Is kecap manis gluten free?

Is kecap manis gluten free?

Kecap manis (aka ketjap medja) is a thick, sweet style of soy sauce with origins in Indonesia. The flavor is a mix of bittersweet caramel and salty soy. It’s the most commonly used condiment in Indonesia, and it’s also really popular in Thailand and Vietnam. Unfortunately, kecap manis is not gluten free.

kecap manis

Mi goreng Jawa from R Eris Prayatama

What is kecap manis?

It’s really just a mixture of wheat-containing soy sauce and palm sugar jaggery that’s been cooked down until syrupy.

So why does this condiment even exist? Why not just add sugar and soy sauce to dishes instead? Because it’s delicious and very convenient. It adds both sweet and savory umami elements to dishes like nasi goreng, grilled meat, or fried eggs with minimal fuss. The syrupy consistency and richness also add a thickness and depth of color to otherwise pale and thin sauces. The flavor helps counterbalance the salty pungency of ubiquitous SE Asian ingredients like shrimp paste.

How is kecap manis made?

Kecap manis is said to have been invented by Chinese immigrants to Java. They adjusted Chinese style soy sauce for the Indonesian palate by cooking it down with local palm sugar, and the nation’s favorite condiment was born.

Commercially made kecap manis is sometimes just sugar syrup and soy sauce, but some producers add spices as well. Not all producers of kecap manis still use palm sugar jaggery, and those varieties using plain white sugar are generally thought to be inferior by connoisseurs of the condiment.

Homemade kecap manis (which is no longer very common) often contains more interesting fresh spices like galangal, lemongrass, star anise, and garlic for a little something extra.

kecap manis

Saucy Indonesian food from Tubagus Topan

Which dishes usually contain kecap manis?

All of these dishes contain gluten because they’re made with kecap manis. These are the major ones to watch out for, but it’s so ubiquitous in Indonesia that it’s worth asking for every dish.

  • Mei goreng

  • Nasi goreng

  • Samcan kecap

  • Ayam masak kicap

  • Sate babi

  • Colo-colo

  • Sambal kecap

  • Bami goreng

  • Gado-gado

  • Tongseng sapi

  • Tempeh kecap

Gluten Free Kecap Manis Substitutes

There are actually a good amount of gluten free kecap manis options on the market, but some are better than others. Australia in particular seems to have a ton of gf options, but Megachef (a Thai brand) makes one of the best versions we’ve found. The consistency of other sweet soy sauces might be thinner than the usual kecap manis, so take that into account.

kecap manis

Grilled meats with kecap manis marinade from Eka P. Amdela

Gluten Free Kecap Manis Recipes

You’ve got a couple options when it comes to substituting for kecap manis to make recipes gluten free. You can either make your own by cooking down gluten free soy sauce, or you can just add a 50/50 mix of gf soy sauce and brown sugar to your dish as a quick sub. We’d really recommend cooking it down properly, but in a pinch the simple mix is fine!

* Title image courtesy of Tjin's Toko.

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