Oyster sauce is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes and these meals are simply not the same without it. Oyster sauce is a pungent and fermented soft mixture that adds lasting and distinct flavor to numerous Thai and Chinese dishes.
The sauce perfectly balances salty and sweet, providing an earthy, rich undertone courtesy of the oyster extracts or reductions. Since the sauce isn’t always available or affordable, there are several oyster sauce substitutes you may want to consider at some point.
Ingredients in Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce was traditionally made by simmering oysters slowly in water until their juices began to caramelize, creating a brown, thick, and highly flavorful sauce. While you may find traditionally-made sauce, most will be made with shortcuts to save money and time. The majority of oyster sauces have a base of salt and sugar which has been thickened using corn starch. Oyster essences or extracts add flavor to this base and additional ingredients like MSG or soy sauce may add color or deepen the flavor. It is common to find multiple preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings in today’s oyster sauces.
There are vegetarian versions of oyster sauce made using mushrooms to mimic the earthy, deep flavor of oyster sauce. These frequently rely on oyster mushrooms, which have great umami flavor like oysters.
Oyster Sauce Substitute
One of the most common oyster sauce substitute options is “vegetarian oyster sauce” which will be essentially the same thing as the standard sauce, but without the oysters. If you don’t find that option in your local Asian stores, you can substitute a few options based on preference. Hoisin sauce or soy sauce work but will be slightly different. Fish sauce has a similar taste, but won’t typically be vegetarian if that is your goal.
1. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce works well as an oyster sauce substitute because it has a similar texture to the original sauce. The source of the fish sauce will vary and it may be made using dried or raw fish. Depending on the area, there may be a mixture of fish used in the preparation or only a specific variety. To make fish sauce, the fish is placed in a wooden box to ferment. They are then slowly pressed to produce the fishy liquid. Fish sauce is popular around the world and found in many dishes and sauces.
2. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is reddish-brown, dark, and thick. It is typically used for marinating, glazing, and dipping, which has led to its designation as the “Chinese barbecue sauce” because of its uses. You may also hear hoisin sauce called Peking sauce since this sauce creates the thick glaze found on Peking duck. The word hoisin comes from the Cantonese word meaning seafood. This is because the sauce is frequently used in seafood dishes as it doesn’t actually contain any seafood.
3. Soy Sauce
As an oyster sauce substitute, soy sauce will give you the salty taste and dark brown color. This is a good alternative for vegans and vegetarians and will provide some similar flavors. Keep in mind, however, that oyster sauce is slightly sweet so you will want to add a half teaspoon sugar for every tablespoon soy sauce to match the flavors of oyster sauce.
4. Mushroom Sauce
Mushroom sauce is also commonly known as vegetarian oyster sauce and it will be the best match for a substitute in terms of color and flavor. This vegan alternative can be directly substituted for oyster sauce in any recipe and is made using vegetable proteins as well as multiple types of mushrooms. This sauce even has a similar consistency to oyster sauce, making it the ideal substitute.
5. Mushroom Soy Sauce
Mushroom soy sauce combines soy sauce and mushroom sauce and will give you a similar flavor to oyster sauce. The mixture is soft and has a slightly sweet taste and deep mushroom flavor. It is made from fermented mushrooms and soybeans that produce the rich flavor of mushroom sauce as well as the viscosity of thinner soy sauce.
Homemade Oyster Sauce
Although your homemade oyster sauce won’t taste exactly the same as a commercial one, they are a great oyster sauce substitute if you don’t have time to go to the store or simply want to avoid some of the preservatives.
- Ingredients Needed:
To make a quick oyster sauce at home, you will need 1 to 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar, 4 to 5 teaspoons of liquid from canned oysters, and 8 teaspoons of soy sauce. This should make between ¼ and a ⅓ cup. You can use the oysters for anything else you want as you don’t need them for the recipe. They can be refrigerated for up to two weeks until you use them.
Start by taking the liquid out of a can of oysters which have been shucked. Take 4 teaspoons of the liquid and put it in a small bowl. Add 8 teaspoons of soy sauce in the bowl then thoroughly whisk the liquids. Either dark or light soy sauce works and if you don’t have soy sauce, you can substitute it with teriyaki sauce. Dissolve the sugar into the mix by sprinkling a teaspoon into the liquid then whisking it rapidly.
Taste your oyster sauce substitute and add another teaspoon of sugar or another teaspoon of oyster sauce if you need to. Although you can add additional soy sauce if necessary, be careful when doing so as you don’t want the mixture to become too salty. Remember to mix the sauce thoroughly.
If you don’t plan on using the oyster sauce right away, you can put it in an airtight glass or plastic container and keep it in the fridge for a week.
With a few more ingredients, you can make a traditional version of oyster sauce at home or even a vegan version.