The name might not sound that appealing but the taste definitely is. Oyster sauce is a delicious syrupy condiment known for its umami flavor. The sweet and salty sauce is mostly used in Asian cuisine for dipping, stir fry, and meat marinades.
If you need an oyster sauce substitute due to an allergy, or if you simply don’t have any on hand, we’ve compiled a list of substitutes that you can use instead. So keep your wok going, and grab one of these alternatives from the pantry to bring that authentic sweet and salty Asian flavor profile to your dish.
What Is Oyster Sauce?
Originally made by simmering oysters in water to yield a brown caramelized syrupy consistency, this time-consuming and costly process has been modernized for mass production. The quality of the condiment will affect the price and taste.
Most commercial products are now made with oyster extracts, sugar, salt, and cornstarch as a thickener. Many varieties are darkened with caramel coloring to give it the same naturally dark color of the high-quality product.
Although it contains oyster extract, it doesn’t taste fishy, but rather has a salty-sweet flavor. If the name didn’t give it away, you probably wouldn’t even guess that it contained shellfish. Even though it is mostly used in Asian cooking, you will find it at most large general supermarkets as well as at Chinese grocery stores.
You may need to find a replacement if you are vegetarian or have a shellfish allergy. In addition, the sauce contains a high percentage of sugar, and some versions contain MSG. Both these factors may have you looking for a healthier alternative.
Best Replacement for Oyster Sauce
#1. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin is somewhat similar to ketchup, with a sweet and tangy red-brown profile. Like the oyster sauce, it has a fair amount of sugar, giving it a thick and caramelized consistency. It does, however, also contain spices such as garlic, red chili peppers, and fennel.
The reason it is such a great substitute for oyster sauce is that it is used in very similar ways including meat glazes in Asian cuisine, dipping sauce for Pecking duck, and roast pork. You can use this as a direct swap in equal quantities. If you have a soy allergy, opt for something else since hoisin sauce is made from fermented soybeans.
See more: Hoisin sauce alternative
#2. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is another fermented soybean product used mostly in Chinese cuisine, but its versatility has seen it being incorporated into worldwide fusion dishes. The soybeans are soaked, cooked, and mixed with other ingredients to ferment in brine. They are then pressed and strained after which the salty brown liquid is pasteurized for bottling.
Since it is saltier and has a thinner consistency than oyster sauce, you may want to start with a little less than the quantity you are replacing to prevent it from being overly salty. There are however some thicker types, sweetened and low-sodium versions, light, and dark soy sauce varieties.
The reduced or thick sweet and sour soy can act as an ideal replacement. If you only have regular soy in the pantry, add a little brown sugar or honey and mix until dissolved to make it a closer match to oyster sauce’s sweet-salty flavor. The benefit of doing this is that you can control the amount of sugar that goes into your dish.
It can be used in everything from stir-fry, broth, sauces, and marinades to seafood, poultry, and curry. Note that soy sauce incorporates wheat in the production process so won’t be suitable for coeliacs or anyone with severe wheat allergies.
Related: Replacement for soy sauce
#3. Soy and Hoisin Sauce Combination
Although both hoisin and soy can make a decent replacement on their own, if you have both of these in your pantry, combine them for an even better outcome. To replace two tablespoons of oyster sauce, mix one tablespoon of soy with one tablespoon of hoisin.
Since one is much thicker than the other, stir well to form an even consistency before adding it to your dish or using it as a marinade.
Since tamari is very similar to soy, it can be used as a substitute in much the same way. Tamari does not contain wheat, which makes it a good choice for people who can’t have soy due to wheat allergies. It is also made from fermented soybeans with a very salty taste and little sweetness. Add honey or brown sugar to even out the saltiness when using it as a replacement.
Due to its salty taste and thinner consistency, use only half the amount of tamari as a replacement.
Related: Substitute for tamari
#5. Fish Sauce
This is often used in conjunction with oyster sauce in stir-fries. It is made from salt fermented fish or krill which gives it a salty and pungent flavor that will offer umami complexity in your dish.
It lacks sweetness so if this is something you are missing add a little honey or brown sugar. Since it has a thinner consistency and is so strong, starts with only half the amount as a replacement, and slowly add more to taste if needed.
See more: Best substitute for fish sauce
#6. Kecap Manis: Sweet Soy Sauce
Kecap Manis is a dark and thick, syrupy Indonesian fermented soy sauce. It is sweetened with palm sugar which gives it a molasses-like flavor. It is a little sweeter than oyster sauce, but if you don’t mind the sugar content, it makes a superb flavorful alternative. Use it as a replacement in equal quantities
Teriyaki sauce has a lovely thick consistency which makes it a great substitute especially in stir fry and marinades. It’s made from soy sauce combined with sugar, rice wine, and seasonings. Some brands of teriyaki include oyster sauce in the ingredients. It is a sweeter and less salty substitute but can be replaced measure for the measure without being overpowering.
#8. Worcestershire Sauce, Sugar, and Classic Soy Sauce
Worcestershire sauce has a thin runny consistency and a dark brown color. It is often used in meat dishes. It has a strong vinegar taste and also contains spices, anchovies, garlic, molasses, tamarind extract, onions, and salt.
Its depth of flavor makes it popular in marinades and stews, but it lacks the saltiness and sweetness of oyster sauce. To remedy this, adding a little honey for sweetness and to thicken the consistency plus a few drops of soy for saltiness gives you all the flavor notes you need. Instead of honey, you can also use sugar.
To replace 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce, combine half a teaspoon of honey or brown sugar with 1 tablespoon of soy. Add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and mix to form an even consistency.
Related: Substitute for worcestershire sauce
#9. Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
Whether you’re vegetarian, have an allergy, or need to avoid shellfish for religious reasons, there are commercially produced vegetarian substitutes. This means you don’t have to go to all the trouble to concoct your own sauce, but can just purchase a bottle and keep it in the pantry to use as is.
The sauce is usually labeled as ‘Vegetarian Oyster Sauce’ and is available in various brands. These products use an artificial oyster flavor instead of using real oysters.
#10. Homemade Vegan Oyster Sauce
If you prefer making your own sauce or can’t find the vegetarian version in-store, grab a cube of concentrated mushroom broth or stock. Alternatively, you can also use dried shiitake mushrooms. Dissolve the cube in half a cup of boiling water and add one tablespoon of sugar for sweetness and two tablespoons of brown bean sauce for a darker color and saltiness.
Boil and stir for a few minutes. To thicken the sauce to the desired consistency, make a slurry by combining 1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1 teaspoon cold water. Add the slurry to the mushroom broth while stirring over medium heat until it thickens. Use this as a replacement in equal amounts.
#11. Black Bean Paste
This is another vegan option that is made from fermented black beans and then combined with soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and garlic. It has saltiness from the soy, sweetness from the sugar, and a similar consistency and color which makes it an ideal alternative. You can use black bean paste as a replacement measure for measure.
#12. Homemade Oyster Sauce
If the thought of MSG and all the other chemical components that go into commercially produced sauces gives you the heebie-jeebies, why not make your own at home where you can control exactly what goes into it. Dried oysters are, of course, the easier option since they don’t require shucking. However, if you are lucky enough to have fresh oysters, you can use them too.
To prepare the sauce, rinse 200 g of dried oysters well and then soak them in cold water overnight to soften. You could also soak them in hot water to speed up the soaking time. Once the oysters are plump, add 2 tablespoons of white wine, and 1 small piece of freshly chopped ginger. Adjust the amount of ginger according to your personal preference. Remember that it is a fairly potent ingredient.
Let the mixture simmer on low heat for an hour until the water reduces to approximately 300 ml. You now need to filter the mixture to remove any grit, oysters, and ginger so that you are left with a pure liquid. This is best done by straining the mixture through a cheesecloth. Squeeze the oyster meat as well to ensure you get maximum flavor out of them.
Place the strained juice in a pot on the stove and add 130 g sugar, half cup soy sauce, and one tablespoon honey. Heat to let the sugar dissolve completely. Make a slurry from ½ tablespoon cornstarch. Add it to the mixture while stirring and let it simmer for about 10 minutes until nicely thickened to the desired saucy consistency. Adjust the soy or sugar ratio if required according to your taste.
Once completely cooled down, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Oyster sauce brings everything to the flavor party with its delicious umami complexity. Whether used as a marinade, in a stir fry dish, or for dipping, its sweet and salty flavor always makes for a delicious meal.
When choosing the best substitute, consider whether the sweetness, saltiness, consistency, or type of ingredients are the most important to you. Options like soy and fish sauce are not as thick, while teriyaki has a similar consistency with slightly less saltiness.
The great thing about most of these substitutes is that they can easily be tweaked with the addition of honey, molasses, sugar, or soy to get exactly the flavor profile you’re after.
*image by AndreySt/depositphotos