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There’s a special Japanese sauce with a unique sour taste known as ponzu sauce.
If you’re looking for the perfect dipping sauce for seafood or a flavorful way to liven up a dish, this sauce is hard to beat.
The citrus juice in this sauce makes it special but if you can’t make homemade ponzu sauce and you don’t have the store-bought stuff in your pantry, you need to find a good substitute.
You’re aiming for a citrus and salty taste when looking at ponzu substitutes because it’s a sauce based on citrus from the yuzu fruit.
The best ponzu sauce substitute is to mix soy sauce with fresh lemon juice because it combines the salty umami flavor of the soy sauce with the citrus flavors that ponzu is well known for. Another excellent substitute, and my peronsal favorite, is a spicy Thai sauce called Nam Prik Nam Pla.
With these options, your food will take on ponzu sauce’s flavor profile and have the same sweet and tart taste.
But don’t worry, there are other substitutes you can also use instead of this mix for all kinds of Japanese dishes.
Keep reading to find out about the best alternatives to this famous Japanese sauce.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is ponzu sauce & what to look for in a substitute ponzu sauce
- 2 Best ponzu sauce substitutes
- 2.1 Nam Prik Nam Pla: my personal favorite ponzu sauce substitute
- 2.2 Soy sauce + lemon juice: best ponzu sauce substitute for dipping sauce
- 2.3 Soy sauce + lime juice
- 2.4 Soy sauce + pineapple juice: best ponzu sauce substitute for glaze
- 2.5 Soy sauce + vinegar: best ponzu sauce substitute for marinade
- 2.6 Worcestershire sauce: easiest ponzu sauce substitute
- 2.7 Mentsuyu: best bottled ponzu sauce substitute
- 2.8 Rice vinegar + soy sauce + lime juice: best ponzu sauce substitute for salad dressing
- 2.9 Yuzu juice + soy sauce: best ponzu sauce substitute for sushi
- 2.10 Fish sauce: best ponzu sauce substitute for grilled fish & seafood
- 2.11 Japanese yuzu kosho: best ponzu sauce substitute for stir fry
- 2.12 Fish sauce + orange juice
- 2.13 Tonkatsu sauce
- 2.14 Shoyu + lemon juice
- 2.15 Teriyaki sauce + lemon juice
- 2.16 Hoisin sauce + rice vinegar
- 3 Make your own “close enough” ponzu sauce
- 4 Easy ponzu sauce substitute
- 5 FAQs
- 6 Conclusion
What is ponzu sauce & what to look for in a substitute ponzu sauce
Ponzu Sauce is a Japanese seasoning sauce typically served with sushi, shabu-shabu or other Japanese favorites.
The flavor of ponzu sauce comes from a combination of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and Japanese citrus fruit (traditionally an Asian citrus variety known as Yuzu in Japan).
So, you can expect a sour taste combined with a fruity taste.
This slightly sweet taste is the perfect pairing for Japanese BBQ (yakiniku), sashimi, and other seafood dishes.
But besides grilled fish dishes, this citrus-based sauce also works well as a topping for rice dishes.
The texture is thin and watery much like light soy sauce. It’s used for marinades, dipping sauce, and topping.
When choosing a substitute for ponzu sauce, you’ll want to find a sauce with a similar balance of sweet, sour, and salty flavors and a runny texture.
You can always make sauces runnier by adding water but it’s hard to make a sauce less runny. So, it’s best to find a ponzu sauce alternative that has a similar consistency.
Soy sauce is a key ingredient in ponzu sauce so that’s a good place to start. Rice vinegar will also add a sour flavor while citrus juice will add sweetness and acidity.
Substitutes that contain some of those ingredients will make good substitutes.
Best ponzu sauce substitutes
Sure, you can make your own homemade ponzu sauce but if you’re out of ponzu sauce when cooking, there are plenty of excellent substitutes for ponzu sauce you can use.
The authentic store-bought Japanese ponzu sauce contains bonito flakes, kelp, and dried citrus peel for a unique flavor.
These ingredients can be hard to find and not everyone has the time to make their own ponzu sauce from scratch.
If you don’t have any ponzu sauce on hand, here are some of the best ponzu substitute sauces.
Nam Prik Nam Pla: my personal favorite ponzu sauce substitute
Nam prik plam, aka nam pla ra is a Thai fish sauce that’s made from fermented fish, citrus juice, and hot chilis. It has a strong, salty flavor with a bit of sweetness.
This thai condiment is usually used as a dipping sauce but it can also be used as a substitute for ponzu sauce.
Nam Prik is an absolute staple of Thai cuisine. It is very versatile and can be used on all kinds of things!
This combination is perfect for dipping sauces and marinades. It’s also a good way to add flavor to your stir-fries.
Even though the hot chilis make it much spicier than ponzu, the fish sauce and citrus juice tick the right boxes. So you may want to use this as a sort of spicy ponzu.
It isn’t very authentic, but if you like a bit of spice in your dishes, and I do because I love Thai and Korean food almost as much as I love Japanese, then Nam prik is a great substitute in a lot of dishes that call for a bit of ponzu sauce.
To use it as a ponzu sauce substitute, simply mix nam prik pla and lime juice in a 1:1 ratio. You can also add a bit of sugar to taste.
The brand I’d go for is this Nam Prik chili sauce:
Soy sauce + lemon juice: best ponzu sauce substitute for dipping sauce
Soy sauce is the most popular ponzu sauce substitute because it’s easily accessible and has a similar umami flavor.
However, it lacks the citrusy flavor of real ponzu so you need to mix in lemon or lime juice – preferably fresh.
To make this ponzu sauce substitute, simply mix soy sauce and lemon juice in a 1:1 ratio.
Depending on how lemony you want your ponzu, you can adjust the amount of lemon juice.
Some people who aren’t huge fans of ponzu sauce anyway may even skip the citrus juice and just use a good quality soy sauce instead.
If you want to make a marinade, add a bit of cornstarch to your Japanese soy sauce to thicken it slightly.
However, this combination of soy sauce and lemon juice will give your that perfect slightly sweet flavor with a good dose of citrus flavor.
This substitute works well for marinades, dipping sauces, and stir-fries. It’s the best way to get a delicious flavor sauce for your bbq.
Soy sauce + lime juice
If you don’t like lemon juice, you can also use lime juice instead.
The two citrus fruits are quite similar in flavor but some people prefer the taste of lime over lemon.
To make this ponzu sauce substitute, mix soy sauce and lime juice in a 1:1 ratio. You can adjust the amount of lime juice to get the desired tartness.
This combination works well for all the same dishes as the soy sauce + lemon juice mixture.
Soy sauce + pineapple juice: best ponzu sauce substitute for glaze
For a sweeter flavor, you can mix soy sauce and pineapple juice. This is a good choice if you want to use your ponzu sauce substitute for a marinade or glaze.
The sweeter sauce is a good choice for stir-fries and dipping sauces. It’s also delicious as a salad dressing.
To make this ponzu sauce alternative, mix soy sauce and pineapple juice in a 1:1 ratio. You can add more pineapple juice if you want it to be sweeter.
If you want to add a bit of acidity, mix in a tablespoon or two of lemon juice.
Soy sauce + vinegar: best ponzu sauce substitute for marinade
If you want a more vinegary flavor, you can mix soy sauce and vinegar instead of lemon or lime juice. A little vinegar goes a long way and makes a big impact on flavor.
This is the way to achieve a sour taste without any citrusy flavors.
Use a 1:1 ratio of soy sauce and vinegar. You can use any type of vinegar but rice vinegar is the most popular choice. Fruit vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar, works well too.
This ponzu sauce substitute is perfect for dipping sauces and marinades. It’s also a good way to add flavor to your stir-fries.
Worcestershire sauce: easiest ponzu sauce substitute
Worcestershire sauce is probably the easiest ponzu substitute.
Some have theorized that the similarity between the two sauces is not accidental and that the Worcestershire sauce was an attempt to copy the tastes of Asian seasonings instead of importing their sauces!
It contains tamarind and anchovies, which provide a taste that’s similar to that of the citrus juice and bonito flakes.
Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment that’s made from vinegar, anchovies, and spices. It has a tangy, savory flavor with a bit of sweetness.
This sauce is usually used as a marinade or seasoning but it can also be used in all kinds of delicious recipes.
Worcestershire sauce is a good substitute for ponzu sauce because it has a similar tangy flavor.
To use it as a more exact ponzu sauce substitute, mix Worcestershire sauce and lime juice in a 1:1 ratio. You can also add a bit of rice vinegar if you like your sauce more sour and tangy.
The only drawback is that Worcestershire sauce doesn’t quite have that light, clean taste that comes from ponzu’s distinct spices.
Worcestershire sauce is widely available, and you might already have a bottle in your pantry.
Mentsuyu: best bottled ponzu sauce substitute
Mentsuyu is a Japanese noodle soup base that contains dashi stock, mirin, sake, soy sauce, and kombu. It’s used as a soup base for all kinds of hot and cold noodles.
The umami taste is similar to ponzu sauce and it contains all the same key ingredients.
Mentsuyu is a bit sweeter than ponzu sauce because of the mirin but it’s an excellent substitute for commercial ponzu sauce because it has the same taste – well, almost.
It lacks citrus but many home cooks add a splash of lemon juice or grapefruit juice.
To substitute mentsuyu, use it in a 1:1 ratio. You can find this sauce in most Asian grocery stores or check it out here.
Rice vinegar + soy sauce + lime juice: best ponzu sauce substitute for salad dressing
This is another simple ponzu sauce substitute that can be easily adjusted to your liking. All you need is soy sauce, rice vinegar, and lime juice.
The acidity of the vinegar is key in this recipe because it helps to balance out the flavors. Simply mix soy sauce, rice vinegar, and lime juice in a 1:1:1 ratio.
If you want more of a citrus flavor, add more lime juice. If you want it to be more savory, add more soy sauce. And if you want it to be more tangy, up the vinegar.
This ponzu sauce alternative is the perfect Japanese seasoning for meats and rice dishes. It even works well as a salad dressing.
Yuzu juice + soy sauce: best ponzu sauce substitute for sushi
Yuzu juice is a citrusy Japanese condiment that’s made from yuzu, a type of citrus fruit. It has a tart, tangy flavor with a bit of sweetness.
Yuzu juice is usually used as a seasoning or marinade but it can also be used as a ponzu sauce substitute in Japanese cooking.
To use it as a substitute for ponzu sauce, mix yuzu juice and soy sauce in a 1:1 ratio. You can also add a bit of rice vinegar if you like your sauce more sour and tangy.
This combination is perfect for marinades and dipping sauces. It’s also a good way to add flavor to your stir-fries or sushi and sashimi.
Fish sauce: best ponzu sauce substitute for grilled fish & seafood
Since ponzu sauce contains bonito flakes, it has a seafood flavor. If you want to replicate that taste, fish sauce is the best ponzu sauce substitute.
It’s made from fermented fish and it has a strong, salty flavor. Use it sparingly because a little goes a long way.
You can use fish sauce as is as a dipping sauce or barbecue sauce for grilled fish and meat dishes.
To make it taste a bit tart, add a splash of lemon juice into the fish sauce.
You can find the famous Red boat fish sauce here.
Japanese yuzu kosho: best ponzu sauce substitute for stir fry
Yuzu kosho is a Japanese chili paste that’s made from yuzu zest, chilies, and salt. It has a sour, salty, and spicy taste.
Yuzu kosho is the perfect ponzu sauce substitute for stir-fries because it has a similar sour and salty taste. Plus, it adds a bit of heat to your dish.
However, yuzu kosho is a paste, not a thin liquid so you’ll need to dilute it with water before using it as a ponzu sauce substitute.
Simply use yuzu kosho in the same amount as you would ponzu sauce.
Of course, it works the other way around as well: ponzu sauce is one of the best substitutes for yuzu kosho
Fish sauce + orange juice
To make this ponzu sauce alternative, mix fish sauce and orange juice in a 1:1 ratio. You can also add a bit of sugar to balance out the saltiness.
This combination works well as a marinade or glaze for grilled meats and fish. It’s also a good dipping sauce for spring rolls and other appetizers.
Tonkatsu sauce is a Japanese condiment that’s made from fruit, vegetables, and spices. It has a sweet and tangy flavor with a bit of heat.
This sauce is usually used as a dipping sauce but it can also be used as a ponzu sauce substitute.
The slightly spicy sauce is a good choice for stir-fries and marinades. It’s also delicious as a salad dressing.
The texture of tonkatsu sauce is similar to ponzu sauce. If you want a thinner consistency, mix in a bit of water.
Shoyu + lemon juice
Shoyu is Japanese soy sauce. Both shoyu and soy sauce can work as a substitute for ponzu, but shoyu can get you closer to the taste you’re looking for.
To make up for the fact that shoyu doesn’t have that same citrusy acidic taste ponzu does, you may want to add some lemon juice.
Teriyaki sauce + lemon juice
Teriyaki sauce is a Japanese sauce that’s made from soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. It has a sweet and savory flavor.
To use it as a ponzu sauce substitute, simply mix teriyaki sauce and lemon juice in a 1:1 ratio. You can also add a bit of rice vinegar to taste.
This combination works well as a marinade or glaze for grilled meats because it can replace bbq sauce too.
Since teriyaki sauce is sweet, it’s a good idea to add a touch of acidity to balance out the flavors.
You can use this combo in all ponzu sauce recipes and achieve very tasty results.
Hoisin sauce + rice vinegar
Hoisin sauce is a Chinese condiment that’s made from soybeans, garlic, and spices. It has a sweet and savory flavor with a bit of heat.
To use it as a ponzu sauce substitute, simply mix hoisin sauce and rice vinegar in a 1:1 ratio. You can also add a bit of water to thin it out.
Hoisin sauce is a good choice for marinades and glazes because it can add a lot of flavor to your dish.
It’s also a good dipping sauce for appetizers and spring rolls.
Check the latest prices for hoisin sauce here. This one has a lime and cilantro flavor to it so it’s even better as a substitute because it has some tanginess to it!
Make your own “close enough” ponzu sauce
In Japan ponzu sauce is mostly produced from scratch with fresh versions widely rated superior to bottled versions.
Mirin is the traditionally sourced method of the wine component though some recipes may use sake or a combination of mirin with sake.
Bonito flakes can sometimes be replaced by dashi. The traditional citrus in the sauce is yuzu, but it is not always found in Western countries.
Close enough is using soy sauce with a citrus fruit, lemon is great but combining grapefruit with lemon juice is just perfect to recreate the taste.
Easy ponzu sauce substitute
- ½ cup soy sauce the salty kind, not the sweet
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 1 tsp grapefruit juice optional, though it does help get close to ponzu sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp worcestershire sauce optional, though it does help get close to ponzu sauce
- Normally, you would add kombu and bonito flakes and let those all sit together in a refrigerator for 24 hours or up to a week. But we're here to make an easy version so just mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
- Use immediately or store. To be safe, ponzu can be stored for one month. But if you keep it away from water, you may be able to store it for 6 – 12 months.
Is ponzu sauce the same as hoisin sauce?
No, ponzu sauce is not the same as hoisin sauce. Ponzu sauce is Japanese while hoisin sauce is Chinese.
Hoisin sauce is made from a variety of ingredients including soybeans, vinegar, sugar, and spices. It has a sweet and tangy flavor with a bit of heat.
Ponzu sauce is made from citrus juice, vinegar, and soy sauce. It has a sour, tangy flavor with a bit of sweetness.
Ponzu sauce is usually used as a dipping sauce or marinade while hoisin sauce is used as a dipping sauce, marinade, or condiment.
What does ponzu sauce taste like?
Ponzu Sauce, a traditional Japanese condiment, is a citrus-based sauce with a tart-tangy taste akin to a vinaigrette.
It combines soy sauce, bonito, sugar or mirin, dashi, and ponzu (citrus juice from sudachi, yuzu, and kabosu with vinegar).
Thus, it’s sour, tangy, refreshing, savory and a bit sweet – umami is the best way to describe it.
Does ponzu sauce contain fish?
Ponzu sauce contains fish because it’s made with bonito flakes (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna).
So, if you’re allergic to fish or are looking for a vegetarian/vegan option, then you’ll want to find a ponzu sauce substitute that doesn’t contain fish.
How is ponzu different from soy sauce?
Ponzu and soy sauce are both made from soybeans, but they have different flavors.
Soy sauce is salty with a umami flavor while ponzu is sour, tangy, and a bit sweet.
Ponzu is also thinner in consistency than soy sauce.
There you go! If you can’t get bottled ponzu and don’t feel like making your own homemade ponzu sauce, you can use other condiments and bottled sauces and add a bit of citrus juice to them.
Most of these substitutes will work in all ponzu sauce recipes. So, if you’re looking for a marinade, glaze, or dipping sauce, give one of these a try.
For a sauce that’s sure to be very similar, use soy sauce and lemon juice for all your favorite Japanese recipes because this combo won’t alter the food’s taste.
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:Read for free
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.