What Is Kecap Manis And How Do You Use It?

If you've ever wished that soy sauce could be a bit sweeter, you may want to acquaint yourself with kecap manis. According to Food52, "kecap" refers to an Indonesian fermented sauce and "manis" means sweet, so we're talking about a concoction that's equal parts salty and sugary. Fun fact: kecap is the cousin of kê-tsiap, a fermented fish sauce that evolved into one of our most treasured pantry staples: ketchup (via National Geographic).

As Serious Eats explains, Kecap manis was conceived around the mid-19th century when Chinese settlers on Indonesia's Java island realized the natives had a hankering for all things sweet. The Chinese took their beloved soy sauce, added local coconut palm sugar (called gula jawa in Java) and created salty, sweet kecap manis. The addition of sugar not only added sweetness, it changed the consistency, with Serious Eats noting kecap manis is thicker, darker, and more syrupy than Chinese soy sauce.

Boasting the perfect balance of savory and sweet, kecap manis is the most popular condiment in Indonesia, per Taste Atlas. In fact, it's so revered, over 90 percent of the soy sauce produced in Indonesia is used to make kecap manis (via Daring Gourmet).

Balancing salty and sweet, kecap manis is wildly versatile

There are countless ways to incorporate kecap manis into your regular recipe rotation. The Perfect Pantry explains that not only does molasses-like kecap manis contain salty soy and sweet sugar, it's also perfumed with garlic and star anise, making it an excellent dipping sauce for meat, poultry, and seafood, and a flavor-booster for soups, stews, marinades, and stir fries. Fine Cooking suggests pairing the sauce with red meat, noodles, fish, vegetables, and fried rice.

Food52 recommends adding syrupy kecap manis to salty Japanese and Chinese dishes to balance the flavors. When your recipe calls for maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or agave (all used to balance soy sauce's saltiness), consider using kecap manis instead.

Want to make your own kecap manis? The Daring Gourmet explains that it's just as easy as making a balsamic vinegar reduction — combine a handful of ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the sauce reduces, thickens, and caramelizes. Every kecap manis recipe has slight variations: The Food Takes Flight shares a simple kecap manis recipe that takes less than 20 minutes, involving soy sauce, brown sugar (or palm sugar), star anise, garlic, ginger, and black peppercorns. The Allrecipes version of kecap manis utilizes white sugar and curry leaves, while Food.com's quick and easy kecap manis recipe features dark brown sugar, molasses, ginger, and coriander.