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 the recipe just right.
Below we've outlined 7 oyster sauce substitutes chosen specifically for what you're cooking and how you're cooking it.
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 doesn't taste 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.
7 Oyster Sauce
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 and 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% of needed oyster sauce
Flavor Notes: Salty, umami
Suggested Dishes: Drizzling, dipping
3) Kecap Manis
Like oyster sauce, it is both sweet and salty, though it lacks the saltwater funk that makes oyster sauce a special highlight of many dishes.
It is also extremely viscous, meaning that it performs wonderfully as a stir-fry coating and 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 needed oyster sauce by volume; add more to taste
Flavor Notes: Sweet, salty
Suggested Dishes: Marinades and basting
4) Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin's texture is slightly thicker than oyster sauce, but it is an excellent substitute in stir-fry dishes. Compared to oyster sauce, hoisin contains some more flavorful spice components; fennel, garlic, and chili flakes (or chili powder) 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: 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: 1:1 ratio to needed oyster sauce
Flavor Notes: Sweet, salty, slightly more flavorful than oyster sauce
Suggested Dishes: Use anywhere you need 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 much changed.
Similarities: Both based on sea creatures
Suggested Conversion: A couple 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
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.