August 8

7 Oyster Sauce Substitutes – for Stir Fry, Marinades and Dips

We may earn commissions from qualifying purchases at no extra charge to you. For more information, check out our Disclaimer


You’ve probably enjoyed oyster sauce before, even if you didn’t realize it. This unexpectedly sweet and savory condiment is a staple in Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisine. If you are looking to whip up some beef and broccoli, Thai chicken wings, or classic stir fry, you’ll need oyster sauce on your shelf.  But what if you can't find it, or prefer to go veggie? Don’t worry--several alternatives exist to help you get your recipe just right.  

Below we've outlined 7 oyster sauce substitutes according to what you're cooking and how you're cooking it. If you have any questions or comments, leave them at the bottom and we'll try and get back to you within 24 hours.

Enjoy!


 


What Exactly is Oyster Sauce?

Traditionally, oyster sauce is prepared by boiling oysters in brine until the broth caramelizes and thickens, resulting in a sweet, viscous, glistening syrup with a gentle saltwater funk.  Because this process is time-consuming, industrial factories achieve similar effects using oysters or oyster extract, sugar, salt, cornstarch, caramel color, and MSG.  

Although the sauce does contain oysters, it tastes not nearly as fishy as people might assume. Instead, its flavor is rich and sweet, with a salty undertone. Its high-gloss finish is a lovely visual complement to any dish, and its viscosity is perfect for coating velveted meats or other tossed recipes. 

On-the-Go Reference Table


Stir-Fry
Replacements 

  • 50/50 Mix of Hoisin and Soy Sauce
  • Mushroom Stir Fry Sauce
  • Black Bean Sauce

Marinade
Replacements 

  • Kecap Manis
  • Soy Sauce with 
    Worcestershire and sugar

Dipping
Replacements 

  • Soy Sauce
  • Hoisin Sauce

7 Oyster Sauce
Substitutes 

1) Mushroom Stir-Fry Sauce


For those who are vegetarian or allergic to shellfish, this is an excellent option. Typical mushroom stir-fry sauce consists of a soybean base with sugar, salt, cornstarch, flour, mushroom flavor, and some caramel coloring and preservatives. 

Due to the wheat flour, gluten-sensitive consumers should avoid this product. Some well-known brands of mushroom stir-fry sauce are Lee Kum Kee, Kimlan, and Wa Jan Shan.

Similarities: Texture and Flavor

Suggested Conversion: 1:1 Ratio to Oyster Sauce 

Flavor Notes: Umami, Salty, Sweet 

Suggested Dishes: Any recipe using oyster sauce, but especially stir-fry and tossing recipes. 

2) Soy Sauce


Soy sauce is a poor substitute in some ways because it lacks sweetness, and its watery texture does little justice to the shiny, syrupy richness of oyster sauce. Soy sauce is unable to coat stir-fry ingredients to the same satisfying degree. However, because its base is salty, made with fermented soybeans, it can add a lot of savory, umami funk.

An at-home hack to make it a closer match is to stir in one or two spoonfuls of sugar and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce (however, this would make it non-vegetarian, since most Worcestershire contains anchovies). Be aware that soy sauce contains wheat, so it is not appropriate for gluten-sensitive consumers.

Similarities: Saltiness, funkiness 

Suggested Conversion: 30% to 50% oyster sauce by volume

Flavor Notes: Salty, umami

Suggested Dishes: Drizzling, dipping 

3) Kecap Manis


The popular Indonesian condiment kecap manis is essentially soy sauce sweetened with a healthy dose of palm sugar, giving it a molasses-like flavor and texture. Like oyster sauce, it is both sweet and salty, although it lacks the saltwater funk that makes oyster sauce a secret highlight of many dishes.  

It is also extremely viscous, meaning that it performs wonderfully as a stir-fry coating and a marinade. Because it packs more sugar than oyster sauce, start out with less than the recipe calls for, or mix it with regular soy sauce to taste. Like standard soy sauce, kecap manis is plant-based but contains gluten.

Similarities: Texture and sweetness 

Suggested Conversion: Start with 50% of oyster sauce by volume; add more to taste

Flavor Notes: Sweet, salty 

Suggested Dishes: Marinades and basting

4) Hoisin Sauce


Huisine's texture is slightly thicker than oyster sauce, but it is an excellent substitute in stir-fry dishes. Compared to oyster sauce, hoisin contains more flavorful spice components; fennel, garlic, and chili flakes are traditional favorites.  

Hoisin also incorporates acidic elements such as vinegar, orange, and plum. While oyster sauce tends to act as a background  “building block” of a recipe with its caramelly, deep flavor, hoisin steals the show! Like many Chinese condiments, it contains wheat, but no animal products. 

Similarities: Texture, sweetness

Suggested Conversion: A 1:1 ratio of hoisin to oyster sauce

Flavor Notes: Sweet, acidic, garlicky 

Suggested Dishes: Stir-fry and tossed dishes, dipping 

5) 50:50 Mixture of Hoisin and Soy Sauce


Many have claimed that this mixture is as close as one can get to oyster sauce without boiling any shellfish. While hoisin is slightly thicker than oyster sauce, the addition of soy sauce thins it out, and the saltiness of the soy sauce cuts the sweetness of the hoisin. Both condiments boast a fermented quirkiness. As a reminder, both sauces are plant-based but contain wheat in their ingredients.   

Similarities: Texture, sweetness 

Suggested Conversion: Use this mixture just as you would use oyster sauce

Flavor Notes: Sweet, salty, slightly more flavorful than oyster sauce

Suggested Dishes: Use anywhere you would use oyster sauce

6) Black Bean Sauce 


This dense, creamy (but entirely plant-based) sauce is good at coating noodles, vegetables, and meat. It has a dark color, viscous consistency, and savory flavor like oyster sauce, although it lacks sweetness. Made from fermented black beans (douchi), vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and a small amount of sugar, black bean sauce will not mimic the flavor of oyster sauce. Still, it will admirably satisfy the coating properties and mouthfeel.  

Due to the soy sauce, black bean paste contains gluten. Use this condiment instead of oyster sauce, and you will end up with a different but equally delicious dish, more savory than sweet. To make it a little closer to oyster sauce, mix in a spoonful of extra sugar and thin it with a drizzle of mushroom broth. 

Similarities: Texture, Umami 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Savory, salty  

Suggested Dishes: Noodles 

7) Fish Sauce 


Fish sauce is, quite simply, not a good substitute for oyster sauce, and it is on this list to dispel any notions to the contrary. A drop or three of fish sauce can add a lot of authenticity to a Cantonese or Thai recipe, especially if you are missing oyster sauce. However, it would be a dramatic overstatement to call it a “substitute.” The two sauces are different in taste, texture, and intended use; substitute one for the other, and you will find your recipe inedible.

Similarities: Based on sea creatures 

Suggested Conversion: A couple of drops of fish sauce can help make up for the lack of oyster sauce

Flavor Notes: Have almost nothing in common 

Suggested Dishes: Stir-fry and mixed dishes

In Conclusion


When choosing an oyster sauce substitute, consider carefully which aspect of the oyster sauce is most important to preserve, and use the suggestions above as your guide. With a little forethought, you can have full confidence in your recipe even without this stir-fry staple!

We hope this was helpful. Leave a comment below if you have any questions. Do you know of any other oyster sauce substitutes? Let us know.

Cheers,

Caitlin



Tags


About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

You may also like

6 Best Molasses Substitutes – For Color, Flavor and Baking

7 Best Rosemary Substitutes – Which to Use and When to Use Them

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}