Hoisin Sauce: Flavorful Chinese Dipping & Stir Fry Sauce

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Hoisin sauce is a thick and very flavorful sauce that is often used as a dipping sauce, a glaze for meats, or a stir fry pan sauce in Chinese cooking.

Hoisin sauce is similar to a barbecue-style sauce, with its dark color, thick consistency, and sweet and tangy flavors. It is not quite as sweet and tangy as sweet and sour sauce though.

what is hoisin sauce

It is commonly used in Cantonese cuisine as a glaze for meat, an ingredient in stir fries, or as a dipping sauce. It has a dark appearance and a sweet and salty flavor.

Despite regional variations, hoisin sauce typically contains soybeans, fennel, red chili peppers, and garlic.

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The Mysterious Origins of Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a popular condiment in many Chinese dishes, but its origins are shrouded in mystery. Some believe that the sauce was first created in southern China, while others claim that it was invented in northern China. The word “hoisin” itself is a Cantonese word that means “seafood,” but the sauce does not actually contain any seafood.

The Việt Influence

While hoisin sauce is commonly associated with Chinese cuisine, it is also a staple in Vietnamese cooking. In Việt, hoisin sauce is known as “tương đen” or “black sauce.” The Vietnamese version of hoisin sauce is slightly sweeter than the Chinese version and often contains additional ingredients like garlic and chili peppers.

The Edit Controversy

Interestingly, there is some controversy surrounding the word “hoisin” itself. In both 粵語 (Cantonese) and 中文 (Mandarin), the word “hoisin” is written as 海鮮醬, which literally translates to “seafood sauce.” However, some argue that this is a misnomer since hoisin sauce does not contain any seafood. In recent years, some manufacturers have started to use the term “plum sauce” instead of hoisin sauce, which has caused some confusion among consumers.

What Goes Into Making Hoisin Sauce?

Hoisin sauce is a thick, dark, and slightly sweet sauce that is commonly used as a dipping condiment or as an ingredient in various Asian recipes. The traditional version of hoisin sauce is based on Cantonese cuisine, but there are regional variations in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries. The main ingredients that typically go into making hoisin sauce include:

  • Soybeans: Soy sauce is the main ingredient in hoisin sauce, and it gives the sauce its salty and savory flavor. Soybeans are fermented to make soy sauce, which is then combined with other elements to make hoisin sauce.
  • Sugar: Hoisin sauce is slightly sweet, and sugar is added to balance out the salty and savory flavors of the soy sauce.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar adds a tangy element to the sauce and helps to balance out the sweetness of the sugar.
  • Salt: Salt is added to enhance the flavor of the soy sauce and to balance out the sweetness of the sugar.
  • Chili peppers: Chili peppers are commonly added to hoisin sauce to give it a spicy kick. The amount of chili peppers used can vary depending on the brand and recipe.
  • Garlic: Garlic is a common ingredient in hoisin sauce, and it adds a savory flavor to the sauce.
  • Sesame oil: Sesame oil is often added to hoisin sauce to give it a nutty flavor and aroma.
  • Wheat flour: Wheat flour is used as a thickener in hoisin sauce to give it a thick and slightly sticky texture.

Other Ingredients That May Be Included

While the ingredients listed above are the main components of hoisin sauce, there are other ingredients that may be included depending on the recipe or brand. Some of these additional ingredients include:

  • Fermented bean paste: Some hoisin sauce recipes call for fermented bean paste, which adds a rich umami flavor to the sauce.
  • Potato starch: Potato starch is sometimes used as a thickener in hoisin sauce instead of wheat flour. This makes the sauce suitable for people who are gluten-free.
  • Coloring agents: Some commercially prepared hoisin sauces may contain coloring agents to give the sauce a deep red hue. These agents are typically derived from natural sources such as beet juice or caramel.
  • Modified food starch: Some brands of hoisin sauce may contain modified food starch, which is used as a thickener and to improve the texture of the sauce.

Homemade vs. Commercially Prepared Hoisin Sauce

While hoisin sauce can be made at home using a variety of recipes, commercially prepared hoisin sauces are also popular and widely available. Here are some differences between homemade and commercially prepared hoisin sauce:

  • Homemade hoisin sauce allows for more control over the ingredients and flavors, and can be adjusted to suit personal preferences.
  • Commercially prepared hoisin sauces may contain additional ingredients or preservatives that homemade versions do not.
  • Some commercially prepared hoisin sauces may be suitable for vegans or vegetarians, while others may contain animal products such as fish sauce.
  • Different brands of hoisin sauce may have slightly different flavors or textures, so it’s important to read the label and choose a product that suits your tastes and cooking needs. Some popular brands of hoisin sauce include Lee Kum Kee, Kikkoman, and Peking.
  • Hoisin sauce can be used in a variety of recipes, including marinades for meat, dipping sauces for spring rolls or dumplings, and as a condiment for stir-fries or noodle dishes. Combining hoisin sauce with other flavors such as ginger, garlic, or pepper can add depth and complexity to dishes.

Is There Seafood In Hoisin Sauce?

Hoisin sauce is a thick, dark, and sweet sauce that is commonly used in Chinese cuisine. It is made of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic, and a variety of spices. Some versions of hoisin sauce may also contain additional ingredients like red bean paste, sesame oil, or cornstarch to thicken the mixture.

The Love for Hoisin Sauce

As a lover of Chinese food, I always make sure to have hoisin sauce in my kitchen. It’s a good sauce to have on hand because it can be used in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries to marinades. I particularly love how it combines the rich and sweet elements of the sauce with the spicy kick of red pepper flakes.

Substituting Hoisin Sauce

If you’re still not comfortable using hoisin sauce, there are a variety of other sauces that you can use as a substitute. Some good options include:

  • Plum sauce
  • Sweet soy sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce

However, keep in mind that these sauces will have a different flavor profile compared to hoisin sauce, so you may need to adjust the other ingredients in your recipe to compensate.

What’s the Flavor of Hoisin Sauce?

Hoisin sauce is a classic Chinese sauce that is used in many dishes, such as Peking duck and barbeque pork. It is a thick, dark, and runny sauce that has a distinct sweet and savory flavor. The sauce is made from fermented soybeans, which gives it a salty and umami taste.

The Intense and Mellow Hints

The flavor of hoisin sauce is intense and mellow at the same time. It has a rich, complex flavor that is both sweet and savory. The sauce has a hint of garlic and chili, which gives it a slight kick. The sweetness of the sauce comes from sugar and molasses, which also adds depth to the flavor.

The Umami Taste

Hoisin sauce has a strong umami taste, which is a savory flavor that is often described as meaty or brothy. This taste comes from the fermented soybeans used in the sauce. The umami taste is what makes hoisin sauce a popular ingredient in meat and fish dishes.

The Salty and Sweet Balance

The balance between salty and sweet is what makes hoisin sauce so unique. The sauce has a perfect balance of salty and sweet flavors, which makes it a versatile ingredient in many dishes. The sweetness of the sauce is not overpowering, and it complements the savory flavors perfectly.

The Distinct Flavor

Hoisin sauce has a distinct flavor that sets it apart from other sauces. The combination of sweet, savory, and umami flavors makes it a popular ingredient in many Asian dishes. The sauce is also versatile enough to be used in non-Asian dishes, such as burgers and sandwiches.

Cooking Up Delicious Dishes with Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a versatile ingredient that can add a unique flavor to any dish. It is a thick, dark sauce that is sweet, spicy, and smoky all at the same time. It is made from soybeans, sugar, vinegar, garlic, and a variety of other ingredients, making it suitable for both vegan and vegetarian diets. In this guide, we will explore the best ways to cook with hoisin sauce and provide you with some delicious recipes to try.


Stir-fry is one of the most popular ways to cook with hoisin sauce. It is a quick and easy dish that can be made with a variety of ingredients. Here’s how to make a delicious hoisin stir-fry:

  • Heat a small amount of oil in a wok or medium-sized pan over high heat.
  • Add your choice of vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers, and stir-fry for a few minutes until they are cooked but still crispy.
  • Add a dash of hoisin sauce and stir-fry for another minute.
  • Serve over rice.


Hoisin sauce is also a great ingredient to use in barbecue sauces. It adds a sweet and smoky flavor that is sure to impress your guests. Here’s how to make a hoisin barbecue sauce:

  • In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of hoisin sauce, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of peanut oil, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.
  • Use this sauce to marinate your choice of meat, such as chicken or pork, for at least an hour.
  • Grill the meat until it is cooked through, basting it with the remaining sauce as it cooks.

Dipping Sauce

Hoisin sauce also makes a delicious dipping sauce for a variety of foods. Here’s how to make a simple hoisin dipping sauce:

  • In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce and 1/4 cup of soy sauce.
  • Add a dash of sesame oil for extra flavor.

Homemade Hoisin Sauce

If you can’t find hoisin sauce at your local store or want to try making your own, here’s a recipe for homemade hoisin sauce:

  • In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, 1 clove of finely minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, and a pinch of ground black pepper.
  • Stir in 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

Where to Find the Perfect Hoisin Sauce for Your Next Dish

When it comes to buying hoisin sauce, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you get the best product for your needs. Here are some tips and tricks to help you find the perfect hoisin sauce:

  • Look for traditional brands: If you want an authentic flavor, seek out hoisin sauce producers from Asia. Specialty stores or Asian grocery stores are great places to start your search.
  • Check the ingredients: Hoisin sauce is typically based on fermented soybean paste, but different brands may add unique seasonings or flavors. Some versions may contain animal products, so if you’re vegan, make sure to read the label carefully.
  • Consider the spiciness: Some hoisin sauces are spicier than others, so if you want a bit of a kick, look for a product that specifically mentions its spice level.
  • Think about versatility: Hoisin sauce is a versatile condiment that can be used in a variety of dishes, from Chinese barbecue ribs to baked chicken wings. Consider what you want to use it for and look for a product that is suitable for your needs.

Keeping Your Hoisin Sauce Fresh: Tips and Tricks

Like most foods, hoisin sauce has a shelf life. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Unopened hoisin sauce can last for up to two years in the pantry.
  • Once opened, hoisin sauce should be kept in the refrigerator and can last for up to six months.
  • If you notice any changes in the taste, texture, or color of your hoisin sauce, it’s time to throw it out.

Can You Freeze Hoisin Sauce?

Yes, you can freeze hoisin sauce to extend its shelf life. Here’s how:

  • Transfer the hoisin sauce to an airtight container or freezer bag.
  • Label the container with the date and contents.
  • Freeze the hoisin sauce for up to six months.
  • Thaw the hoisin sauce in the refrigerator before using it.

Is Hoisin Sauce Safe for Oyster Allergies?

Hoisin sauce does not contain oysters, but some brands may use oyster extract as an ingredient. If you have an oyster allergy, make sure to check the label before using hoisin sauce.

Substituting Hoisin Sauce: A Guide to Finding the Perfect Alternative

There are several types of substitutes for hoisin sauce, depending on the flavor profile you’re looking for. Here are some options to consider:

  • Soy sauce: If you’re looking for a simple and easy substitute, soy sauce is a great choice. It lacks the sweetness of hoisin sauce, but adding a little sugar can help achieve a similar taste.
  • Miso paste: Miso paste is a good substitute for hoisin sauce in beef dishes. It has a complex flavor profile that can stand up to the strong taste of meat.
  • Plum sauce: Plum sauce is a popular alternative to hoisin sauce and can be found in most stores. It has a slightly sweet and smoky flavor that works well in stir-fry dishes.
  • Oyster sauce: Oyster sauce is a good substitute for hoisin sauce in seafood dishes. It has a similar sweet and salty taste and can be used in the same way as hoisin sauce.
  • Black bean sauce: Black bean sauce is a good alternative to hoisin sauce in vegetable dishes. It has a slightly spicy and smoky flavor that can improve the taste of plain vegetables.

Hoisin Sauce vs Plum Sauce: What’s the Difference?

Hoisin sauce has a strong, complex flavor that includes a bit of sweetness, saltiness, and spiciness. Plum sauce, on the other hand, is generally sweeter and has a smoother taste. Hoisin sauce is ideal for meat dishes, while plum sauce is commonly used for seafood and egg dishes.


Hoisin sauce is perfect for barbecue and grilling, bringing out the natural flavors of meat. Plum sauce is typically used to create a sweet and sour flavor in stir-fries and other dishes. Hoisin sauce allows chefs to create a variety of complex flavors, while plum sauce is a simple and popular choice for those who want a quick and easy way to add flavor to their food.

Brand and Country

Hoisin sauce is a popular Chinese sauce that has been around for a long time, while plum sauce is a more modern sauce that is commonly found in Asian supermarkets. Depending on your needs, you may prefer one over the other. Some of the biggest brands of hoisin sauce include Lee Kum Kee and Kikkoman, while popular plum sauce brands include Dynasty and Koon Chun. When choosing between the two, it’s important to consider the content of the sauce and the country of origin.

Which One to Choose?

If you’re a fan of strong, spicy flavors and want to bring out the natural flavors of meat, hoisin sauce is the right choice for you. If you prefer a sweeter, smoother taste and want to add a bit of complexity to your dishes, plum sauce is the way to go. Ultimately, it depends on your personal taste and the type of food you’re cooking. Both sauces are versatile and allow for a variety of cooking options, so you can’t go wrong with either one.


So there you have it- everything you need to know about hoisin sauce. It’s a delicious Chinese sauce made from fermented soybeans, used in a variety of dishes. It’s perfect for stir-fries, dipping, and marinades. I hope you’ll try it soon.

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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.