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 look at hoisin sauce vs oyster sauce: their similarities, differences and how they’re best used in the kitchen.

You may be wondering if it’s okay to substitute one of these sauces for the other. They both have distinctive flavors and each serves a different purpose in Chinese cooking. At a pinch, though, you could use Hoisin combined with a few splashes of fish sauce to replace oyster sauce. Your best option is to have both in the kitchen.

Hoisin Sauce

Common ingredients: soybeans, sesame seeds, chili, garlic, vinegar, sugar, spices, salt, starches and water.

Taste and Texture

Hoisin is a rich, reddish-brown sauce that’s packed with a combination of spicy, sweet and salty flavor. It has a shiny smooth texture, similar to American BBQ sauce.

The use of Hoisin is widely used throughout Southern China and, to a lesser extent, some parts of Northern China. It’s also commonly used in Vietnam for the popular dish, pho, and as a dipping dish in spring rolls. Source: Wikipedia.

Hoisin sauce is considerably less salty that fish sauce and soy sauce.


Hoisin sauce is an excellent dipping sauce for duck pancakes and dumplings. It also excels as a glaze on duck (Peking Duck), chicken, beef and vegetables.

  • Table condiments
  • Glaze for meat and fish
  • Stir fry and noodles
  • Hoisin mayo or vinaigrette

Fun fact: Although the word “hoisin” can be translated to mean “seafood” in Cantonese, there is actually no seafood in the sauce.

Oyster Sauce

Common ingredients: oyster extract, water, sugar, salt, thickeners, flavors, starches.

Taste and Texture

Oyster sauce offers a mix of salty, sweet and umami flavor with a mild oyster undertone. This oyster taste will be undetectable in the better quality brands.

Recipes can be transformed visually with oyster sauce. It is dark brown in color with a sleek, smooth texture. Food gains a lovely, shiny gloss when this sauce is added.

Although oyster sauce can be described as salty, it is still a lot less so than soy sauce.


If you love to eat those flavor packed Chinese stir fries then the chances are high that you’ve tasted oyster sauce. Think about the dishes with broccoli and beef coated in that dark sauce. It is the go-to option used by many chefs in Chinese restaurants.

  • Sichuan Noodles
  • Pad Thai
  • Kung Pao Shrimp
  • Beef stir fry

Pro Tip: Choose a good quality brand, the cheap sauces have a stronger oyster flavor that overwhelms food.

Pad Thai Recipe

Although oyster sauce is popular in Chinese recipes, it’s also a nice addition to Pad Thai, bringing all the ingredients together.


  • 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 parsley
  • 1 Tbsp chives, chopped
  • 1 cup shrimp
  • ¼ cup tofu
  • 1 Tbsp ground peanuts
  • Banana blossom


  1. Add rice noodles to a large bowl filled with boiled water and allow to stand until soft. Rinse and set aside.
  2. Combine lime juice, oyster sauce, fish sauce, tamarind paste, cayenne pepper and sugar in a medium bowl and mix until combined.
  3. Add peanut oil to a hot wok then toss in bean sprouts and chives. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add shrimp and tofu and cook until the shrimp is cooked through.
  5. Stir through the sauce and cook for 1 minute.
  6. Add noodles and stir through until all ingredients are mixed.
  7. Make some space on the bottom of the wok and crack in the egg. Scramble it and mix into the other ingredients.
  8. 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.

Infographic of Hoisin Sauce Vs Oyster Sauce

Check out the ultimate infographic below which compares oyster and hoisin sauce.

An infographic which compares hoisin sauce and oyster sauce.

Final Words

When comparing hoisin sauce vs oyster sauce it is easy for a newcomer to Chinese cooking to get the two mixed up. They’re both thick dark brown sauces used in many savory dishes. However they do have their differences and separate uses in recipes. Oyster sauce brings delicious umami to even the most mundane vegetables. The biggest strength of good quality oyster sauce is that it doesn’t overwhelm the other ingredients with too much flavor.

Recommended Hoisin Sauce: Lee Kum Kee Hoisin SauceRecommended Oyster Sauce: L.k.k Panda Brand Oyster Sauce

Hoisin can also be used in noodles, vegetables and meat dishes. It offers a vibrant red color making it the preferred glaze for Peking Duck. It’s also a fantastic dipping sauce for the wide selection of Chinese dishes that are complimented by an additional sauce.

Although their flavor, color and texture are different, you could get away with using either in a stir fry. A seasoned connoisseur of Chinese cuisine would know the difference, but the rest would be oblivious to your cunning substitution.

Related reading:
Fish sauce vs fish stock – what’s the difference?
Check out our comparison of teriyaki and tonkatsu sauce.

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