Kecap manis, also known as Indonesian sweet soy sauce, is a thick, sweet and salty sauce that's a popular ingredient in many dishes in Indonesian cuisine.
While it is starting to appear in more supermarkets, it's not the easiest ingredient to find unless you make a trip to an oriental grocery store. So, if you're looking for a kecap manis substitute, we have all the best alternatives, including a recipe for homemade sweet soy sauce.
🙋♀️ What is kecap manis?
Sweet soy sauce, known as kecap manis, is a popular condiment in Indonesian and Southeast Asian cooking. Its viscous, dark appearance makes it a staple ingredient that we cherished during our stay in Bali, Indonesia, and have continued to include in our cooking ever since. It's also similar to Thai sweet soy sauce.
Kecap manis is made from a blend of soy sauce and palm sugar (jaggery). The sauce is typically cooked for a long period of time to create a thick and syrupy consistency. The flavour is salty and sweet, as you might expect from the ingredients. It delivers a sweet caramel flavour as well as an umami saltiness.
Kecap manis is a versatile ingredient that is used in a variety of dishes, both as a marinade and as a seasoning. It is often used as a dipping sauce for grilled or fried foods, and as a seasoning in stir-fry, fried rice (like nasi goreng), and noodle dishes, like mie goreng. It can also be used as a base for sauces, such as satay sauce or peanut sauce, to add a sweet and savoury flavour.
🍶 The best sweet soy sauce substitute options
1. Homemade kecap manis
Make your own kecap manis! Sweet soy sauce is actually very quick and simple to make. It's the best substitute. All you need is pantry ingredients - soy sauce and sugar.
Traditionally palm sugar (jaggery) is used, but you can switch this out for coconut sugar or brown sugar. Check out the recipe card at the bottom of this article for the full ingredients and instructions. This is probably the best kecap manis substitute!
2. Dark soy sauce + sugar
Dark soy sauce and sugar is a great kecap manis substiute.
Dark soy sauce is fermented for longer than light soy sauce which creates a much thicker and sweeter sauce. It's still not quite as sweet, so we'd recommend a mixture of ¾ tablespoon dark soy + ¼ tablespoon of sugar for every 1 tablespoon of sweet soy sauce that a recipe requires. More info about dark soy sauce.
3. Soy sauce + sugar
If you don't want to spend time making your own sweet soy sauce, then use a 1:1 ratio of regular (light) soy sauce and sugar to your dish. This is a quick kecap manis substitute.
For every 1 tablespoon of kecap manis that a recipe requires, simply add 0.5 tablespoon of soy sauce and 0.5 tablespoon of sugar. Palm sugar is the best choice but it's not that common in Europe and the US, so instead try coconut sugar or brown sugar. You could even try maple syrup, agave nectar or vegan honey in place of the sugar.
While it won't produce the exact same flavour, and it won't have the same thick, syrupy consistency, this is one of the best kecap manis substitutes and probably the most accessible.
4. Tamari + sugar
If you're looking for a gluten-free kecap manis substitute, then this is the alternative for you!
Tamari is a Japanese sauce that is very similar to soy sauce, but it's completely gluten-free. By using a 1:1 combination of tamari and sugar, you can produce a gluten-free sweet soy sauce substitute.
Again, feel free to use whatever sugar you have or would prefer to use. Palm sugar is great if you can get it, but you can create a great alternative with coconut sugar, brown sugar or maple syrup.
5. Liquid or coconut aminos + sugar
Liquid aminos are a liquid seasoning that have a fairly similar taste to soy sauce. They're often made with soy beans, like soy sauce, or you'll find soy-free coconut aminos that are made by fermenting coconut sap.
Again, use an equal mix of aminos and sugar for a great substitute.
6. Hoisin sauce
Hoisin sauce is a pretty great alternative to kecap manis! Similar to sweet soy sauce, it's thick, salty, sweet and made with fermented soybeans - that's a great start!
The main difference is that hoisin sauce has additional flavours and spices, like garlic and Chinese 5 spice. If using hoisin sauce as a kecap manis substitute, start off using ¾ tablespoon for every 1 tablespoon of kecap manis the recipe calls for. Taste it and add more if necessary. Hoisin can be a bit stronger in flavour and saltier, so it's always better to start off with less - you can add but you can't take away!
7. Teriyaki sauce
Teriyaki sauce is another option that shares a lot in common with sweet soy sauce - it's thick, salty and sweet. Like hoisin, it has some additional flavours like garlic and ginger, so it's not a perfect replacement. However, it does a great job of replacing the rich and sweet umami hit that kecap manis adds.
To use teriyaki sauce as a kecap manis substitute, start with a ¾ tablespoon for every 1 tablespoon of kecap manis that a recipe calls for.
8. Vegetarian oyster sauce (mushroom stir fry sauce) + sugar
We love mushroom stir fry sauce, which is often called vegetarian oyster sauce, when it comes to replacing oyster sauce in recipes. But actually it's not a bad pick to use as a kecap manis substitute either.
Vegetarian oyster sauce is pretty thick and has a great umami hit, as well as a little sweetness. But it's nowhere near as sweet as sweet soy sauce. So use ¾ tablespoon of vegetarian oyster sauce with ¼ tablespoon of sugar for every tablespoon needed of kecap manis.
🔪 How to make kecap manis
Making your own homemade kecap manis is extremely quick and easy! You'll just need soy sauce and brown sugar (or palm sugar), as pictured above.
1. Using a small saucepan, mix equal parts of soy sauce (standard or Japanese soy sauce) and sugar and simmer while stirring.
2. After 5-10 minutes on low heat, the mixture will turn into a thick syrup consistency.
3. Once cool, keep in the fridge for up to one month in an airtight container.
For full instructions and measurements to make your own ketjap manis, check out the recipe card at the end of this article.
👩🍳 What not to use (unless you're desperate)
1. Fish sauce
We do like to use vegan fish sauce in recipes, but only in place of fish sauce or soy sauce. Fish sauce, vegan or regular, has a distinctly fishy flavour, no sweetness and is very thin. It's just not a good replacement, even if sugar is added.
2. Worcestershire sauce
A lot of people mention Worcestershire sauce when it comes to alternatives to sweet, light or dark soy, but we simply don't agree with the suggestion. Worcestershire sauce is a pantry staple (or the similarly flavoured Henderson's Relish) and has a very strong, tangy flavour but does not replace soy sauce of any variety. Sweet soy sauce is also a much thicker consistency.
In addition there are options like tianmian sauce, a dark brown sauce used in Chinese cuisine, and also Thai sweet soy sauce. Both are hard to come by outside of Asia.
🍚 Uses for kecap manis
Kecap manis is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways to add a sweet and savoury flavour to dishes. Here are some ideas on how you can use kecap manis in your cooking:
- As a marinade: kecap manis makes a great marinade for proteins like tofu and tempeh. Simply mix it with other ingredients like garlic, ginger, and chilli, and use it to marinate protein for a few hours before grilling, baking, or stir-frying.
- In stir-fries: add a splash of kecap manis to your stir-fry for a sweet and salty flavour. Our favourite side dish is Indonesian tempe kecap – a crispy tempeh dish using sweet soy sauce.
- In fried rice: Use kecap manis instead of (or as well as!) regular soy sauce to flavour your fried rice. This is exactly how it's done in Indonesian dishes, like our nasi goreng (fried rice) and mi goreng (fried noodles).
- As a dipping sauce: kecap manis makes a great dipping sauce for grilled or fried foods. It's not overly salty or sweet so is delicious straight from the bottle. Mix it with chilli, lime juice, and garlic for additional flavours.
- In sauces: use kecap manis as a base for sauces, like a traditional Indonesian satay sauce, sambal (chilli paste) or even a homemade hoisin sauce. It adds a sweet note that balances out other ingredients.
- In salad dressings: Use kecap manis in salad dressings to add a burst of sweet and salty flavour. It pairs well with ingredients like ginger, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. Check out this Balinese salad, gado gado.
Try making your own kecap manis substitute (it's very easy!) or use a mixture of soy sauce and sugar in 1:1 ratio. Check out the full article for a list of great substitutions as well as a homemade sweet soy sauce recipe.
Yes, kecap manis is the Indonesian name for sweet soy sauce. It's a thick, sweet and salty sauce that is great for stir fries and sauces.
No, while hoisin and kecap manis have some similarities, they are not the same sauce. However, they can act as substitutes for each other in recipes.
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Homemade Kecap Manis
- 1 cup Brown sugar
- 1 cup Light Soy Sauce
- Using a small saucepan, mix the light soy sauce and brown sugar and simmer while stirring.1 cup Brown sugar, 1 cup Light Soy Sauce
- After 5-10 minutes on low heat, the mixture will turn into a thick syrup consistency.
- Once cool, keep in the fridge for up to one month in an airtight container.