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What Is Kecap Manis?

Have you just been introduced to kecap manis? Perhaps you’ve seen it in a recipe somewhere or maybe on the menu at a restaurant? Either way, chances are you want to know what exactly kecap manis sauce is and what it tastes like. Perhaps, you’ll even get inspired to learn how to make it…or find out where to buy it!

So, what is kecap manis sauce? Kecap manis a sweet soy sauce originating in Indonesia. It’s made by combining soy sauce with palm sugar or jaggery and flavored with various different spices. Some of the most common of those spices include ginger, star anise, and coriander seeds, but there are many more that are sometimes used. 

Kecap Manis is actually the most popular soy sauce in Indonesia.

Interestingly, it was also popular in the Netherlands due to colonialism back in the day. 

So you may notice it being commonly consumed or offered if traveling to either of these locations.

Oh, and one another thing to note at this stage, Kecap manis is also known as ketjap manis.

There is that.

But what is it made of and taste like? Let’s take a look, shall we?

What Is Kecap Manis Sauce Made Of?

Kecap manis is made by slowly simmering soy sauce with palm/coconut sugar or jaggery (usually made from cane juice, date, and palm sap). You also add various spices that you then remove by using a sieve, or cheesecloth, once the sauce is done. This will leave you with a thick, molasses-like, sweet, and aromatic soy sauce.  

Normally, if you’re making kecap manis in the Western world, you combine soy sauce with some form of sweetener and aromatic spices that you let simmer till you get a reduction. 

If you make kecap manis from scratch, on the other hand, you’d combine a fermented paster of boiled black soybeans, roasted grain, salt, water, aspergillus wentii mold, and palm sugar (or jaggery), as well as the spices. 

The spices traditionally used are anis, cinnamon, black pepper, coriander, and clove. 

However, there are as many variations on a theme as there are spices available to experiment with!

Back in the day, many families in Indonesia had their own recipe for kecap manis and would sell it at the local markets. 

Nowadays, bigger companies have taken over much of the production of kecap manis. 

However, family recipes still thrive, and by making a slightly simplified version combining soy sauce with a sweetener and aromatic spices, you can create your own recipe. 

Don’t confuse kecap asin with kecap manis. Kecap asin is salty soy sauce. 

Find below some recipes for kecap manis. 

Recipe Option One for Kecap Manis Sauce

  • 1 Cup soy sauce
  • 1 ¼ Cup palm/coconut sugar or brown sugar (you can also try muscovado sugar which is more similar to jaggery in taste–palm/coconut sugar has a butterscotch flavor, whereas brown sugar is sweeter tasting) 
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and quartered
  • 2 Whole star anise 
  • 2 Whole cloves 

Note: You can add ingredients like black peppercorns, chilies, coriander seeds, lemongrass, kaffir, and curry lime leaves.

Try adding one or two at a time when experimenting–adding all in one go likely won’t end well!

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Two for Kecap Manis Sauce 

  • ½ Cup soy sauce (125ml/4.2floz)–you can use light or regular, or even reduced salt
  • ½ Cup brown sugar (60g/2oz) palm sugar or molasses

Note: This recipe does not call for any spices to be used, but you can experiment with the spices mentioned in the previous recipe. 

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Three for Kecap Manis Sauce 

Quick & Easy 2-Ingredient Version

  • 1 ⅓ Cup palm sugar (brown sugar or molasses can be used instead)
  • 1 ⅓ Cup soy sauce (reduced-sodium soy sauce is best)

Additional Stir-Ins

  • 1 tablespoon molasses (or treacle)
  • 2-4 Cloves of garlic
  • ½ Tbsp ginger (peeled and diced)
  • 2 Curry lime leaves
  • 2 Star anise (whole)
  • 2 Cloves (whole)
  • ¼ Tsp coriander seeds (whole)
  • ¼ Tsp black peppercorns (whole)

Note: As you can see, you can try the easy or more involved version. You can also remove any spice you might not like from the additional ingredient list. 

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Four for Kecap Manis Sauce 

  • 1 Cup soy sauce (240 ml)
  • 1 Cup organic brown sugar or palm sugar (220 g)
  • 2 Whole dried star anise, optional
  • 4 Garlic cloves, halved or crushed
  • 1-inch piece of ginger (2.5 cm), sliced
  • 1 Tsp whole black peppercorns; you can sub with a pinch of ground black pepper

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Five for Kecap Manis Sauce 

  • 2 ½ Cups white sugar 
  • 3 Cups dark soy sauce 
  • ½ Cup water 
  • ½ Star anise pod 
  • 2 Fresh curry leaves 
  • 1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger root, sliced 
  • 4 Cloves garlic, minced

For full instructions, look here

What Does Kecap Manis Sauce Taste Like?

Kecap manis has a dark color and viscous syrupy consistency, tasting (and looking) a lot like molasses. It also tastes a lot like (palm) sugar and soy sauce as those are the two main ingredients. However, as you can use different aromatic spices to flavor it, each kecap manis sauce has a slightly different flavor profile. 

The taste of kecap manis depends on the ingredients used to make it. 

Soy sauce and a sweetener are the main two ingredients. 

However, what sweetener is used tends to vary. 

Traditionally, you use palm/coconut sugar or jaggery (which consists of cane juice and date and palm sap). 

In the West, people often use brown sugar, muscovado sugar, or molasses instead. 

The aromatic spices used to flavor the sauce also tend to vary. 

Cinnamon, black peppercorns, ginger, star anise, and cloves are very common, as are coriander seeds. 

You can also use garlic, as well as kaffir and curry leaves. 

Some say that the flavor or kecap manis is similar to that of Chinese Tianmian sauce. 

What Do You Eat Kecap Manis Sauce With?

Kecap manis sauce is used to flavor many a dish in Indonesia. Classic dishes flavored by kecap manis include nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (fried noodles), kwetiau goreng, babi kecap (braised pork), semur (beef stew), soto ayam (chicken turmeric soup), and ayam kecap (roasted chicken). Moreover, it’s used as a marinade when grilling meat, such as satay (skewered grilled meat), ayam bakar (grilled chicken), and ikan bakar (grilled fish). 

In addition to the above, kecap manis is often used as a dipping sauce.

Then it’s sometimes combined with shallot and/or chili. 

It’s also used to create colo-colo dipping sauce. 

People in Indonesia also tend to drizzle kecap manis over rice topped with fried egg. And it works wonders in just about any stir fry you’ve got going! 

You can make a nice glaze for salmon or cod using kecap manis, lime juice, and cayenne pepper, or some hot sauce of your choice. Add garlic and cilantro for some extra flavor. 

Perhaps kecap manis is most famous for being used in the Indonesian national dish–nasi goreng.

If you didn’t have an excuse before to try nasi goreng, you now do–you’ll be able to taste what kecap manis tastes like in a great dish!

What Is Similar To Kecap Manis Sauce? 

As kecap manis is, in basic terms, sweetened soy sauce, it’s similar in taste to soy sauce, just sweeter. The aromatic spices also add flavor. Some think it’s similar to Chinese Tianmian sauce. It can be said that it’s somewhat similar to hoisin sauce. 

The best substitute for kecap manis sauce would be soy sauce and some form of sugar (palm sugar, muscovado sugar, brown sugar, or regular sugar) combined. Or soy sauce and molasses. 

If you have time, you can simply make your own kecap manis sauce using the recipes above–it’s not difficult. 

Finally

Kecap manis is a sauce most Indonesians couldn’t imagine living without. Similar to how most Americans feel about tomato ketchup or BBQ sauce. 

Next time you’re making a stir fry (or egg fried rice), or are looking for a glaze for grilled salmon or cod, or a good marinade when making barbequed meat skewers, try using some kecap manis. 

It’s easy to find in a well-stocked regular or Asian market, and it’s just as easy making your own–you put the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer. 

Of course, when you next eat nasi goreng, you’ll know the secret ingredient used in the recipe!

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