How much sodium is in Asian salty sauces?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 04 November 2020.
Tagged: health, healthy cooking, healthy eating, nutrition, salt

How much sodium is in Asian salty sauces?

Salty sauces like soy, fish or hoisin sauce are a key feature of Asian cuisine and are used in countless ways as marinades, splashed into stir fries and soups, as a basting sauce on roasts and barbecues, as a dipping or a table sauce. These sauces are an easy way to add flavour to meats, fish, vegetables and plain rice or noodles. Their one drawback is the huge load of salt (sodium) they deliver. Read on for the best and worst of these sauces and how you can minimize their damage.

Most of these sauces are very low in fat and kilojoules (Calories). However, all tend to be high in salt which ranges from 3 to a whopping 20 per cent salt! This high salt content (combined with a low moisture content and often a high sugar content) gives them a long shelf life which means they can be stored unrefrigerated almost indefinitely. Even though the storage instruction say to refrigerate them after opening, honestly I’ve had some bottles in my kitchen for years and they’re fine. They take the place of the table salt in Western diets.

Eight types of Asian salty sauces

Of course, you’ll spot more than these eight, once you start adding in oil, chilli oil, rice wine and peppercorns, but these are the most popular sauces used by home cooks. There’s also teriyaki, sweet ‘n’ sour and ponzu sauces but these tend to be minor. The serve size varies from a small 10 mL, or 2 teaspoons, to a more standard 20 mL which equates to a tablespoon.

Soy sauce

This most popular of Asian sauces is essential to Chinese and Japanese cooking. It’s added  to marinades, stir-fries, noodle dishes and used as a dipping sauce.  In Indonesia, you’ll find Ketjap manis is a popular sweet soy sauce. 

Gluten-free, wheat-free, tamari is one of the authentic sauces introduced to Japan from China. It is made from soy beans and has a slightly stronger flavour than regular soy sauce. It’s traditionally used to flavour longer-cooking foods such as soups and casseroles, but it can be used as a marinade or as a dipping sauce. Interestingly many soy sauces contain alcohol so if this is important to you then shop around, Ayam Light Soy and PureHarvest Organic Tamari are both alcohol and gluten free.

Fish sauce

Made by dissolving anchovies in salt over a long period of time, fish sauce loses its pungency when cooked or mixed with other ingredients. Used in Thai and Vietnamese dishes. 

Bowl with tasty soy sauce on grey textured background

Oyster sauce

This sauce is made from oysters, soy sauce, salt and spices.

Chilli sauce

Comes in many variations e.g. sweet, hot and with garlic flavour. Can be added to soups, stir-fries and noodle dishes to add heat and enliven the flavour.

Black Bean

This sauce is made from fermented soy beans and adds a nutty barbecued flavour.  Good for pork and chicken.

Hoisin Sauce

Made from soybeans, garlic, vinegar, sugar and spices, hoisin sauce has a sweet and spicy flavour. It can be added to a stir fry, used as a dipping sauce or to glaze a roast. 

Satay sauce

This delicious sauce contains peanuts, coconut milk, chilli and spices.  Traditionally it’s served as a dipping sauce with chicken skewers or to top an Indonesian Gado Gado salad.

Char Siu sauce

This is a pleasantly sweet and rich-tasting traditional Chinese-style barbecue sauce which gives pork that characteristic red glaze. 'Char Siu' in Cantonese means barbecued pork. This pork dish is a typical Cantonese delicacy.

Sodium (salt) in the 8 types of Asian sauces 

Type of sauce

Sodium (mg) per 100 g (or 100 mL)

Soy sauce: average

5965

Yeo’s Light Soy Sauce 640 mL

8420

Lee Kum Kee Soy Sauce 150 mL

8000

Yeo’s Dark Soy Sauce 640 mL

7720

Fountain Soy Sauce 250 mL

7200

Kikkoman Soy Sauce 600 mL

6458

Kikkoman Soy Sauce Gluten Free 250 mL

6365

Ayam Light Soy 210 mL

6363

Pearl River Bridge Light Soy Sauce 500 mL

5800

PureHarvest 250 mL

5130

Lee Kum Kee Soy Sauce Reduced Salt 600 mL

4000

Kikkoman Soy Sauce Salt Reduced 600 mL

3560

ABC Sweet Soy Sauce 620 mL

2130

Fish sauce: average

7786

Squid Fish Sauce 300 mL

11120

Ayam Fish Sauce 210 mL

10882

Pandaroo Fish Sauce 200 mL

8133

Chang’s Fish Sauce 300 mL

7333

Maggi Fish Sauce 300 mL

6180

Poonsin Fish Sauce 205 mL

3065

Oyster sauce: average

3463

Lee Kum Kee Panda Oyster Sauce 510 g

4720

Coles Oyster Sauce 300 mL

4400

Ayam Oyster Sauce 420 mL

4100

Changs Oyster Sauce 430 mL

4000

Maggi Oyster Sauce 295 mL

3600

Ongs Oyster Sauce 255 g

3111

Pandaroo Oyster Sauce 250 mL

2200

Chilli sauce: average

1618

Chang’s Hot Chilli Sauce 150 mL

4150

ABC Extra Hot Chilli Sauce 340 mL

2580

ABC Original Chilli Sauce 335 mL

2500

Trident Hot Chilli Sauce 285 mL

2070

Linghams Chilli Sauce 280 mL

1260

Fountain Mild Chilli Sauce 250 mL

1170

Fountain Hot Chilli sauce 250 mL

1070

MasterFoods Squeezy Hot Chilli Sauce 250 mL

934

Beerenberg Chilli Sauce 300 mL

250

Black bean sauce: average

2645

Ayam Black Bean Sauce 210 mL

5573

Chang’s Black Bean Sauce 150 mL

3400

Tyalor’s Stir Fry Black Bean Sauce 350 mL

2950

KanTong Beef & Black Bean Cooking sauce 510 g

799

Blue Dragon Stir Fry Black Bean Sauce 490 g

496

Hoisin sauce: average

2561

Woolworths Select Hoisin Sauce 320 mL

4270

Chang’s Hoisin Sauce 150 mL

3870

Lee Kum Kee Hoisin Sauce 240 g

2750

Fountain Hoisin Sauce 250 mL

2110

Ayam Hoisin Sauce 210 mL

2089

Pandaroo Hoisin Sauce 250 mL

1620

Ongs Hoisin sauce 227 g

1220

Satay sauce: average

992

Empower Foods LC Satay Sauce 350 mL

1577

Fountain Satay Sauce 250 mL

1310

Pandaroo Satay Sauce 250 mL

773

Ayam Satay Mild Sauce 250 mL

306

Char siu sauce: average

NA

Lee Kum Kee Char Siu Sauce 240 g

4520

Salty Sauce Sushi Hands

The bottom line

 Which is the worst for salt? Take a look at the table where we have grouped these sauces into categories for you to compare – easily.

  • If you’ve been told to reduce your salt intake, stick to a thin smear or a tiny side of your favourite – not a huge glug.
  • Wherever you can, buy them in salt-reduced form. I know this is possible with soy sauce but not with the others. Your only other choice is to avoid really high-salt categories such as fish sauce.
  • Buy those sauces with the lowest sodium content (sometimes there is a fourfold difference in sodium).
  • When you use these sauces in a recipe, don’t add any more salt - it doesn’t need it. 

Credit: Thanks to dietitian Marthury Jeyalingan for help compiling the table.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Nutrition for Life 2020 Edition is a fresh new update on all the things you've read about or heard in the last year. Think insects, collagen, vegan eating, Keto dieting, vitamin B12, fast food and cafe culture.  It has plenty of colour pictures and is easy to dip in and out of. Grab your copy NOW!