Home Cuisines Japanese The Top 7 Unagi Sauce Substitutes

The Top 7 Unagi Sauce Substitutes

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Eel with unagi sauce on rice

Unagi sauce is a classic Japanese sauce that provides food with sweet and savory flavor. It’s a useful glaze for grilled eel, meat, and other fish. This rich and thick sauce also makes a tasty condiment for sushi, grilled foods, and many other dishes.

If you haven’t got any unagi sauce, then you’ll need a suitable replacement that isn’t out of place in Japanese cooking. We’ve pulled together our favorite unagi sauce substitutes so that you can finish any recipe without it.

What can I use instead of unagi sauce?

To replace unagi sauce in cooking you can use teriyaki, galbi, hoisin, soy sauce, ponzu, or oyster sauce. For a more authentic-tasting alternative, make your own version by combining soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake.

1. Teriyaki

Teriyaki sauce will stand in for unagi sauce if it’s needed, both made of similar ingredients like soy sauce and sugar. They’re both Japanese sauces that add a mouth-watering glaze to food.

Keep in mind that teriyaki contains extra spices like ginger and garlic; honey may be used as a sweetener. It also lacks mirin so you won’t mimic the taste using teriyaki, but it’ll still work well.

To learn more, you may like to check out how teriyaki compares to tonkatsu sauce.

2. Korean Galbi Sauce

Galbi is a traditional Korean barbecue marinade that is commonly used to glaze or marinate beef or pork. The flavor varies depending on the brand, but it often takes soy sauce and sugar, then adds fruit like pear and apple.

Although galbi lacks mirin and has a subtle fruity undertone, it’ll make an excellent substitute for unagi sauce. The sauce is delicious smeared over eel and meat or used in stir-fries.

3. Hoisin

Hoisin is a common sauce you’ll find in any well-stocked grocery store. This is a Chinese sauce that adds spicy, sweet, and salty flavors to your dishes. It is excellent for glazing, well known for giving Peking Duck its delicious red, crispy skin.

Hoisin is also great for dipping, providing a more complex flavor profile than unagi sauce. It is made from a base of soybean paste, sugar, vinegar and has a range of spices. Some products include chili so if you don’t enjoy hot food, check the label first.

To learn more, find out how hoisin and oyster sauce differ here.

Unagi Sauce Substitute Infographic
Teriyaki, galbi, and hoisin can all replace unagi sauce.

4. Soy sauce

If you’re trying to cut your sugar intake or don’t want to use a sweet marinade, then try everyday soy sauce. This is a popular condiment found in many pantries around the world.

In Japan, Shoyu is a term that covers a range of different styles of soy sauce.
Kecap manis is an Indonesian style of soy sauce that adds palm sugar molasses, garlic, and ginger. It’s a punchy sauce that you may want to try. Learn more about kecap manis here.

5. Ponzu

If you enjoy plenty of tangy flavor in your cooking, then Ponzu is a great option. It is a Japanese condiment that, like unagi, uses soy sauce and mirin as base ingredients. The big difference is the additional citrus ingredients like sudachi and yuzu that get added.

If you enjoy sauces that are a combination of salty, sour, sweet, and bitter then this is the substitute you need. It is tasty served alongside sushi or as a condiment for fish and poultry.

Also read: What is the difference between ponzu and soy?

6. Oyster sauce

If you’re in a pinch, oyster sauce could be used to replace eel sauce. Oyster juice is added, giving it a slightly fishy undertone, so people who prefer simple, mild flavors may want a different option from this list.

Use it as a glaze, in stir-fries, or serve alongside food as a condiment. Keep in mind that oyster sauce will change the flavor of a recipe so it may not always be appropriate to use.

7. Make your own

Creating homemade, savory-packed eel sauce is quick and easy. You can adjust the ratios to suit; so, if you enjoy a sweet sauce, then increase the sugar. For a saltier option, dial up the soy sauce.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp sake
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • ¼ cup mirin
  • ¼ cup soy sauce

Method

  1. Add sake, sugar, and mirin to a small saucepan and heat on medium while stirring occasionally until steaming.
  2. Pour in the soy sauce and mix until boiling then reduce the heat and keep simmering for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Store unagi sauce refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Related reading:
Best dishes to serve with sushi.
Popular sushi types you need to try.
How do soy paper and nori compare?
Is it okay to freeze sushi?
What sushi is good to serve a fussy eater?
What’s the difference between rice vinegar and mirin?

Sushi rolls topped with eel sauce and sesame seeds
Eel sauce adds sweet and savory flavor to sushi rolls.

Commonly asked questions

What’s the difference between unagi sauce and eel sauce?

Unagi and eel sauce are the same sauce traditionally served with grilled eel. Unagi is the Japanese term for freshwater eel. Eel sauce is called kabayaki sauce or nitsume in Japan.

How do I make unagi sauce without mirin?

If you’ve got no mirin, then you can replace it with Japanese rice wine. For an easy-to-find alternative, combine a quarter cup of dry white wine with one-third teaspoon of white sugar.

Where can I buy unagi sauce?

Unagi sauce is easy to find in Asian grocers as well as some major retailers like Walmart. If you can’t find a bottle where you live, then a quick search online will provide plenty of sellers.

How Long Does Eel Sauce Last?

Once opened, store-bought eel sauce should last at least 3 weeks in the fridge. The homemade variety shouldn’t be kept for more than 2 weeks in the refrigerator before discarding. If you don’t eat the sauce often, it can also be frozen for long-term storage.

Does Eel Sauce Taste Fishy?

Most commercial eel sauces contain no eel, so they have no fishy taste. Some products include eel stock so check the label before purchasing if you don’t like fishy-flavored food.

What is Eel Sauce Used for?

Eel sauce is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen that can be used in more than just unagi recipes. It is also great for adding a flavorsome glaze to grilled fish, tofu, yaki onigiri, vegetables, and meat. You can also mix it into stir-fries and noodles.

Summing up

Eel sauce is a popular sauce in Japan but don’t let the name mislead you. It doesn’t taste of eel and it’s a sauce that even fussy eaters will enjoy.

If you need to replace eel sauce then teriyaki, galbi, or hoisin are handy alternatives. For the closest replacement to store-bought eel sauce, combine sake, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce. You’ll get an authentic homemade version that tastes delicious and doesn’t include unwanted extra ingredients.