I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of chu hou sauce substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured I’ve got you covered.
The best substitutes for chu hou sauce (or chee hou sauce) are the homemade version and hoisin sauce. Another pantry staple you can use is oyster sauce. Other fermented soybean-based alternatives are black bean sauce and ground bean sauce. Or try some la doubanjiang if you want to bring a spicy kick to your dish.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made braised beef brisket (YUM!) to test out different chu hou sauce substitutes.
Chu hou sauce, or chee hou sauce, is a Chinese condiment made from fermented soybeans.
It has a deep, dark color and boasts a sweet-savory flavor combo with LOTS of umami.
I want looking for a substitute that could bring just as much complexity to my beef.
Here’s the substitutes I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Homemade Chu Hou Sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Hoisin sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Oyster sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Sweet bean sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Black bean sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Ground bean sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Doubanjiang||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
Common uses for chu hou sauce and the best substitutes
Here are some common use cases for chu hou sauce and the best substitutes for those situations
- For braises, soups, and stews: Try using homemade chu hou sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, or sweet bean sauce. Any Asian condiment with umami will help here.
- For stir-fries, noodles, and rice dishes: Try using homemade chu hou sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, or sweet bean sauce. You can also use black bean sauce, but remember it’ll add some texture to your dish (which might not be a bad thing).
- For marinades, dipping sauces, and glazes: Try using homemade chu hou sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, or doubanjiang. Doubanjiang will add some heat.
Homemade chu hou sauce
Whip up a batch of homemade chu hou sauce for a truly authentic experience.
Michael’s Kitchen offers a recipe (video below) that’s easy to follow and yields fantastic results.
You’ll need a whopping 14 ingredients, but don’t let that scare you – you can find most of them at your local Asian grocery store.
Once you’ve got everything, all you need to do is cooking the ingredients down into a rich, fragrant sauce.
The beauty of making your chu hou sauce is that you can tweak the flavors to your liking.
I love the warm, spiced flavor of Chinese five-spice, so I usually add another pinch when I’m making my own.
How to substitute: Replace chu hou sauce in a 1:1 ratio with homemade chu hou sauce.
Hoisin sauce is the go-to alternative for chu hou sauce if you can’t make it from scratch.
It’s made from fermented soybean paste and seasoned with five-spice powder, giving it a delicious sweet-salty flavor reminiscent of chu hou sauce.
Although my beef brisket was definitely more on the sweet side, so I added a splash of vinegar to balance this out.
You can find hoisin sauce in most supermarkets, or if you’re feeling adventurous, make it from scratch using The Daring Gourmet’s recipe (it’s easier than making chu hou sauce).
How to substitute: Replace chu hou sauce in a 1:1 ratio with hoisin sauce.
Despite the name, oyster sauce is not fishy at all.
Instead, you’ll find a perfect blend of salty-sweet flavors with a generous dose of umami, making it a solid stand-in for chu hou sauce.
Oyster sauce is a staple in stir-fries, but it also worked wonders in the braising sauce for my brisket.
The only caveat with this substitute? It’s not vegan like chu hou sauce.
How to substitute: Replace chu hou sauce in a 1:1 ratio with oyster sauce.
Sweet bean sauce
Sweet bean sauce is strikingly similar to hoisin sauce, which means it’s a great replacement for chee hou sauce!
It’s confusingly named, because it’s not made from soybeans, but fermented wheat flour.
It’s got a dark color, and it’s salty-but-sweet at the same time. Leaning more towards sweet (like hoisin), so I added a splash of vinegar to my beef brisket dish to compensate for this.
Psst… if you accidentally get sweet bean paste instead of sauce, you can also use that. Asian condiments can be very confusing!
How to substitute: Replace chu hou sauce in a 1:1 ratio with sweet bean sauce.
Black bean sauce
Black bean sauce doesn’t same sweetness as chu hou sauce, but you can easily bridge the gap by adding a touch of sugar and a sprinkle of Chinese five-spice.
With these tweaks, you’ll have a substitute that’s more than capable of stepping in for chu hou sauce.
Black bean sauce also has a chunkier texture than chu chou sauces’ silky smooth consistency, which I liked because it added substance to my braised brisket.
You’ll find black bean sauce easily in the supermarket – but go for an Asian brand rather than a Western one for the best flavor.
How to substitute: Replace chu hou sauce in a 1:1 ratio with black bean sauce.
Ground bean sauce
This condiment is super popular in Cantonese cooking. It’s not be as sweet or complex as chu hou sauce, but it still packs a flavorful umami punch!
I actually mixed it with a dash of hoisin since I had it to hand to bring it closer to the chu hou sauce magic.
You might also see jars labelled just ‘bean sauce’, but if you have a choice get the ground version. The standard bean sauce doesn’t have a lot of the spices.
How to substitute: Replace chu hou sauce in a 1:1 ratio with ground bean sauce.
Doubanjiang is yet another Chinese condiment made from fermented beans – it’s also known as sweet bean paste (you might remember I mentioned this earlier).
This ingredient isn’t that common, but it’s very easy to pick up a jar by mistake. So if you happen to have some lying around – definitely use it.
I found this sweetened Taiwanese style sauce from the Ming Teh to be a GREAT swap for chee hou sauce.
And if you want some heat, you can go for the spicy version (la doubanjiang), which is the most popular variety.
How to substitute: Replace chu hou sauce in a 1:1 ratio with Doubanjiang.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks as chu hou sauce substitutes, but here are other options you can consider using:
- Sweet soybean paste – this is very similar to sweet bean sauce and has sweet-salty flavors reminiscent of chu hou sauce.
- Doenjang– this is a Korean condiment made from fermented soybeans. It’s not an exact flavor match, but it has a prominent salty, umami kick that can elevate your dishes. Add a bit of sugar or Chinese five-spice to take its flavor closer to chu hou sauce.
Soy sauce – Substitute to Avoid
Soy sauce may be made from fermented soybeans, but I don’t recommend it as a substitute for chu hou sauce.
It’s way too one dimensional to replicate the flavor, and just made my braising liquid extra salty. A splash will help if you have nothing else but don’t expect to get the same depth of flavor.
9 Best Chu Hou Sauce Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 1 cup salted bean paste
- 4 pieces salted red bean curd
- ½ cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp dark souy sauce
- 2 tsp chicken powder
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup minced shallots
- ½ cup minced garlic
- ½ cup minced ginger
- 2 tsp five-spice powder
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Fill your frying pan with cooking oil and stir-fry garlic, ginger, and shallots in hot oil until golden. Add in the salted bean paste, red bean curd, sesame paste, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and chicken essence.
- While stirring, add, the five spices powder, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper. Stir constantly until everything you added has dissolved. Cook the mixture for 10-15 minutes. Add more soy sauce if needed. Once the sauce is thick and fragrant, take it off the heat and use accordingly.