Tonkatsu sauce: why you need it in your kitchen

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  July 8, 2022

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Have you ever felt like something is missing from your cooking despite that it tastes good? Well, maybe it’s the tonkatsu sauce

Tonkatsu sauce is a delectable Japanese condiment that’s been an all-time favorite and, just like a missing piece of a puzzle, it’s perfect for almost all dishes.

Sounds interesting already?

Tonkatsu sauce- why you need it in your kitchen
Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

Well, let’s dig deeper into it and learn its origin, variants, ingredients, health benefits, its role in Japanese cuisine, and why you should definitely get yourself one!

What is tonkatsu sauce?

Tonkatsu sauce (or Katsu sauce) と ん かつ ソース is a thick, brownish-red condiment that’s made from a variety of ingredients like fruit and vegetables, vinegar, soybean paste, sugar, and spices.

This lovely sauce originated in Japan and was created as a dip for tonkatsu or deep-fried pork cutlets.

This Japanese-style barbecue sauce is more geared toward the Asian palate than the traditional Western alternative.

It has sweet, tangy, and savory flavors that will keep you craving it all!

Another thing I like about tonkatsu sauce is that it has a wide range of uses, like marinade, stir-fry seasoning, and even a topping for various dishes like chicken katsu, ebi fry (breaded and deep-fried shrimp), korokke (Japanese potato croquettes), and tempura.

What does tonkatsu sauce taste like?

Tonkatsu sauce is a savory and slightly sweet sauce that goes well with fried foods. It has a ketchup-like taste with a hint of sweetness from the brown sugar.

There are also different types of tonkatsu sauce available on the market today.

All you need to do is choose from fruitier variants to those that are more savory and tangy.

What’s the origin of tonkatsu sauce?

The Hyogo Prefecture company Oliver Sauce Co., Ltd. created the first tonkatsu sauce in 1948.

Tonkatsu sauce, sold under the Bull-Dog name, is produced with yeast, malt vinegar, vegetable and fruit purees, pastes, and extracts.

Bull-dog tonkatsu sauce

(view more images)

Owing to its Japanese palate, it quickly became popular and has since been used in various dishes.

It was first introduced to the West in the 1960s by the same Japanese food company, Bull-Dog.

The sauce quickly became a hit in the US and has since become a staple condiment in many households.

Tonkatsu sauce is one of the trio of Japanese style sauces as well.

The viscosity and intended purpose distinguish these several yet related types of Japanese sauce.

Here are some of its other types:

  • Usuta sauce is a variant that is runnier and more liquid.
  • Chuno sauce is more of a split-the-difference type of sauce. Consider it to be medium-thick.
  • Tonkatsu sauce is frequently the thickest. Its density is ideal for accompanying breaded and other deep-fried dishes.

Don’t confuse tonkatsu with tonkotsu, which is a specific type of ramen

Types of tonkatsu sauce

There are three different types of tonkatsu sauce, namely, the regular tonkatsu sauce, the spicy tonkatsu sauce, and the sweet tonkatsu sauce.

The regular tonkatsu sauce is the most common type, and it has a balance of sweetness, saltiness, and acidity.

The spicy tonkatsu sauce, on the other hand, has a kick of heat to it thanks to the addition of chili peppers.

Lastly, the sweet tonkatsu sauce is, well, sweeter than the regular tonkatsu sauce because of the additional sugar.

Today, the two most commonly sold on the market are the Worcester sauce type and the oyster sauce type.

The Worcester sauce type is a tangier and spicier variant of tonkatsu sauce, while the oyster sauce type is a semi-sweet and thicker variant.

What’s the difference? Tonkatsu sauce vs okonomiyaki sauce

Now that we know what tonkatsu sauce is and where it comes from, let’s take a look at how it compares to okonomiyaki sauce.

Tonkatsu sauce is thicker and has a more intense flavor compared to okonomiyaki. It is also a sweeter and less tangy sauce.

Okonomiyaki sauce, on the other hand, is thinner and has a more subdued flavor. It is also saltier and more acidic.

So, what’s the best sauce to use for your dish? It all depends on your preference.

If you like a more intense flavor, then tonkatsu sauce is the way to go. If you prefer a milder taste, then okonomiyaki sauce is a better option.

As for myself, I’d stick with tonkatsu sauce with my very own homemade deep fried cutlets, fish meat, and chicken.

Learn all about delicious okonomiyaki and how to make it yourself here

Is tonkatsu sauce the same as teriyaki sauce?

No, tonkatsu sauce is not the same as teriyaki sauce.

Teriyaki sauce is a type of glaze made of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. It is used as a marinade or dressing for meat, fish, and vegetables.

Tonkatsu sauce, on the other hand, is a condiment made of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, vegetable extracts, and other flavorings.

Is tonkatsu sauce the same as katsu sauce?

No, tonkatsu sauce is not the same as katsu sauce.

Katsu sauce is a type of Worcestershire sauce that is popular in Japan. It is made of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and other spices.

So while it has similar ingredients to tonkatsu sauce, the all-important fruitiness is missing from katsu sauce.

Tonkatsu sauce popular recipe pairings

As mentioned earlier, tonkatsu sauce is most commonly paired with deep fried dishes.

Here are some of the most popular dishes that go well with tonkatsu sauce:

  • Chicken katsu
  • Ebi fry
  • Korokke
  • Tempura
  • Thai fish sticks
  • Japanese fried chicken
  • Japanese pork cutlet
  • Tofu edamame fish cakes
  • Ham and cheese fried tofu pockets
  • Other western dishes, like fried chicken and pork chop

These are just some of the most popular dishes that tonkatsu sauce is paired with.

It also works great as a dipping sauce for anything you would typically serve with ketchup or barbecue sauce.

But of course, feel free to experiment and try it with other dishes as well.

Reasons why you should definitely try tonkatsu sauce

Still haven’t been convinced about trying out this Japanese Tonkatsu sauce yet? Let its benefits speak for themselves!

  1. It’s a versatile sauce that can be used in various dishes.
  2. It has a balance of sweetness, saltiness, and acidity.
  3. It’s a great dipping sauce for deep fried dishes.
  4. It feels like Japan even if you haven’t been there your whole life.
  5. It’s a relatively healthy sauce since it’s made with mostly natural ingredients.

How’s that? Maybe it’s time to replace your boring, old soy sauce or barbecue sauce?

What is tonkatsu sauce made of?

Tonkatsu sauce is made of vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, apples, prunes, dates, lemon juice, celery, onions, and carrots.

Then it also includes oyster sauce, vegetable oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, and up to 10 different spices like ground ginger and garlic powder.

Tonkatsu sauce ingredients

Making tonkatsu sauce is very easy, and even if you’re a beginner, it won’t stop you from making one that wows.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Some vegetables

What is traditional tonkatsu made of?

A traditional tonkatsu sauce is made of fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables. The most common tonkatsu ingredients include:

  • tomato
  • celery
  • prunes
  • apple
  • dates
  • lemon
  • onion
  • carrot

In addition, the Japanese add ten spices to enhance the sauce’s flavor. These spices complement the fruits, veggies, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar (the sauce bases). 

Where to eat tonkatsu sauce

There are many places where you can enjoy tonkatsu sauce.

Some restaurants that serve tonkatsu sauce include Bull-Dog in the US, Katsuya in Japan, Tonkatsu by Maestro in Singapore, ButaDon in Malaysia, and some Asian supermarkets.

So, what are you waiting for? Go out and try tonkatsu sauce today!

But if you don’t fancy going out yet, you can create your own homemade tonkatsu sauce at home instead or order it online.

Kikkoman makes a good version, if the Bull-Dog original is not your favorite.

Tonkatsu sauce etiquette

It’s time to learn about the proper way to eat it! Here are some tonkatsu sauce etiquette tips that you should keep in mind:

  • Use tonkatsu sauce sparingly. A little goes a long way since it is a very flavorful sauce.
  • Mix tonkatsu sauce with other condiments before adding it to your dish. This will help tone down the intensity of the sauce.
  • Don’t pour tonkatsu sauce directly on your rice. Rice is already a very flavorful food, and adding tonkatsu sauce to it will just make it too salty.
  • When eating tonkatsu sauce with tempura, be sure to dip the tempura in the sauce and not the other way around. This will prevent the tempura from getting soggy.

Following these tonkatsu sauce etiquette tips will help you enjoy this delicious condiment even more.

The health benefits of tonkatsu sauce

Aside from its excellent taste, tonkatsu sauce also has some health benefits. For one thing, it’s a good source of antioxidants.

This is due to the presence of lycopene, which is a compound found in tomatoes that are known for its ability to protect cells from damage.

Consuming foods rich in lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

Tonkatsu sauce is also high in vinegar content. This makes it a great natural disinfectant and antiseptic.

Vinegar has long been used as a home remedy for various ailments like colds, stomach aches, and even dandruff.

So if you’re looking for a tasty and healthy condiment to add to your dishes, tonkatsu sauce is definitely worth a try!

Final takeaway

Tonkatsu sauce is a delicious and versatile condiment that can be used in a variety of dishes. It’s easy to make and can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.

When eating tonkatsu sauce, be sure to use it sparingly and mix it with other condiments before adding it to your dish.

And don’t forget to check out the health benefits of tonkatsu sauce as well—it’s not just good for your taste buds, but it’s also good for your health!

Tonkatsu is the perfect accompaniment for delicious crispy Japanese cutlets called Menchi katsu

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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.