There are lots of recipes which use oyster sauce, and while this sauce does add an incredibly unique and distinct flavor which is perfect for a lot of dishes, unfortunately it is not available for everyone to purchase and use.
Oyster sauce is especially common in Chinese and Thai food, but it is prevalent in a lot of other culture’s cuisines as well.
It is especially common in stir fries and similar noodle dishes, so if you love making these kinds of dishes from scratch, you will either need to find some oyster sauce or get a good substitute.
Oyster sauce was traditionally made by draining the cooking liquid from making oysters, and then caramelizing it.
This would then be combined with soy sauce, salt, as well as cornstarch to thicken it to make it more versatile.
While this is the traditional method for preparing oyster sauce, the process is sometimes changed in modern versions with coloring and oyster extract sometimes being added as well as preservatives to help it last longer.
The sauce has a thick and dark appearance and the best way to describe the flavor it lends to dishes is a combination of sweet and salty with a hint of umami to pull it together.
A big part of the reason why substitutes to oyster sauce are so important is because on top of it not always being accessible, it is also not appropriate for a lot of dietary restrictions or lifestyles, for example, vegans, vegetarians, as well as shellfish allergies.
So if you like cooking a lot of dishes which would traditionally need oyster sauce, and you do not know which substitutes are best, this list has been put together with you in mind.
While all of these substitutes are designed with oyster sauce in mind, keep in mind the context in which the sauce is being used, for example, is it a garnish, or dipping sauce, or is it the basis of the dish, some substitutes will fit different contexts better, so keep this in mind!
Oyster Sauce Substitutes
1. Soy Sauce
The main difference you will find with this substitution is that the consistency of the soy sauce is obviously much looser than oyster sauce.
On top of this the flavor of soy sauce is significantly more salty than the balance oyster sauce has between sweet and salty.
However, the main reason this is a good substitute is that it captures the umami of oyster sauce, and is also easily available and lasts for a long time.
People also tend to have soy sauce (see also ‘The 5 Top Alternatives For Black Soy Sauce’) more than they do oyster sauce.
Another drawback however, is that a lot of recipes put soy sauce with oyster sauce, so in these cases substituting the oyster sauce for more soy does not really work well, and if anything will have unpleasant results.
2. Sweet Soy Sauce
The official name for a sweet soy sauce is kecap manis, and it actually originated in Indonesia, however you can find sweet soy sauce relatively commonly, and it works well as an oyster sauce substitute, if not slightly better than soy sauce.
You can try and recreate this with standard soy sauce by adding sugar, but if you can find this it works well.
3. Fish Sauce
While fish sauce, as the name suggests, has a fishier taste than oyster sauce, it does have a similar flavor profile, and this will probably get the closest to recreating its taste without just using oyster sauce.
It does tend to have a stronger flavor profile so avoid using too much and be sparing.
4. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin is another good replacement, and is also more commonly available than oyster sauce tends to be.
It is a bit sweeter than oyster sauce but other than this its flavor is pretty close as well as its consistency.
This will affect the taste slightly, but you can use an equal proportion.
5. Mushroom Broth
Using mushroom broth by itself is usually too loose and will need too much quantity to be a fitting comparison, but you can turn it into a sauce by boiling with sugar and brown bean sauce then mixing in a cornstarch slurry (see also ‘13 Handy Cornstarch Alternatives‘) to make it thicken.
The flavor profile is relatively similar and this is a great vegan option.
6. Black Bean Paste
This also has a surprisingly similar texture and works well as a substitute having a strong umami flavor from being fermented.
7. Worcestershire Sauce With Soy Sauce
This combination is closer than just using either of these components by themselves.
Experiment with the ratio to see which works best for what you are making.
8. Teriyaki Sauce
While not the most similar substitution, this combination does work quite well, and teriyaki tends to be a lot more accessible than oyster sauce.
9. Vegan Mushroom Sauce
Most mushroom based sauces tend to be vegan, and the flavors they use tend to be quite similar to oyster sauce.
10. Mushroom Stir Fry Sauce
If you can find a pre-made mushroom stir-fry sauce, these work well as an oyster sauce substitute and is less effort than making one with mushroom broth.
11. Hoisin Sauce Plus Soy Sauce
If you want to balance out the sweet to salty ratio, this is a perfect combination to experiment with.
How To Make Your Own Oyster Sauce
If you can not find oyster sauce, but you do have access to oysters, it is a viable option to make oyster sauce yourself instead of relying on a substitute.
You will only need half a pound of fully shucked oysters as well as soy sauce and salt.
Firstly you will need to make sure to fully drain all the excess liquid from the shucked oysters and put it aside.
Once you have done this you should finely mince your oysters and then add it to 1 tablespoon of water with the liquid which was drained from the oyster.
You will want to add this mix to a saucepan and boil it, once it is boiling reduce to a simmer and the leave it simmering for about 10 minutes.
Once it has been 10 minutes you will take the mixture off the heat and add some salt into it.
You will want to leave the mixture to completely cool.
After it has cooled you will want to push the mixture through a sieve to make sure it is smooth and does not have any lumps.
Once this has been done start to measure your oyster sauce into cups.
For every half cup of sauce you have you will want to add 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce to it. Once it is mixed in add half a tablespoon of dark soy sauce too.
Once you have done this you will add the sauce back into your pan and then boil and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Once this has finally cooled your homemade oyster sauce is ready!
Hopefully this list has put into perspective how simple it is to substitute oyster sauce, as well as the variety of options which are available if you want to use this ingredient but do not have access.
Remember to keep in mind what reason the oyster sauce is being used in a recipe when you are choosing which substitute to use.
For example, if the oyster sauce is being used for its flavor, prioritize this, but if it is being used for its consistency, keep this in mind too.
If you have any more questions about oyster sauce or using it in your cooking, hopefully these will be answered in the following FAQ section!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Oyster Sauce Taste Like?
The name oyster sauce leads many people to assume that oyster sauce has a very fishy seafood style taste, but this is not actually the case.
The taste of the oyster sauce is quite rich and almost similar to syrup.
The flavor is either with a mixture of salty and sweet taste, which is partially gained from the process of caramelizing the cooking juices from the oysters.
Difference Between Oyster Sauce And Fish Sauce?
The main difference between oyster sauce and fish sauce is actually the flavor.
They have quite a lot of their flavor profile in common, however fish sauce, as the name suggests has a much more fishy flavor than oyster sauce, while oyster sauce is more salty and sweet.
Both have quite a lot of umami flavor as well which is why they are sometimes seen as interchangeable, and they make good substitutes for each other.
However, oyster sauce tends to be significantly thicker than fish sauce.
Can You Get Vegan Oyster Sauce?
The process of making oyster sauce is inherently not vegan, so unfortunately you can not get an authentic oyster sauce which is vegan.
However, many brands have started making their own vegan version of oyster sauce so if you can find vegan versions, they are available.
However, vegans and vegetarians have more commonly used substitutes like the ones on this list since vegan oyster sauce was not always an option, so before going and buying, see if any of the options on this list work for you!
What Is Oyster Sauce Used For?
Most commonly oyster sauce is used in stir fries, as well as in sauces, glazes, as well as marinades.
It is used in a lot of Asian cuisine so if you plan to cook dishes from this region, it is best to have oyster sauce in stock as this will mean that you will not have to do much substituting.
How To Store Oyster Sauce?
You will want to keep your oyster sauce in a dry and cool space before you have opened the bottle, but once it has been opened you will need to keep it in the fridge!
Once it has been opened it can last in the fridge for up to 2 years so do not worry about it going bad prematurely!
You will want to make sure to look out for signs that the oyster sauce has gone bad after it has been open for an extended period of time.
There are obvious signs like mold being on its surface, but some signs are less obvious like the smell, it is usually supposed to have a rich and meaty smell, but this can smell rotten over time.
The taste can also get too strong over time which can be a sign that it has just, or is about to go bad.
Another sign is it getting darker, so keep an eye out for the color changing!
The final sign that oyster sauce has gone bad is it will begin to get watery as oyster sauce is usually quite thick, so if it is loose this means the thickeners have begun to separate.
Nutritional Value Of Oyster Sauce?
Since oyster sauce is usually consumed in quite small quantities, people usually do not consider its nutritional value, but oyster sauce is actually quite healthy compared to some other sauces which lend a similar taste.
It is quite low in calories and its only sodium content is from the soy sauce which it contains.
If you regularly intake oyster sauce it can help with boosting your immune system as well as increasing energy and a healthy brain function.
Recipes Which Use Oyster Sauce?
So if you bought oyster sauce for a recipe, and now you have a leftover bottle and do not know what to do with it, or you have a bottle which you know will go bad soon, but you have no idea what to do with it, there are some simple ways to use it up!
The simplest way to use up oyster sauce is to use it as a stir-fry sauce, it can easily be added to almost any type of stir-fry, and since it is quite healthy compared to other sauces, it is worth adding for the delicious sweet and salty umami taste it adds.
If you are not acquired to using oyster sauce add it sparingly and do frequent taste tests, so you can know how it is affecting what you are cooking.
The other best use of leftover oyster sauce is to add it as a garnish or marinade for different types of meat you are cooking.
Oyster sauce tends to go best with beef, but it pairs great with veggies and other meats as well so do not feel limited with your option!