You know that oyster sauce is made from oysters but did you know that this syrupy concoction delivers umami deliciousness for days? To make oyster sauce, mollusks are first cooked in water to create a sort of shellfish soup. This is then strained and cooked with salt and sugar until the sweet and savory juices of the sea have caramelized into a dark brown syrup that makes culinary dreams come true. But is your stir-fry or meat marinade destined to disappoint if you aren’t stocked with this secret ingredient? Nope. Let us be your guide so you can find the ideal substitute for oyster sauce and not miss out on an ounce of flavor when you dig into your favorite dish.
But first, why should you care about oyster sauce?
You’ve got a bottle of fish sauce that you’ve barely touched and a half-used tube of anchovy paste in the fridge. So when a recipe calls for oyster sauce, you might wonder why you should care when you have so many other fishy condiments hanging around already. The benefit of oyster sauce comes from the fact that its flavor is both sweet and briny, but not overly fishy—so it delivers the goods without overwhelming your palate with too much sea funk. Just a dollop of this stuff adds serious flavor and richness to stir-fries, marinades, veggie dishes, soups and more. If you’re hoping to cook up a delicious dish that demands oyster sauce and you have none, pick a substitute wisely so you can best imitate its subtle umami flavor.
4 substitutes for oyster sauce
1. Soy sauce. Soy sauce lacks the syrupy consistency of oyster sauce and unsurprisingly, it also lacks the sweetness. Still, umami is the name of the game when it comes to oyster sauce and salt is not the enemy, either. Try substituting with a slightly lesser amount of soy sauce and adding a (sparing) pinch of brown sugar for a bonafide oyster sauce alternative.
2. Sweet soy sauce. Following the same logic as above, this Indonesian variation on classic soy sauce is a suitable alternative for the oyster stuff. Loads of salty umami flavor, with plenty of sweetness (actually a bit more than you’d get from oyster sauce, so you can definitely skip the brown sugar here.) If you use it sparingly, the only thing missing is the mollusk.
3. Hoisin sauce. Equal parts sweet and salty, this is one of the best substitutes for oyster sauce. Alas, there’s a difference between briny and salty so it isn’t a perfect stand-in, but it will do the trick. Best of all, this alternative can be substituted in equal quantities so you can still follow your recipe step-by-step.
4. Soy and hoisin. If you have both of these condiments available, combine soy and hoisin sauce in a 1:1 ratio. Again, oyster sauce is basically the inimitable manifestation of umami but we saved the best for last and this combo will come closest to checking all the boxes.
You might not have briny oyster sauce, but you now know how to make your tastebuds sing with some similar salty-sweet substitutes. So who’s making stir-fry for dinner tonight?