oyster sauce is a dark sauce with a thick consistency, normally made from oyster juice, sugar and salt. The sauce has an earthy, salty and sweet taste with a rich umami flavor profile and is traditionally used in meat and vegetable dishes in Cantonese, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. “The sauce was discovered in 1888, when a Chinese food stall owner, Lee Kim Sheung, accidentally left a pot of oyster soup boiling too long. Once the soup was reduced to a thick, caramelized sauce, do not not wanting to waste the food, he tasted it”, explains Rebecca Jane, Registered Nutritional Therapist and founder of NutriPOD. From then on, Sheung added it to all his dishes on his stall and called it “Oyster Sauce”.
Oyster sauce isn’t always an ingredient that people have on hand in their kitchens. And some people have shellfish allergies, like oysters. So, finding a replacement for this sauce can be helpful. Here are 13 different sauces to use in place of oyster sauce.
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Best Oyster Sauce Substitutions
1. Fish sauce
Fish sauce is made from fermented fish and salt. It tastes much more fishy than oyster sauce but can be replaced by oyster sauce in dishes. “You may need to add or increase sweeter ingredients to balance out the flavor,” explains Allie Echevveria, an Atlanta-based nutritionist.
2. Hoisin sauce
Hoisin sauce has a similar consistency to oyster sauce. “It will add an umami flavor and it has sweetness,” says Echevveria. This sauce, however, lacks some of the salty flavors of oyster sauce. Try adding a splash of fish sauce to hoisin sauce to create a very close substitute for oyster sauce. Hoisin sauce can also be used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or dumplings, as well as a marinade for chicken or tofu in stir-fries.
3. Soy Sauce
“Soy sauce provides a salty flavor and can be balanced with the addition of sugar to mimic oyster sauce,” says chef Julie Lopez, dietician and co-owner of Culinary Nutrition Studio. This sauce has a slightly thinner consistency than oyster sauce, but the sugar can help thicken it.
4. Black bean paste
Black bean paste is made from fermented black beans, is similar in color and consistency to oyster sauce, and will replicate the texture when replaced. “Note that most prepared black bean pastes have other seasonings added, such as vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and sugar,” Lopez explains. It’s a great vegan substitute for oyster sauce.
5. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
This seasoning-based sauce is made from non-GMO soy and water. “Mixed with a little honey or coconut sugar to sweeten it, it’s the perfect alternative to oyster sauce,” says Liana Werner-Gray, certified nutritionist and author of The diet of the land, Cancer free with food and Without anxiety with food. “Made with minimal ingredients, Bragg Liquid Aminos is a sauce that you can use daily in a multitude of dishes. This sauce pairs well with Asian-inspired dishes or can even be used as a salad dressing.
6. Worcestershire Sauce
“The combination of Worcestershire sauce, which is made from fermented anchovies, which gives that salty umami flavor, mixed with a hint of soy sauce and a little sugar for extra sweetness is a great alternative,” says Jane.. She suggests only using it in small amounts, as the flavor packs a bigger punch than oyster sauce. “It can be too potent in large amounts,” says Jane.
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7. Vegan oyster sauce
Oyster sauce can actually be made from mushrooms and mushroom extracts to make it suitable for vegetarians and vegans. “It still provides the umami flavor but has less salt than oyster sauce,” says Jane. Try that vegetarian oyster sauce recipe from I Heart Umami.
8. Sweet soy sauce
Also known as ‘Kecap Manis’, this sauce originated in Indonesia and you only need half the amount of oyster sauce to get the flavor you are looking for. You can buy this sweet soy sauce or make it at home by combining soy sauce with brown sugar, molasses, garlic, ginger, and spices. Try this recipe from Bold Gourmet.
9. Teriyaki Sauce
It’s a sweeter alternative to oyster sauce, but has a similar consistency. “It’s made with soy sauce, sugar and sake or mirin and if you’re in a bind, that can be used instead,” says Jane.
10. Miso paste
Traditionally used as a Japanese seasoning, miso paste is made from fermented soybeans and comes in a variety of forms, from mild to more intense flavors. “It’s a great substitute to add to a dish for that salty umami flavor, but it lacks the sweet element you might be looking for,” says Jane.
Related: Best Brown Sugar Substitutes
11. Umami paste
The umami flavor makes it an excellent base for soups, stews, and even sauces. You can make umami paste by combining a selection of ingredients like anchovies, soy sauce, tomato paste, fish sauce, olive oil, mushrooms and ‘garlic. It can also be purchased as a paste or even stock cubes. Try this umami dough recipe by EatingWell, which is vegan.
12. Anchovy paste
It is a paste made from ground anchovies, vinegar, spices and a little sugar and water. “It definitely offers the salty flavor of umami, but it lacks a bit of the sweetness you expect from oyster sauce,” says Jane. Anchovy paste contains fish, which means it is not suitable for vegetarians or vegans, but for those who eat fish, Jane notes that it is an excellent source of zinc.
“While it may seem a far cry from oyster sauce, a good store-bought or homemade tapenade — made with olives, anchovies, and olive oil — can deliver that umami flavor you’re looking for,” Jane explains. With the salty taste of olives and anchovies, it’s an Italian take on the flavors of oyster sauce.
Next, check out common substitutions.
- Chef Julie Lopez, dietitian and co-owner of Culinary Nutrition Studio
- Rebecca Jane, Registered Nutritional Therapist and Founder of NutriPOD
- Allie Echevveria, an Atlanta-based nutritionist
- Liana Werner-Gray, certified nutritionist and author of The diet of the land, Cancer free with food and No anxiety with food