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What is oyster sauce?

Oyster sauce is an amazing and versatile ingredient that is used in countless recipes and is found in many kitchens and restaurants around the world.

Traditional oyster sauce is made by simmering oysters in water in order to make a thick, caramelized sauce. Salt, sugar, and sometimes soy sauce is added to develop the flavor even more. 

Ingredients for Hunan Pork.
Even though oyster sauce is a typical Asian recipe ingredient, feel free to use it in everyday cooking to level-up your sauces, marinades, crockpot recipes and soup.

Oyster sauce is both sweet and salty, and it does a fantastic job of bringing out many flavors in the dishes you make.

Even though its primary ingredient is oyster juice, don’t let that fool you. It doesn’t have an overwhelming fishy smell or taste to it like you might expect. Unlike fish sauce, oyster sauce is more subtle and contains more of an umami taste than anything else.

But What If I Don’t Have Oyster Sauce?

If you have a recipe that calls for oyster sauce but you don’t have any, not to worry! There are many different things you can do to substitute oyster sauce. Since many variations of oyster sauce contain soy sauce, the easiest way to replace oyster sauce is with plain soy sauce. Other substitutes include:

  • Soy sauce with ½-1 added teaspoons of sugar
  • Hoisin sauce, which can be found at your local Asian food store
  • 1 mushroom broth cube in ½ cup boiling water, and 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Miso paste, a Japanese fermented soy bean paste. Add at the end of cooking.
  • A few fillets of canned anchovies or anchovies paste.
  • Doenjang, a fermented soy bean paste from Korea, add at the end of cooking.
  • Black bean paste. A fermented bean paste from China.

I Have Oyster Sauce, Now What?

Now that you’ve bought a dozen bottles of oyster sauce because of how awesome it is, you might be wondering when and how to use it.

Oyster sauce is often used with other kitchen staples to create delicious sauces for stir-fry dishes, glazes for meats and vegetables, and broths for soups and ramen. The versatility of oyster sauce makes it a valuable addition to your very own pantry. If “awesome sauce” were a real thing, this would be it!


A helpful list of oyster sauces and substitutions to help you level-up your cooking game.


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Bianca is a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati. She is an Applied Behavioral Health Technician and a freelance writer. She spends her free time catching up with friends and scaling walls at indoor rock gyms.