If you enjoy cooking Chinese dishes, then upping your sauce knowledge is a must. It adds an authentic burst of color, flavor, and texture to meat and vegetables. In this article, we’ll compare hoisin sauce and oyster sauce to uncover their similarities, differences, and best uses in the kitchen.
What is the difference between hoisin sauce and oyster sauce
Although both sauces are used in Asian cuisine, hoisin sauce is a rich, reddish-brown sauce that has a sweet-salty flavor and can be used as an ingredient or dipping sauce. Oyster sauce is more commonly used for adding salty umami flavor to food with a subtle taste of oysters. Oyster sauce is saltier and fishier than hoisin sauce but is also less sweet.
For both sauces, consistency will vary depending on the brand. Most hoisin sauces will have a thicker texture than oyster sauces.
Hoisin: soybeans, sesame seeds, chili, garlic, vinegar, sugar, spices, salt, starches, and water.
Oyster: oyster extract, water, sugar, salt, thickeners, flavors, starches.
Taste and texture
Hoisin is a rich, reddish-brown sauce that’s packed with a combination of spicy, sweet, and salty flavors. It has a shiny smooth texture, similar to American barbecue sauce. Hoisin sauce is much less salty than fish sauce or soy sauce.
Oyster sauce offers a mix of salty, sweet, and umami flavors with a mild oyster undertone. This oyster taste may not be noticeable in better-quality brands. Although oyster sauce is salty, it is still a lot less so than soy sauce.
Fun fact: Although the word “hoisin” can be translated to mean “seafood” in Cantonese, there is no seafood in the sauce.
Our recommended brands
- Hoisin Sauce: Lee Kum Kee Hoisin Sauce (Amazon link)
- Oyster Sauce: L.k.k Panda Brand Oyster Sauce (Amazon link)
How is oyster and hoisin sauce used in cooking?
The use of Hoisin is widely used throughout Southern China and, to a lesser extent, some parts of Northern China. It is also commonly used in Vietnam for the popular dish, pho. Source: Wikipedia.
Hoisin sauce is excellent used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, duck pancakes, and dumplings. It also adds a mouth-watering glaze when brushed onto duck (Peking Duck), chicken, beef, and vegetables.
Common uses for hoisin sauce include:
- Table condiments
- Glaze for meat and fish
- Stir fry and noodles
- Hoisin mayo or vinaigrette
If you enjoy ordering Chinese stir-fries then you’ve probably tasted oyster sauce. It is the go-to option used by many chefs in Chinese restaurants, excellent for adding color to food. Oyster sauce’s dark brown color and sleek, smooth texture gives ingredients like mushrooms or beef and broccoli a lovely, shiny gloss. It is especially useful as a stir fry sauce.
Common uses for oyster sauce include:
- Sichuan Noodles
- Pad Thai
- Chow mein
- Kung Pao Shrimp
- Beef stir fry
Handy Tip: Choose a good quality oyster sauce brand as the cheap sauces can have a stronger oyster flavor that overwhelms food.
For those trying to reduce their salt intake hoisin is a better alternative, although they both contain high levels of sodium. We looked at the average salt content in the leading brands of sauces and found that hoisin has 1615mg/100g while oyster sauce has 2733mg/100g.
Hoisin sauce contains around 27g of sugar per 100g serving while oyster sauce contains no sugar.
Hoisin is suitable for a vegetarian diet but, as the name suggests, oyster sauce contains oyster extract and is not suitable for a plant-based diet.
Can I use hoisin or oyster sauce interchangeably?
Although hoisin and oyster sauce have a distinctive flavor and color, you can swap one for the other in most recipes. Oyster sauce is saltier so we suggest using less or reduce the other salty ingredients in the dish. To replace oyster sauce with hoisin, you can use a similar quantity and then increase the saltiness with a splash of fish sauce. Keep in mind that hoisin sauce will add extra spicy, sweetness to your food. In most recipes, this change won’t be a deal-breaker.
As a dipping sauce, oyster sauce doesn’t make a good replacement for hoisin. It is very salty, so if you have to use it, try diluting with another milder sauce.
Pad Thai Recipe
Although oyster sauce is popular in Chinese recipes, it is also a nice addition to Pad Thai, bringing all the ingredients together. Follow this simple recipe for tonight’s dinner.
- 8 oz rice noodles
- Juice of half a lime
- 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
- A splash of fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp tamarind paste
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp peanut oil
- ¼ cup bean sprouts
- ¼ cup Italian parsley
- 1 Tbsp chives, chopped
- 1 cup shrimp
- ¼ cup tofu
- 1 Tbsp ground peanuts
- Banana blossom
- Add rice noodles to a large bowl filled with boiled water and allow to stand until soft. Rinse and set aside.
- Combine lime juice, oyster sauce, fish sauce, tamarind paste, cayenne pepper, and sugar in a medium bowl and mix until combined.
- Add peanut oil to a hot wok then toss in bean sprouts, parsley, and chives. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add shrimp and tofu and cook until the seafood is cooked through.
- Stir through the sauce and cook for 1 minute.
- Add noodles and stir through until all ingredients are mixed.
- Make some space on the bottom of the wok and crack in the egg. Scramble it and mix into the other ingredients.
- Serve with peanuts sprinkled over the top and banana blossom on the side.
Quick Tip: If you don’t have any tamarind paste then check out our selection of tamarind paste substitutes which work brilliantly.
When comparing hoisin sauce vs oyster sauce, it is easy to get the two mixed up at first. They’re both thick dark brown sauces used in many savory dishes. However, they have their differences and separate uses in recipes. Oyster sauce brings delicious umami, salty flavor to dishes. The biggest strength of good quality oyster sauce is that it doesn’t overwhelm the other ingredients with too much flavor.
Hoisin can also be used in noodles, vegetables, and meat dishes. It adds a vibrant red color making it the preferred glaze for Peking Duck. Hoisin is also a great dipping sauce for Chinese dishes that are complemented by an additional sauce.
Infographic of Hoisin Sauce Vs Oyster Sauce
Check out our infographic below which compares oyster and hoisin sauce.
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