Soy sauce is a well-known, flavor-packed addition to many well-known dishes. But while most people are familiar with the traditional version, there's a lesser-known gem called dark soy sauce.
This richer and more intense variation adds a depth of flavor that can elevate a dish to heights that regular soy sauce cannot.
However, tracking down dark soy sauce can be a bit of a treasure hunt, as it's not nearly as available as its better-known counterpart.
In fact, many of the large grocery store chains who claimed to have it on their website didn’t have it in their stores (a very frustrating experience for us).
Thankfully, we eventually discovered some physical and online stores that reliably stock dark soy sauce.
In this article, you'll learn...
● Why dark soy sauce is weirdly tougher to find than regular soy sauce
● Physical locations where dark soy sauce is HIGHLY likely to be (and where it is NOT)
● Some dependable big brands and worthwhile small brands we’ve taste tested
● Best online retailers that sell dark soy sauce
● What makes one dark soy sauce superior to another
Why Is It Hard to Find Dark Soy Sauce?
Dark soy sauce is a staple in many Asian cuisines, yet it can be surprisingly challenging to find in certain parts of the world, including some Western countries. So, why is this the case?
Supply and Demand
It boils down to simple economics: supply and demand.
If fewer people are buying dark soy sauce, grocery stores are less likely to stock it. Retailers typically prioritize products that move quickly off the shelves, and unfortunately, dark soy sauce often doesn't make the cut, especially in mainstream stores.
Remember, though, scarcity in one location doesn't equate to scarcity everywhere.
Our quest to locate dark soy sauce in Southern California's mainstream grocery stores was quite the challenge. However, it's worth noting that geographical differences may tip the scale in your favor, as dark soy sauce could be a popular item in your local area.
Discovering whether it's on your store's shelves is a journey you'll have to embark upon, but if you prefer a dependable method for finding it, we've got a tried-and-true plan laid out below for you.
Where Can I Buy Dark Soy Sauce in Person?
Bottom line? Your best bet for finding top-notch dark soy sauce brands is to check out your local Asian market.
We checked out 4 major grocery stores in person: some larger chains and some regional stores.
- Trader Joe's (Santa Barbara and Florida)
- Whole Foods (California and Florida)
- Grocery Outlet
None of them had dark soy sauce (even though Walmart and Whole Foods both had it available online).
While traditional soy sauce is a staple in most major grocery stores, locating dark soy sauce on the same shelves can be a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Of course, this isn't to say your local grocery store won't carry it, but whether or not they do can be hit or miss.
So, what's the best course of action?
If you're already planning a grocery store run, it's definitely worth taking a moment to peruse the Asian food aisle—you might get lucky.
But if you're after a surefire source for dark soy sauce, we highly recommend heading to your local Asian market.
In our experience, every Asian market we visited stocked at least one brand of dark soy sauce, making it a reliable choice for finding this less common but flavor-packed sauce.
Where Can I Buy Dark Soy Sauce Online?
Truffletopia has a wonderful umami taste and color that pairs well with almost all Asian dishes.
Dumpling Daughter is a fun, bright red sauce that makes a great dipping sauce and adds a kick of sweet heat that lingers on the throat.
Bao Ning is a subtle, dark-colored sauce with a slightly acidic bite.
52 USA is a vegan-friendly option that has all the flavors and nuances of dark soy sauce and is great served over fried rice.
This is another organic option that is vegan-friendly and packed with flavor; plus, it pairs nicely with fried foods.
Are All Dark Soy Sauces the Same?
Recently, we tested seven dark soy sauces and were pleasantly surprised at the differences in taste, aroma, and mouthfeel. Although the fermentation process is the same, we found that each dark soy sauce has its own characteristics and qualities that make it stand out from the rest.
One of the distinct differences we noticed was the color variation. Dark soy sauces not only enhance the flavor of the dish, they also give the food a rich color. Depending on the sauce, the colors range from red to a dark brown.
If color is an important aspect of your dish, check out the image below to see how some well-known dark soy sauce brands look out of the bottle.
Viscosity was another key element. The thinner sauces are best for cooking additives or poured over a dish before serving. The thicker sauces, like Dumpling Daughter’s Sweet and Spicy, are best used as a dipping sauce for thicker foods like egg rolls.
In the Middle
The most interesting part of reviewing these seven dark soy sauces was the flavor changes. We thought all brands would be mirror images of each other. This was not the case at all.
Which Quality Dark Soy Sauces Should You Look For?
Lee Kum Kim and Kimlan dark soy sauces are both popular and widely available in your everyday Asian market. Both brands provide a dependable flavor profile that enhances and complements a variety of dishes.
Lee Kum Kim’s Dark Soy Sauce is distinguished by its subtle sweetness. While it maintains the traditional characteristics of dark soy sauce—being less viscous and dark red in color, with umami and salt tones—it's the sweet note in its finish that sets it apart from others.
Kimlan Dark Soy Sauce is a reliable choice when seeking balance in flavor. It thoughtfully combines a hint of saltiness, acidity, sweetness, and umami, with no one element overpowering the other. This delicate equilibrium allows it to unobtrusively integrate into most dishes that call for dark soy sauce.
Truffletopia Dark Soy Sauce is our preferred choice due to its pronounced umami flavor and subtle color and aroma. However, since it's only sold online, a bit of advance planning is needed to have it on hand."
Dark soy sauce is an important condiment in Asian cuisine. Its flavor and aroma are richer than those of traditional soy sauce, and dark soy sauce also adds a beautiful color to food.
So, if you’re looking for a sure way to find dark soy sauce NOW, we recommend traveling to your local Asian market. Lee Kum Kim and Kimlan dark soy sauces are readily available and check all the boxes for what a baseline dark soy sauce should possess.
If you need dark soy sauce now (or something close to it) and don’t feel like running to the store, we did some tweaking and made what we think to be the best homemade version out there.
If you have some time before your recipe and don’t mind waiting, there are some noteworthy online retailers that sell really cool dark soy sauce variations. Truffletopia was our favorite, and we can’t recommend them enough.
In conclusion, we sincerely hope that you'll venture out and experiment with dark soy sauce. There's something about its unique taste that has the potential to shake up your culinary routine and add a new dimension to your dishes. Who knows? This seemingly simple switch might just be the game-changer you've been looking for in your kitchen adventures.