I've noticed that a lot of Thai dishes call for thick black soy sauce, but they rarely specify the type. Occasionally, a recipe will specify a certain brand, and sometimes they'll note if you should use the "sweet" (pad see ew, pad kee mao, etc.) or "regular" (pad ka prao, etc.).

When looking, I'll usually stick with Healthy Boy, since that seems to be the standard (and the most widely available in the US). When I get to the local Asian market, though, I'm confronted with about 5 or 6 types of Healthy Boy soy sauce, each of which says "Black Soy Sauce."

Within those, I've been able to narrow it down to three major types so far:

  • Black Soy Sauce - Thick, salty, sweet, strong flavor
  • Sweet Black Soy Sauce - Thick, somewhat salty, very sweet, strong flavor. Not always labeled "sweet"
  • Light/Thin Black Soy - Thinner consistency (similar to regular soy sauce). I have never tried this.

While it's easy to tell the light from the others (just flip over the bottle), telling the difference between the sweet and regular is not always as easy. Thankfully, Healthy Boy color-codes the bottles. So far, I have seen:

  • Light Orange (regular?)
  • Dark Orange ("stir fry seasoning with soy sauce?")
  • Brown/brown-orange
  • Green (says Black Soy Sauce B, I think. High sugar content, mostly additive)
  • Red (sometimes says "sweet")
  • White (sometimes says "sweet")
  • Yellow - thin/light
  • Yellow - thick

Each of those typically have varying sugar/salt contents, and have anywhere from 3 to 10 ingredients. Some are also labeled "Natural Ferment" (sub-questions: What does this mean? Does it matter?)

Just going by the bottle color, is there an easy way to tell the difference between all of these? Also, are certain colors more suited to certain dishes?

(I've also seen a couple Bronze and White that are mushroom and oytser flavored respectively, but this isn't about those ones.)

  • Assuming you cook... please share with us why you need all of these varieties? You happened to have seen alot of Thai soy sauce. Most of your questions do have answers e.g. fermented soy sauce. If I wanted to test them, I would cook with each of them and try to get a "feel" of the chemical I am working with. When ranking a population of anything, it is important to find out the logic behind ranking makes sense e.g. the colour codes you mentioned... check on the contents, measures. :-)
    – bonCodigo
    Feb 6, 2014 at 13:47
  • I definitely don't need all of these varieties, they're just the ones that I've seen. Ideally, I'd like to have one regular and one sweet. The Asian market by me usually carries multiple types, but it's inconsistent. For example, one month, they might have the red, light orange, and yellow, while the next they might only have the brown and green. In those cases, I'd need to know which colors I can substitute for the other colors. I'd try all of them, but they're mostly only sold in 20+ oz bottles, and I definitely don't need a gallon or two of soy sauce lying around.
    – valverij
    Feb 6, 2014 at 13:52

2 Answers 2


Since regular Thai soy sauce is light in color (to reportedly match the color of fish sauce when it's first marketed there), all types of dark soy sauce are thick. (In Thai, thin soy sauce is called white soy sauce ซีอิ้วขาว and thick soy sauce is called black soy sauce ซีอิ้วดำ.)

According to the company's product page, there are six dark soy sauce products by Dek Somboon or Healthy Boy, the most popular brand in Thailand. There are two types: salty and sweet, in different colors depending on quality and price:

  • Salty: (from the most expensive and best quality) Brown, Yellow, Orange
  • Sweet: Green

The red and white labels are also sweet but not common in everyday cooking; they are light and mostly used for some specific sauces.

I don't even buy the sweet one because it's rarely used (except as dipping sauce). I would not stir-fry with the sweet sauce either. Pad see-ew and pad kee mao should use the salty kind or even light soy sauce. And you can always add sugar if you want.

  • Thanks, that clears up a lot. Regarding the red label, though, I wanted to point out that this recipe for Pad See Ew shows the use of this version specifically. Is this just that particular preference for that dish, or is that an example of what you were referring to when you said that they are "not common in everyday cooking; they are light and mostly used for some specific sauces"?
    – valverij
    May 15, 2014 at 19:45
  • 1
    Personally I would use the salty kind. Though I might put little sugar, I think Pad See-ew should not be that sweet. Actually the dark soy sauce is mainly just for color. The sweet soy sauce could be the preference of the author of that recipe. There is really no consensus on how to cook it. You can try adjusting it the way you like. However, to minimize your kitchen stock, I recommend you to keep just one light and one dark soy sauce.
    – puri
    May 16, 2014 at 6:19
  • 2
    For more references, on the bottles of yellow, green, and red soy sauces, there are some recommendations: 1) Yellow for stir-fry, fry, dip 2) Green for braise, boil, simmer (with a picture of five-spice stew) 3) Red for steam, grill, dip (with a picture of Thai-style Hainanese chicken rice)
    – puri
    May 16, 2014 at 6:27

I'm Miranti, the owner of the recipe for Pad See Ew in question (http://highheelgourmet.com/2013/04/18/pad-see-ew/) ...Hello everyone.

The sweet dark soy sauce isn't the "particular" preference for the dish. I used it because I don't want to use sugar. You can use dark soy sauce and add sugar too, as Puri mention in his comment. This dish shouldn't start off sweet. This dish or any Thai dish shouldn't start off sweet. Sweetness is just to "round up" the flavor but not the lead. We're not making dessert here.

When I cook stir fry noodles or stir fry anything that I need dark soy sauce to add color to the dish, I would pick sweet dark soy sauce instead of using dark soy sauce with sugar. The magic ingredient in the sweet dark soy sauce is the "molasses". The most sweet dark soy sauce would, in general, have higher molasses content than dark soy sauce.

The taste and flavor of molasses can add more dimension to the sweetness, not just bland one dimension like sugar. It helps if you cook with the household wok that might have non-stick coating or didn't have deep seasoning flavor in the wok like the restaurant's woks that has been through cooking over hight heat several thousands times and packed those "wok well season smell" on the surface. When you cook the noodle in those woks, the noodles would pick up the yummy smell and that completed the dish for me. (The flavor of an experience street chef's dish...even the replica is better than none). In order to mimic that smell, I used sweet dark soy sauce with high molasses content and omitted the sugar just because I can't have the restaurant wok! I also doing the same thing with my "Drunken Noodles" (http://highheelgourmet.com/2013/07/27/drunken-noodles/) too.

Another note about the brand, I use healthy boy brand, dragon fly brand, golden label (least favorite due to high MSG content), and a few others ALTERNATELY. I'm suspicious that there might be some kind of additive that quite foreign to our bodies or at least my body and I don't want to give it a chance to let them collect in my system. So, I keep switching the brand as soon as I finish one bottle (sound paranoid but I rather be paranoid now than later). I can adjust the taste because I taste test everything but I can't adjust anything when there is lump or tumor appear in my body.

My favorite brand is dragon fly but that also don't make me buy it more often than the other brands.

Sorry I should have seen this earlier but I was busy and just saw the link.

Thanks for explanation about the healthy boy brand. I would keep the link in case I need to refer to the different type of the soy sauce!

  • We agree that Pad See-Ew should not be overly sweet and that's why I suggest to add sugar later instead of relying on the sugar in any sauce. I also agree that molasses tastes good but there are many types of sugar that are not "one-dimension." I think that adding sugar later can control the flavor balance better.
    – puri
    Jun 8, 2014 at 21:34

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