Switching Sauces for Healthier Asian Dishes

Help your parents eat more healthy and keep the same flavours by using these alternative marinades.

Asian parents can be resistant to change, especially when it comes to food.

Try telling mom that her famous soy sauce chicken is unhealthy — and you’ll get an earful for months. But there are subtle ways to help your parents transition to healthier alternatives while still keeping the flavour in their favourite dishes.

What really makes Asian cooking so flavourful are the sauces and marinades, but did you know that many of them are unhealthy?

They contain hidden ingredients such as gluten, sugar, and dairy which wreak havoc on our bodies. Luckily, there are plenty of brands with healthier alternatives to many of our favourite flavours.

Eating healthy is a lifestyle and not a fad diet. Being Asian, I’ve found it more difficult to find my favourite cultural cuisines in a healthier way, even when I’m the one cooking! But through years of experience and investigative work (or maybe more like failed meals), I’ve discovered some pretty great brands that are healthy and taste great.

SOY SAUCE

Most soy sauce have gluten in it — especially the kind at sushi and dim sum restaurants — but why does it matter?

Gluten affects a majority of the population in different ways. Some people feel bloated and experience abdominal discomfort, while others develop rashes or eczema. Gluten affects the lining of the intestinal walls and creates little openings that allow food particles out of the intestines. The body attacks these food particles with water, causing water retention or edema, which is also why some may feel bloated after a heavy meal with plenty of gluten.

To avoid this, I use gluten-free soy sauce. My favourite brands are San-J Tamari soy sauce (they have a variety to choose from) and Lee Kum Kee gluten-free soy sauce. You can find these at many large Asian supermarkets, Superstore, and Save-on-Foods, as well as health food stores, such as Whole Foods Market or Choices Market.

My parents have no clue I’ve switched out their soy sauce, by the way.

MISO

I love, love, love to add miso to my meals — whether it’s to make miso-glazed sablefish, a miso salad dressing, or a simple miso soup (which my dad adores). Miso paste is fermented soybeans and is a great source of probiotics. It’s important to use organic miso because conventional soybeans are highly ladened with pesticides and chemicals.

My favourite brands are Amano Foods Organic Miso and Hikari Miso.

SUGAR

Many Asian dishes use sugar. In fact, my mom would add white granulated sugar to everything, which she says brings out the flavour. That is until we remember that sugar is not necessarily healthy!

This has been difficult to switch out in Asian cooking but I’ve opted to use organic cane sugar, maple syrup, or honey, whenever possible. These sweet alternatives are healthier in that they are less processed and can usually be used less.

Suggestions include Canadian Heritage Organics maple syrups, Wholesome organic cane sugar, and unpasteurized, raw local honeys (especially those found at Farmers’ Markets). All of these are easy to find at most local grocery stores.

OTHER ASIAN SAUCES

In Vancouver, the local brand True Nosh makes delicious vegan and gluten-free Asian sauces and hot sauces. Find their sauces on their online store or at Vegan Supply or Pharmasave, as well as other retail partners which are listed on their website.

There you have it — alternative cooking sauces commonly used in Asian households. Not everyone will be open to change so the key is to switch one thing at a time.

Slowly and surely, you too can be replacing your parents’ pantry with healthy sauces, much like I have!

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