What is Hoisin Sauce

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Hoisin sauce is a reddish-brown tangy condiment that is commonly used in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, both as an ingredient in meals and as a dipping sauce.

What Is Hoisin Sauce?

Hoisin sauce is a thick smooth sauce, similar in consistency to American barbecue sauce, which is commonly used to glaze meats and plays a key role in many traditional Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. It is both sweet and salty and is traditionally made with fermented soybean paste as the base. However, there are many different varieties of this sauce that utilize different ingredients, including vinegar, brown sugar, fennel, soy sauce, garlic, five-powder spice, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, black pepper, and hot sauce, among others. Although the word “hoisin” translates to seafood, there are no seafood elements in the sauce, and the name is believed to come from its occasional usage in seafood dishes.

A flat lay shot of chopsticks resting across a small bowl of hoisin sauce.

A flat lay shot of chopsticks resting across a small bowl of hoisin sauce. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

Sauce, hoisin, ready-to-serve
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]44.23
Energy [kcal]220
Energy [kJ]920
Protein [g]3.31
Total lipid (fat) [g]3.39
Ash [g]4.98
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]44.08
Fiber, total dietary [g]2.8
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]27.26
Calcium, Ca [mg]32
Iron, Fe [mg]1.01
Magnesium, Mg [mg]24
Phosphorus, P [mg]38
Potassium, K [mg]119
Sodium, Na [mg]1615
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.32
Copper, Cu [mg]0.13
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.25
Selenium, Se [µg]1.8
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]0.4
Thiamin [mg]0
Riboflavin [mg]0.22
Niacin [mg]1.17
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.07
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.06
Folate, total [µg]23
Folate, food [µg]23
Folate, DFE [µg]23
Choline, total [mg]8
Carotene, beta [µg]4
Vitamin A, IU [IU]6
Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]45
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.28
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]0.5
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.57
16:0 [g]0.37
18:0 [g]0.17
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.96
18:1 [g]0.96
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]1.7
18:2 [g]1.52
18:3 [g]0.18
Cholesterol [mg]3
Sources include : USDA

Hoisin Sauce vs Oyster Sauce

While hoisin sauce and oyster sauce share a number of characteristics, there are some critical differences in these two popular sauces.

  • Ingredients: Hoisin sauce is made using soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, black pepper, water, sugar, garlic, salt, rice vinegar among others. Oyster sauce, on the other hand, is commonly made from oyster, water, sugar, and salt, along with various other thickeners and artificial flavors. Hoisin sauce is a great vegan option but it is always advisable to check the ingredients list to be on the safe side.
  • Taste: Hoisin sauce is spicy, sweet and salty, all at the same time. The soybeans, sesame oil, chili and vinegar in this sauce give it a more palatable and complex taste. Unlike soy sauce, the saltiness doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors of a dish. Oyster sauce, on the other hand, is saltier. In high-end varieties, the oyster or fish flavor will be subtle, but cheaper versions will strongly taste of the sea.
  • Consistency: Oyster sauce has a thinner consistency as compared to hoisin sauce.
  • Uses: Hoisin sauce can be used to make different glazes, mayos, and vinaigrettes, and is also commonly used as a table condiment or dipping sauce. Oyster sauce is dark brown in color and is excellent for stir-fries as it coats vegetables and meat nicely, though not as a glaze.

    Uses

    This sauce has traditionally been used in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking, both in stir-fries and as a glaze for meat dishes. It is particularly popular for pork dishes and duck wraps. In Vietnam, hoisin is often included with pho, either in the soup itself, or as a dipping sauce for the meat, or for spring rolls. The sauce adds a wonderful flavor to noodle dishes and can be included in many different sauces and vinaigrettes.

    Hoisin sauce in a white bowl, chopsticks, and spring rolls kept on a wooden background

    Homemade Hoisin Sauce

    If you want to make your own sauce at home, there are many different recipes to choose from. Here is a simple and sweet recipe if you're feeling adventurous, don't have fermented soybean paste on hand, and want to make your own sauce for an Asian feast.
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    Print Pin Rate
    Course: Condiment
    Cuisine: Chinese
    Keyword: Hoisin Sauce
    Appliance: Whisk
    Prep Time: 5 minutes
    Total Time: 5 minutes
    Servings: 2 servings
    Author: John Staughton (BASc, BFA)

    Ingredients

    • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp peanut butter
    • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
    • 1 tbsp sesame oil
    • 1 clove garlic
    • 1/4 tsp black pepper (ground)
    • hot sauce (To taste)

    Instructions

    • Add all ingredients to a large bowl and whisk until the consistency is smooth.
      A close-up image of soy sauce in a bowl
    • Taste the sauce and add extra spices or vinegar, as needed. Garnish with sesame seeds (optional)
      Hoisin sauce topping with sesame seeds, kept in a white bowl against a white background
    • Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

    Hoisin Sauce Substitutes

      If you don’t have hoisin sauce on hand, and you don’t want to make your own, there are a few options in the kitchen that can mimic the consistency or flavor of this sauce.

      • Oyster sauce: It is a great replacement if you’re planning to use hoisin with a seafood dish, whereas you will want to use tamari sauce or soy sauce for vegetable dishes, stir-fries, and noodles.
      • Duck sauce: It can replace hoisin as a table condiment or dipping sauce.
      • Barbecue sauce: As a glaze for meat dishes, barbecue sauce is an excellent option.
      • Other: There are some easy recipes for replacement flavors, such as combining barbecue, molasses and soy sauce, or blending a cup of boiled prunes with soy sauce and two cloves of garlic.

      Whatever replacement you choose, it won’t be a perfect match to the unique flavor of hoisin, but it should still make for a delicious meal!

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      About the Author

      John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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