Thick, Dark and Sweet


When this post was being prepared, I was tempted to title it “Tall, Dark and Handsome”  🙂

But, I ended up choosing ‘Thick, Dark and Sweet’  to be in line with the topic of this post which is about Kecap Manis or Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce.

Why Thick, Dark and Sweet?

Kecap Manis [pronounced: ketchup MAH-nees] is indeed a thick, dark and sweet soy sauce. It is an ubiquitous cooking ingredient in my country especially in Java island. 

There are two other different spellings beside kecap – kicap and ketjap.  Kicap is used by the Malaysian while ketjap is used by the Dutch (actually, ketjap was an Indonesian spelling back before 1972 when the Indonesian used the old spelling).

In Indonesia, we have two basic types of soy sauce:  the thick sweet type (kecap manis ) and a thinner saltier type (kecap asin ). When most Indonesians refer to kecap, they mean the thick sweet type.

Many meals in Indonesia are incomplete without the addition of kecap manis . It is also used as dipping sauce where we love mixing kecap manis with chilies, sliced shallot and drizzle with a bit lime or calamansi juice.

                                 Picture from: Baliguide

Aside for cooking use, there is one important use of kecap manis which may sound rather strange to some people  – we mix kecap manis and lime for a cough remedy. Very tasty cough medicine….

Kecap manis is so unique and special. I agree with Deanna Ramsay who said that “kecap manis is a substance where sugar and spice, thick and thin, the Indonesian archipelago and China and local and global can no longer be separated, reminding the hungry consumer that this sauce is perhaps a symbol of so much more”.

Like many other Indonesians, I am a kecap manis lover. Whenever I eat my meal, I love to have kecap manis near me – if I feel the taste of the food is rather bland, I just add kecap manis – problem solved, as simple as that.

Which Kecap Manis is the Best?

I can’t say which brand of kecap manis is the best because each person has his/her own preference, usually very much influenced by the area or city we grew up.  

There are so many different brands of kecap manis in my country. Aside from certain pervasive national brands, kecap manis comes in manifold and distinct varieties depending on the city or area where it is produced.

Most places in Java have their own, local kecap manis that is uniquely suited to the distinctive foods of the area. “None are alike” because each kecap manis producer has its own secret recipe. 

The earliest known references to Indonesian soy sauce were by Dutch travelers and scientists. In 1787 Mr. Isaac Titsing, in an article on “Bereiding van de Soija,” first described its preparation and noted that it was called ketjap (now spelled kecap) in Batavia (now Jakarta).

In 1895 (in Dutch) and in 1896 (in German) the Dutch scientist H.C. Prinsen Geerligs described at length the preparation of soy sauce by Chinese in Java. He noted that black soybeans were boiled, drained, and sun-dried, covered with hibiscus leaves which he felt caused them to become inoculated with Aspergillus molds. The molded beans were dried, immersed in a cold solution of salt water, fermented in the sun for 8 days, then cooked.

The soy sauce was poured off, the beans re-boiled several times with plain water, then the various drawings mixed together, filtered, and boiled. To this was then added palm sugar, star anise, and various “soy herbs” sold by Chinese herbal pharmacists, and the mixture was finally simmered for a long time.

In 1978 Indonesia’s first large, modern soy sauce plant was established in Jakarta, using defatted soybean flakes and cracked wheat. Most traditional companies used only whole soybeans, without wheat.

How About  Making Our Own Kecap Manis? 

For those who are unable to find this Thick Dark Sweet Soy Sauce at your local market, what could be more practical than making your own?

I have tried a recipe from www.what4eats and you may try my version (modified a bit from the original recipe) of making own kecap manis:


  • 1 cup soy sauce (I use Kikoman Soy Sauce)
  • 1 cup  brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 piece star anise {optional}

Note:  you can also use palm sugar instead of brown sugar if you can find it. Or add 1-2 teaspoons of molasses for a richer flavor.


  • Put the sugar in a small saucepan and place it over a medium heat.
  • Stir until the sugar begins to clump together and then melt.
  • Continue stirring until the sugar is completely melted, but do not allow  to burn.
  • Remove from heat–the sugar will continue to cook for a while–and allow it to cool slightly.
  • Stir in rest of the ingredients. CAUTION! The sugar is still hot, and the liquid may splatter.
  • Return the saucepan to medium heat, bring it to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar and reduce the liquid to a syrupy consistency.
  • Strained, let it cool and stored.  

What is Kecap Manis for?

Kecap manis can be for a dipping sauce, for cooking the famous Indonesian fried rice or nasi goreng, fried noodle, semur (smothered beef), Indonesian-style steak (known as bistik), for glazing BBQ dishes (chicken, beef, fish, shrimp etc), for chicken or mutton satay, for stir fry dishes, and many other uses.

Here are some examples of dishes using kecap manis:

Indonesian Smothered Beef (Semur Betawi) 

                                                     Picture by Syahroni detikfood

Indonesian Fried Rice (Nasi Goreng) 

                                     Picture from: ResepMasakanIndonesia

Indonesian Chicken Satay


  • Deanna Ramsay – Jakarta Post 2011

2 responses to “Thick, Dark and Sweet

  1. Coughing is the body’s way of removing foreign material or mucus from the lungs and upper airway passages camera or of reacting to an irritated airway. Coughs have distinctive traits you can learn to recognize. A cough is only a symptom, not a disease, and often the importance of your cough can be determined only when other symptoms are evaluated..

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  2. Hi there,
    I – too- love kecap manis so much. (nasi putih, telur tjeplok, ketimun, kecap manis and I am happy.)
    And the (Dutch) people around me will look funny at me.

    Love, Patricia.

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