Oyster sauce makes an Asian stir fry taste twice better. This sauce is commonly used in Chinese and Thai cuisines, besides others. It adds that much-needed punch to your noodle stir-fries.
But what if you realize that you don’t have a bottle of it just as you have tossed the vegetables in your wok? Worry not. There is no need to make a dash to the supermarket. You can make do with the more commonly stocked items in your fridge.
Also, did you know that oyster sauce is nearly 30 percent sugar? All the more reason for you to replace it with other similar-tasting items, no?
But before we let on what you can substitute your oyster sauce with, let us try to break down what a tablespoon of it really contains. The main ingredients include oysters, which are cooked for a long time in water; besides generous shakes of salt and sugar. Generally, to thicken the sauce a little, corn starch is added. When you buy it from the market, there are preservatives, flavor enhancers, yeast extract, and food color (depending on the brand).
Oyster sauce is dark and syrupy and can pass for soy sauce, though the latter is much thinner.
Oyster sauce has a rich briny flavor. This is due to the salt from the sea that the shellfish contain. While it may be hard to exactly reproduce the same taste, the good news is there are a bunch of other sauces that you can use to get a taste closer to what the oyster sauce tastes like.
Here are the substitutes that you can use if you find your refrigerator empty of this flavorsome condiment.
1. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is thinner and way saltier than oyster sauce. But you can still use it as a substitute for the oyster sauce by controlling the portion of it that you add to your dish. For example, if a dish requires three to four tablespoons of oyster sauce, just half of it, say, two tablespoons of soy sauce would suffice. Since soy sauce is not as sweet as oyster sauce, you can balance the flavors by mixing some white or brown sugar in it. Or maybe a wee bit of Worcestershire sauce.
But let’s warn you that oyster sauce has a distinct flavor, and soy sauce cannot match it 100 percent. However, it makes for a decent substitute, albeit with a few challenges. Since soy sauce is not fish-based, there is no way it can get the unique umami flavor of oyster sauce. The salt in soy sauce doesn’t match the briny taste that comes from cooking oysters in water for a prolonged time.
2. Sweet Soy Sauce
There is an Indonesian variation of the classic soy sauce called Kecap Manis. This tastes exactly like soy sauce except it is sweeter. In fact, it can be sweeter than oyster sauce itself. If you are using this as a substitute for oyster sauce, it is best to start by using just a little. If the recipe calls for one tablespoon of oyster sauce, add just a little of the sweet soy sauce, and increase the quantity gradually, until you get the desired taste of the oyster sauce.
Like soy sauce, since this sauce also is not made of any seafood, you won’t get the briny taste that is unique to oyster sauce. But what will be on point is the sweet and salty combo that makes the oyster sauce so irresistible.
3. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce, like soy sauce, is also made with soybeans. This can be used as a substitute for the oyster sauce in a similar quantity. If you had to state the main differences between the two, it would be the salt and sugar content. While both are salt and sweet, hoisin sauce is sweeter and thicker than oyster sauce, and oyster sauce is saltier than hoisin sauce.
This is why, while hoisin sauce can be used as a dip, the oyster sauce cannot be as it can get a little too salty. Though either of the sauces can be used to enhance the flavors of your beef stir-fries and pad Thais.
4. Hoisin and Soy Sauce Mix
This is probably the best substitute you can find for oyster sauce. Mix equal amounts of hoisin and soy sauce to get a brilliant concoction that is sweet, tangy, and salty. The taste of this mix of sauces is very close to that of the oyster sauce.
The sweetness of the hoisin sauce and the tangy flavor of the soy sauce blend in perfectly to give a dark reddish-brown sauce with a similar consistency as the oyster sauce. And the best part is that even those who have an aversion to seafood can finally find out what an oyster sauce tastes like.
The only downside of this is that you will need to have two sauces in your fridge to get one. It’s quite an ask if you are not into cooking Asian food on a regular basis.
5. Mushroom Stir-fried Sauce
Yet another option for those who are allergic to shellfish, and cannot consume oyster sauce, there is an interesting substitute on the market – mushroom stir-fried sauce.
This sauce, much like the soy sauce, has soybean as the base. To this, the mushroom flavor is added. Then the usual ingredients such as salt and sugar are included along with thickening agents like corn starch.
The texture and flavor of this sauce are quite similar to the oyster sauce and can be used in the same quantity as the oyster sauce for your recipes. It’s sweet and salty and packed with umami flavors. It works great in stir-fried dishes.
We hope that next time you find your oyster sauce bottle empty, you stay cool and try out some of the substitutes that we have suggested in the article. There are options for those who prefer vegetarian substitutes, and those who have only a bottle of soy sauce to get their Asian food fix. While all the substitutes, the mix, and match tricks, may give you a sauce that tastes closer to oyster sauce, the real thing is obviously the best one. But until your next supermarket visit, you know that you can rely on these substitutes to tend to your craving.