Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce are both rich, dark sauces that rely on the flavor of fermentation, but Worcestershire sauce has a more complex flavor, which comes from its considerably wider array of ingredients. You can substitute Worcestershire sauce for soy sauce if you really have no other option, but you'll end up with additional flavors that may have little to do with your dish.
It makes more sense to use soy sauce as a Worcestershire sauce substitute than to use Worcestershire sauce as a soy sauce substitute.
Substituting Worcestershire for Soy Sauce
Worcestershire is a sauce made of fermented anchovies, seasoned with vinegar, cloves, ginger, tamarind, molasses and garlic, among other ingredients. Its flavor is layered and complex, partially due to the many ingredients in the recipe and partly because of the fermentation process.
To use Worcestershire as a soy sauce replacement, you should temper its complexity because many of its added flavors don't belong in soy sauce. If you're making the substitution because you want to replace the saltiness of soy sauce, use less Worcestershire and add some extra salt. If you're substituting Worcestershire to mimic the dark color of soy sauce, limit the amount you add as well, and adjust your expectations about how the finished dish will look.
You may also consider substituting Worcestershire for soy sauce to avoid the wheat in the soy sauce ingredients list. Unlike soy sauce, Worcestershire is gluten free. This substitution will work if you're mainly interested in rich flavor and you're not terribly invested in recreating authentic flavors from a region where soy sauce is an integral part of the cuisine, such as Japan or China.
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Substituting Soy Sauce for Worcestershire
You can also substitute soy sauce for Worcestershire if you don't have Worcestershire on hand or if you're looking for a vegetarian alternative to the fish in Worcestershire. Some brands of vegan Worcestershire even use soy sauce as an ingredient, along with tamarind, molasses and ginger, creating a respectable soy sauce-based substitute in flavor.
Like these vegan soy sauce producers, you can add other ingredients typically found in Worcestershire sauce to create a similar flavor. These ingredients include ginger, tamarind and molasses. Rather than adding grated or minced ginger and ending up with pieces that don't belong in Worcestershire sauce or a Worcestershire imitation, simmer some sliced or grated ginger in 1/4 cup of water to extract the flavor and then add the water to your soy sauce.
Molasses and tamarind will add the rich sweetness that you find in Worcestershire. You may be able to find a syrupy tamarind concentrate, but you'll have to dilute it with a bit of hot water if it is too thick to mix in gracefully. If you buy tamarind in a pressed cake, it may have seeds even if the package says it is seedless. Soften it with hot water and strain it if you see seeds.
Soy Sauce Replacement Options
Worcestershire isn't the only condiment that you can substitute for soy sauce.
- Fish sauce. Like Worcestershire sauce, this condiment is made with fermented fish. Common in Southeast Asian cuisines, it has the same saltiness and fermented complexity as soy sauce without all the added ingredients found in Worcestershire. Fish sauce has a much stronger aroma than soy sauce, especially when you're cooking it, but this intensity is more prominent when you're smelling it than when you're tasting it.
- Bragg Liquid Aminos. Made popular through the natural foods movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Bragg Liquid Aminos is a fermented soy product like soy sauce, but unlike soy sauce, it contains no wheat and no added salt. The flavor is somewhat lighter and more complex, but it is similar enough to soy sauce to be used as a substitute.
- Salt. If you're using soy sauce mainly for its saltiness, ordinary table salt makes a fine substitute. Your dish will be drier because you're adding a solid rather than a liquid, but you can use other liquids to make your dish saucy.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.