Tonkatsu vs okonomiyaki sauce: are they different?

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At first glance, both the okonomiyaki sauce and tonkatsu sauce might look like the same thing. If it’s your first time tasting both, you might actually mistake them as one sauce.

But once you get used to the taste, you will start to notice the difference between the two.

Is tonkatsu sauce different from okonomiyaki sauce?

Both tonkatsu and okonomiyaki sauces are kitchen staples in Japan. Even if these two “noko” are very similar, there are slight differences in viscosity, taste, and ingredients.

Okonomiyaki sauce is more watery, but sweeter with a more pronounced spice flavor. Tonkatsu sauce is richer and thicker, but with fewer spices.

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Let’s talk about Japanese sauces

In general, Japanese locals don’t have any strict rules about sauces. Most Japanese sauces use a mixture of different ingredients, including fruits, vegetables, spices, vinegar, sugar, and broth.

As of now, when you ask a local for sauce, they will likely give you three products:

  • Japanese Worcestershire sauce
  • Chuno
  • Noko

Japanese Worcestershire Sauce is milder and sweeter than its British counterpart. This is also the term used on any watery sauces and works with deep-fried food.

Chuno is considered as “medium-thick,” and a bit sweeter than the Worcestershire Sauce. It is typically used on curry and other simmered dishes.

Last but not least, very thick sauces are called “Noko,” perfect for oily dishes and stir-fry. Noko is sweeter and thicker than both the Worcestershire sauce and Chuno. Tonkatsu sauce and okonomiyaki sauce are in this category.

Tonkatsu sauce

Tonkatsu sauce is a type of noko which is suitable for fried or oily meat dishes. However, its blend is best suited for deep-friend dishes like the tonkatsu, or fried pork coated in breadcrumbs.

Although tonkatsu sauce is sweeter than both Worcestershire sauce and Chuno, the flavor profile includes saltiness and sourness after the initial sweetness tang.

Due to its flavor profile, you can use the tonkatsu sauce for other deep-friendly food or meat dishes with tomato sauce. The added umami in the sauce gives an enhanced flavor to the dish.

Spices are a bit subdued on this sauce, but you can still taste it.

The most popular tonkatsu sauce product right now is from Bull-Dog. It uses apple, lemon, carrots, tomato, prune, brewed vinegar, and other spices.

Starch is also added to give the sauce a thicker viscosity. Tonkatsu sauce is thicker than other sauces to prevent it from ruining the crispy fried pork.

Okonomiyaki sauce

On the other hand, the okonomiyaki sauce is usually a partner condiment for a savory pancake called the okonomiyaki. It has a balance of moderate sourness and sweetness.

And since it is also considered as noko, the okonomiyaki sauce has a thick and dense viscosity. But to make it spreadable, this sauce is a bit more watery than tonkatsu sauce.

What makes okonomiyaki sauce unique is the addition of different stock in the puree. The basic stock added in the sauce is kombu, meat, and finally, shiitake mushrooms.

Okonomiyaki sauce from Otafuku is the immediate choice for most consumers. It uses a lot of ingredients, including vegetable protein, caramel pigment, soy sauce, alcohol, and brewed vinegar.

Can you substitute the one with the other?

In most cases, Japanese locals will try to match the dish with the proper sauce. They will use tonkatsu sauce for tonkatsu, and okonomiyaki sauce for okonomiyaki.

Additionally, these noko sauces are very accessible, so getting a new bottle is quite easy.

But if you’re really in a pinch, there’s nothing wrong with substituting one sauce for the other.

Learn more about alternatives to okonomiyaki sauce here (3 best substitutes)

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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.