Oyster Sauce, is a richly umami and savory sweet sauce made by boiling oysters with sugar, salt and other ingredients, repeatedly boiling till the oyster juices have caramelized, thickened with cornstarch, with many other ingredients added into a thick brown molasses colored condiment depending on the brand. These can be made from home, but are mostly bought at grocery stores due to its ease and longer preservation. Lovingly used in many Asian cuisines as a sauce for stir-fry and noodles, as a side dip, marinade, sometimes even as a secret ingredient to soups.
A short introduction
A sweet and umami sauce that is said to have originated from Southeast Asia after being influenced by Chinese cuisine. Lee Kum Sheung the founder of Lee Kum Kee a well known brand of oyster sauce invented and used since 1888. As the story goes, Lee Kum Sheung accidentally left a pot of oyster soup simmering it for a long while till it was forgotten, he then came back to see it turned into a thick brown liquid, giving it a taste. He found the pot of thick soup so flavorful and begun to start the brand we all know of today.
What is Oyster sauce made of? What are the Oyster sauce ingredients? While homemade oyster sauce can be made with simple ingredients of oysters, or oyster juice, salt, sugar, and cornstarch, some adding mirin or sake to keep the fishiness at bay. The usual condiments found at stores are commonly made with these ingredients: oyster juice concentrate, oyster extract(molluscan shellfish), salt, water, sugar, modified cornstarch, yeast extract, monosodium glutamate, modified cornstarch, caramel color. Though there are preservatives, there are still some oyster sauce nutrition from the condiment. It does not affect diets or weight loss being that the sauce is zero-cholesterol, having no saturated and trans fats, is nutrient rich, having Vitamin B12, D, Manganese, Iron, and Zinc. The real oyster sauce though seldom sold or are more likely to be made at home or sold at a higher price due to the expensive method of making the ‘traditional version’ which are made with real oysters boiled in water till it looks like a thick white broth (a color similar to clam soup), thickened further till the liquid turns into a caramel-like color with no additives even salt or sugar. Giving it an intense savory taste and flavor.
Aside from being in the fridge or cupboards of many Asian households. You can find this added in recipes like a simple oyster sauce stir fry, marinades, side sauce, soups and stews, some even used to drizzle over steamed vegetables for extra flavor. In other countries this sauce is more likely to be found in stir-fried dishes like Chinese Beef and Broccoli a popular and quick dish from China, they also add these into their pork buns similar to Vietnam’s Steamed Pork Banh Bao, Thai’s basil fried rice, Korea they might use this sauce as a secret ingredient to cabbage kimchi, in their fried rice, and beef and mushroom stir-fry, Japan adds this umami sauce into mostly vegetarian dishes with some even using this as a seasoning for sirloin steak for the buttery rich feel. The Philippines is very fond of sauces and sauce-y dishes to pair with rice, some even adding this condiment into Pork Adobo, or simply over steamed vegetables like bok choy for extra flavor. Outside Asian counties this sauce has become one of the best umami flavoring you can buy on hand to make any of your dishes ‘pop’ and taste more interesting. Any way you use this ingredient, it sure makes it taste rich, flavorful, and very savory almost like a buttery soy sauce with just a tiny hint of fishiness that you won’t even notice till you’ve eaten a lot of.
Oyster Sauce Substitutes:
Don’t have the sauce at home or readily at hand? Can’t go out or don’t have the time to drop by the grocery store? Here are some oyster sauce alternatives to help you with the dish.
- Hoisin sauce vs oyster sauce – Is hoisin sauce the same as oyster sauce? No, the “oyster” sauce is as the name states it, is a sauce made from oysters simmered and mixed with salt and sugar till its caramelized, adding cornstarch as a thickener to create a thick buttery brown to black-brown colored sauce. While Hoisin sauce is not made of animals, it is plant based made of fermented soybeans, with a similar coloring to the first sauce. Both have a similar consistency but hoisin sauce is not as sweet and is saltier. The best alternative to use, some just add more sugar to make it slightly more similar.
- Oyster sauce vs soy sauce – the easiest to find alternative, can be vegetarian or vegan though the texture is less thick so if one were to make a sauce with it and would like to thicken it, try simmering it with potato starch or cornstarch, adding some sugar to get that sweetness to make a bit it more similar.
- Oyster sauce vs Fish sauce – similarly to soy sauce it is not at all thick, and is the saltiest out of the 3 alternatives. Fish sauce is made from fermented fish’s liquids squeezed out before being made into bagoong (fish paste). It is also very pungent that depending on your dish might need a little less of.
- Does oyster sauce taste fishy?
The first thing that comes into mind is the sweetness and rich umami flavor that take over, then the savoriness to being a bit brine-y which is almost unnoticeable then salty.
- Is oyster sauce vegan?
No, most are not vegan as these are made of oysters or oyster juice, and sometimes even oyster concentrate then diluted with water. Recently most companies have been recreating plant-based, vegan, or organic options due to the rise of many ‘healthier’ options. For the vegan option these are likely to be made of mushrooms, mainly shiitake mushrooms and or oyster mushrooms or mushroom concentrate. Some also have been removing MSG (monosodium glutamate) to make non-MSG (please do check the back of the label to be sure) in the recent years.
- Is oyster sauce gluten-free?
Most sauces are gluten-free though recently many other brands have been adding wheat into the ingredients list. Do look for the list or for the bottles with ‘gluten-free’ stamped around the bottle.
- Is oyster sauce halal?
Because these are made of seafood they are halal. But some brands like Ajinomoto are not Halal-certified. Do check if the halal-certified logo is imprinted along the bottle’s sticker or to make sure if these are. Examples of halal certified options are from the brands Lee Kum Kee Panda and Mae Krua Halal Thai.
- Are there Oyster sauce benefits?
Is oyster sauce healthy? This delicious brown molasses colored sauce has only a little calories and almost no fat. A sauce made with oysters and many other ingredients do have a bit of minerals like sodium, Vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium and many more. Though do check the nutritional value in the sticker to make sure. But those with a seafood allergy might get an oyster sauce shellfish allergy reaction. If consumed, do take your medication or consult a doctor if problems occur.
Oyster sauce recipes:
This rich deliciously savory ingredient has a lot to offer many recipes. Oyster sauce uses are not just for stir-frying, but can be used as a side sauce, or mixed to make different sauces, in stews, broths, soups, omelets for extra flavor, and even including this in a marinade.
- Tofu with Oyster sauce, with a crab version called Crab with Oyster Sauce
- Beef in oyster sauce recipes:
- Chicken in oyster sauce recipes:
- Sinarsahang Pork Ribs
- Relyenong Bangus (stuffed fish)
- Vegetable dishes like