally used in smaller quantities than the dark type...." The primary purpose of the light sauce, he says, is esthetic. He also says that the ONLY kind of shoyu Kikkoman makes in the USA is dark. Finally, and most significantly, he asks the question many of us would pose: "If you can obtain only dark soy sauce, how should you proceed if a recipe calls for light soy sauce? Sacrifice aesthetics and use only the dark. If a recipe calls for a combination of light and dark, and you have only the dark on hand, total the amounts and use that quantity of dark soy sauce."
    If it works for Tsuji, it works for me--and has.
    Good luck,
    Gypsy Boy

    1. As Gypsy Boy stated for Japanese soy which is a little sweeter than Chinese soy. The same hold true for Chinese soy. The dark soy is less salty than the lighter one. I was told that the dark soy lends color a favor(not salty favor), where as the light soy for dishes where you want saltyness but not the dark color. Light and dark has nothing to do with the amount of salt in the soy.

      1. In Chinese cookery, "dark" soy sauce has an amount of molasses or caramel added to give the sauce a darker color, a sweeter flavor (it does not have a noticably sweet flavor--the sugar balances the salt, however, which gives it a less salty flavor)and a bit more body than "light" or "thin" soy sauce. If you swirl a partially full bottle of dark soy sauce the way one swirls wine in a glass to view the body of it, you will see that the sauce forms "legs" against the glass--visible thick drips-- the same way a fullbodied red wine does.

        Thin soy sauce does not do the same.

        I have heard authors say that they should be referred to as "thick" and "thin" rather than "dark" and "light." Some brands, in fact, term thier "light" soy sauce, as "thin" soy sauce, adding a bit more murkiness to the issue.

        However, just to completely muddy the issue beyond redemption, there is a condiment that is called "thick" soy sauce which has a large amount of molasses added--it is sold in jars instead of bottles, and is very, very thick, very dark and noticeably sweeter than any other variety of soy sauces. This is what is used in Chinese restaurants to darken fried rice to the typical brown color that we are used to seeing. So, if you ever made fried rice at home and followed a recipe that called for dark or light soy sauce and wondered why your rice was pale--that is because you weren't using the same product they use in restaurants. (Homestyle fried rices are always pale in color--but that is something that most Americans do not know.)

        The uses of dark soy sauce are to provide color and flavor to sauces--in restaurants if you get a dish that has a "brown sauce," chances are dark soy are in it. Thin soy sauce adds flavor, but very little color--pale sauced Cantonese dishes use thin soy exclusively.

        In fact, Cantonese cuisine probably makes stronger use of thin soy sauce than any other regional cuisine of China.

        1. Thanks, everyone. This information clarifies my confusion between the two. It is certainly nice to have a place, like this, to come, when you have a question & find it answered so quickly & thoroughly.

          1. Excellent answers, but still a little confusing. Light soy sauce is not the same as the low sodium variety; although this low sodium variety is a light (thin) soy sauce. Light can refer to thinness as well as to low sodium although the latter use of the term is a new advertising gimmick as opposed to the traditional Asian use of light and dark.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Karl

              Dark and light are English name for these two soy sauces. Mean dark in color and lighter in color. Nothing with the terms we think of when we now use the term light meaning less of something. They do not match the Chinese names at all. Like BarbaraF stated light (the old English terms) is mostly use in Cantonese cooking the saltyness not so much for the color.

              1. re: Karl

                Here's a link giving more precise definitions. My wife, being Shanghainese, goes through the "lao chou" (dark) about five times faster than the "sheng" (light) soy sauce.

                1. re: Gary Soup

                  Hi - you forgot to post the link!