Soy sauce is a staple of many Asian cuisines, and is often found in many a kitchen and refrigerator across the United States. As a dipping sauce, a marinade, a salad dressing, or various other forms of flavorings in soups and main courses, soy sauce seems irreplaceable. But what happens when soy sauce is detrimental to your health? The high sodium content of soy sauce can be prohibitive, as can the soy and often wheat contained in it for those who have soy allergies or a gluten sensitivity. What are your options for a soy sauce substitute then? This article details seven soy sauce alternatives, from Worcestershire sauce to Bragg Liquid Aminos. Read on to find the unique benefits of each.
Why Would You Need a Soy Sauce Substitute?
There are several reasons why you might need to replace soy sauce in your diet. It's such a common condiment that many people refrigerate soy sauce alongside their ketchup and mustard without giving it a second thought, but as the main ingredient in soy sauce is of course soy, that can become a problem. Among children, 0.4% have a soy allergy, and though some may outgrow it, some of them do not. Many soy sauces also contain wheat, so those with gluten sensitivity or celiac's disease must avoid them as well.
Apart from the allergen concern with soy sauce, there is also about 879 milligrams of sodium per 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Too much sodium can impact your kidneys and your blood pressure, leading to cardiovascular issues like stiffening arteries, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Finding a low-sodium soy sauce substitute could be a great boon to your overall health, and may be vital for those who already have high blood pressure.
The Top 7 Soy Sauce Substitutes
Without further ado, here are the top seven soy sauce substitutes you can purchase or make at home, plus their unique benefits.
Originating from the city of Worcester in Worcestershire, England, this is the original Worcestershire sauce invented by the chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Perrins in 1837. Still produced in Worcestershire today, this umami-rich sauce is best known for its inclusion in Bloody Mary drinks and as a dipping sauce for steaks, but can also be used less traditionally in stir-fry veggies or to replace the normal uses of soy sauce.
Worcestershire sauce does not contain gluten or soy, and while the original recipe is much lower in sodium than soy sauce is (167 milligrams per tablespoon), it's reduced-sodium recipe can do you even better, with only 135 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon.
Soy free, gluten free, and vegan, this soy sauce substitution comes from coconut sap, is fermented naturally, and then combined with sea salt for a natural whole foods product. Not only does it contain significantly less sodium than soy sauce (270 milligrams per tablespoon), but as a fermented product it also gives you the benefits of a probiotic, adding good gut bacteria to your intestinal environment. It contains 17 different essential and nonessential amino acids, including all nine of the essential building blocks needed for protein synthesis and new muscle growth. Non-GMO and with no MSG, this is a strong contender for replacing soy sauce.
The only downside to coconut aminos is their availability and cost, and the reports that people detect a sweetness in taste not commonly associated with traditional soy sauce.
This is a Japanese sauce made from distilled sake, wheat, and sea salt, which gives it a thick texture (though clearly precludes its use by those with a gluten sensitivity or allergy). It has a honey-like golden appearance and is reportedly fruity-smelling and sweeter than the soy sauce you're used to.
Shōyu is Japanese for "soy sauce," and yet it is a soy-free product. However, its sodium content is higher than that of soy sauce at 966 milligrams per tablespoon, so while it's a soy-free alternative to traditional soy sauce, it may not be the best fit for your needs overall.
Made from wild-caught anchovies from the Gulf of Thailand, this fish sauce has zero soy bean proteins and is a gluten-free product. On the allergen front it's an excellent alternative to soy sauce, but not so much for sodium. With a whopping 4470 milligrams per tablespoon, if you're avoiding soy sauce because of its salt content, you'll have to avoid this fish sauce as well.
This sauce may contain soy, most certainly contains wheat, and has about 1850 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon. Why is it on this list? Well, it's still a flavor alternative to soy sauce that can be used in much the same way in Asian dishes and as a marinade, though it won't serve as an alternative in the areas of food allergies or sodium content.
One of the better-known soy sauce substitutes on the market, when it comes to Bragg amino acids vs. soy sauce, the liquid aminos benefits really shine through. Though it has 960 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, Bragg's amino acids benefits include eight out of the nine essential amino acids required for new muscle growth (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and valine—all but tryptophan which you could get if you used this sauce on some turkey), plus eight more nonessential aminos on top.
While Bragg Liquid Aminos does contain soy, it's made using no chemicals, no artificial coloring, no alcohol, and no preservatives. It's also non-GMO and gluten free.
7. Homemade Soy Sauce Alternatives
The best way to know what you're eating and the exact measure of salt is to make your own homemade sauces, and there are many ways to replace soy sauce with creative recipes.
- This recipe from Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed food blog combines blackstrap molasses, beef broth, cider vinegar, and an optional addition of fish sauce like the above-mentioned Red Boat's for flavoring.
- Katie Wells' Wellness Mama recipe also uses beef stock, fish sauce, and traditional molasses, but with the tangy addition of balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar as well.
- For those who need a vegan option, this soy sauce substitute recipe from Teenuja and Kevin of the Veganlovlie blog includes blackstrap molasses, fenugreek seeds, and vegetable bouillon to mimic the flavor of soy sauce.
Soy-Free Soy Sauce
If regular soy sauce has lost its magic, or if you need a soy sauce alternative for your health, these soy sauce substitutes are only some of the many options available. When shopping around be sure to check the nutrition facts for sodium content and allergen warnings, browse for alternative condiments like Japanese teriyaki sauce, and know that even if you have to say goodbye to soy sauce, you don't have to miss the real thing if you find your perfect alternative sauce.