I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of oyster sauce substitutes to find the best one for every cooking or baking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Hoisin sauce mixed with a splash of fish sauce is an excellent substitute for oyster sauce. In a pinch, you can use soy sauce sweetened with brown sugar or honey (or use kecap manis if you can find it). You can also make a vegan oyster sauce using dried shiitake mushrooms.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made small batches of vegetable stir-fry to test out different oyster sauce substitutes.
Oyster sauce is a Chinese condiment with a rich, syrup-like consistency. It’s made from oyster extract and caramelized sugar, giving it a salty, earthy flavor with a subtle sweetness.
Think of it being like a mix between soy sauce and barbecue sauce!
It’s used in loads of different dishes as a flavor enhancer.
For example, you’ll find it in marinades for meat and vegetables, in stir fry sauces, and in dipping sauces. You can also drizzle it over noodles or a salad just before serving for an umami boost.
I was looking for a substitute that’s just as versatile as oyster sauce and can deliver a similar savory-but-sweet flavor.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Hoisin sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Kecap manis||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Soy sauce + sugar||Replace with 1/2 the amount||6/10|
|Worcestershire sauce||Replace with 1/2 the amount||7/10|
|Vegan oyster sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Teriyaki sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||6/10|
|Fish sauce + sugar||Replace with 1/2 the amount||6/10|
|Homemade oyster sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
Common uses of oyster sauce
Here are some popular ways to use oyster sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For stir-fries and noodles: Try using hoisin sauce, kecap manis, Worcestershire sauce, or vegan oyster sauce. You can also get away with teriyaki sauce or black bean sauce.
- For marinades and dipping sauces: Try using soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, teriyaki sauce, or hoisin sauce.
- As a flavor enhancer: Anything that has a decent amount of umami can replace oyster sauce as a flavor enhancer. Soy sauce is an easy option everyone will have.
Hoisin sauce is a solid substitute oyster sauce in marinades or stir fries, and it’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
It’s got the same glossy texture and dark color. And both are salty, but hoisin sauce is noticeably sweeter and has more of a spiced flavor.
If you happen to have fish sauce on hand, adding a splash of this to the hoisin sauce will help add the flavor of the ocean. Or you can simply add soy sauce to up the saltiness.
This has the secondary effect of thinning the hoisin sauce out slightly, which is useful because it can be thicker than oyster sauce.
How to substitute: replace oyster sauce in a 1:1 ratio with hoisin sauce
Kecap manis is a sweetened Indonesian soy sauce with a thick, syrupy consistency that resembles oyster sauce.
It’s got all the saltiness of soy sauce with a bittersweet caramel undertone that mimics the sweetness of oyster sauce.
There’s no briny nuance, but you can always do the fish sauce trick with this substitute too.
Only got soy sauce?
No worries! You can make your own by mixing equal amounts of soy sauce and brown sugar (this is the best kecap manis substitute).
Psst… need a gluten-free option, you can swap soy sauce for tamari, liquid aminos, or coconut aminos.
How to substitute: replace oyster sauce in a 1:1 ratio with kecap manis.
Soy sauce + sugar
While kecap manis is the best type of soy sauce to substitute for oyster sauce, it’s nowhere near as common as regular soy sauce.
But regular soy sauce is way too salty to swap in a 1:1 ratio for oyster sauce.
You have two options here:
- make your own kecap manis by heating equal parts soy sauce and brown sugar (or adding honey to the soy sauce)
- use half the amount of soy sauce in place of the oyster sauce
For simplicity, option number two is great! You won’t get the complexity of oyster sauce, but you’ll add a savory touch to your dish.
How to substitute: replace oyster sauce with half the amount of soy sauce.
Worcestershire sauce may have British roots but is still a solid stand-in for oyster sauce.
Despite having a vinegar base, it’s flavored with molasses and anchovies and brings a similar salty-sweet flavor to the table. It’s also got loads of richness and depth.
But it’s very potent and can quickly overwhelm a dish.
For my stir fry, I mixed my Worcestershire sauce with and equal amount of soy sauce (and a little honey for sweetness).
And added it slowly. Remember, it’s you can always add more sauce but you can’t take it away!
How to substitute: replace oyster sauce with ½ the amount of Worcestershire sauce.
Vegan oyster sauce
If you’re on a plant-based diet or have a shellfish allergy, you can make your own “oyster sauce” with dried shiitake mushrooms.
The mushrooms have a deep umami flavor and the process to make the sauce is surprisingly straightforward.
You need to rehydrate the mushrooms and then cook them in the soaking liquid, along with other umami-packed ingredients like soy sauce, miso paste, and five-spice powder.
The resulting sauce is a tad chunkier than traditional oyster sauce, but I like this because you can also use it as a sandwich spread!
Pro-tip: make sure to use dried mushrooms because they have a more concentrated flavor than their fresh counterparts.
How to substitute: replace oyster sauce in a 1:1 ratio with this vegan oyster sauce.
Got a bottle of teriyaki sauce sitting in the cupboard? It’s you’re lucky day!
Teriyaki sauce makes a decent alternative for oyster sauce in stir fries, noodles dishes, dips, and marinades.
Its got similar dark color and consistency to oyster sauce, and with the soy sauce base, it also has the savory flavor.
The catch here is teriyaki sauce is very sweet (even more so than oyster sauce) – great if you have a sweet tooth. But if not, consider mixing in a splash of vinegar or lemon juice.
How to substitute: replace oyster sauce in a 1:1 ratio with teriyaki sauce.
Fish sauce + sugar
I’ve mentioned mixing fish sauce with other condiments above, but it can also stand in on its own for oyster sauce in a pinch.
Fish sauce isn’t the best substitute if the recipe uses oyster sauces as the main flavor.
But if you’re just using the oyster sauce for a background hit of saltiness, fish sauce is perfect.
I started with 1/4 the amount of of fish sauce compared to oyster sauce, and mixed it with a pinch of sugar for sweetness.
How to substitute: replace oyster sauce with ½ the amount of fish sauce + sugar mixture.
Homemade oyster sauce
Making oyster sauce from scratch isn’t an instant solution, but it certainly is possible.
Souped Up Recipes has an excellent video that outlines the process in detail – and it’s quite a process!
You have to extract the briny liquid from the oysters, prepare a caramel solution, and then simmer everything down.
But if you value quality ingredients and want complete control over what goes in your food, this recipe is worth the effort.
And there’s a certain peace of mind knowing your oyster sauce comes directly from genuine oysters and not some synthetic substitute!
How to substitute: replace commercial oyster sauce with your homemade version in a 1:1 ratio.
Other substitutes to consider
Because oyster sauce is generally used as a flavor enhancer, there are lots of things
- Mushroom ketchup – this is similar to the vegan oyster sauce recipe I mentioned above in the fact that it’s based on dried mushrooms.
- Dashi granules – these will give your dish an umami punch with a prominent seafood flavor. Mix them with soy sauce, sugar, and potato starch to create an instant makeshift oyster sauce.
- Sweet bean sauce – this is another Chinese condiment, but it’s sweeter than oyster sauce with a prominent salty kick. It’s made from wheat flour, making it a good option if you’re allergic to seafood.
- Chinese black bean sauce – you’ve probably heard of black bean sauce before. This is a great option for stir fries. It’s more savory than oyster sauce with a hint of heat.
- Miso paste + sugar + water – like the fish sauce sub, this only works if you’re using oyster sauce as a flavor enhancer. It tastes pretty different to oyster sauce, but it will still bring that salty-sweet umami kick to your dish.
Substitutes to avoid
Oyster sauce is often said to be half way between soy sauce and barbecue sauce. And while this is true, I don’t recommend using barbecue sauce as a substitue.
It doesn’t have any of the umaminess that makes oyster sauce stand out and it’s not got the same Asian flair. Your dish would totally change (not saying it wouldn’t be delicious though!).
Best Oyster Sauce Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
For oyster liquid
- 1 lb shucked oysters, liquid included in the weight
- 6 cups water
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 shallot, sliced thinly
- 1 scallion, cut into stalks
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ½ inch ginger, sliced thinly
For caramel solution
- 10 tbsp sugar
- 2 cups water
For seasoning and thickening oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp MSG, optional
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
To make the oyster liquid
- Dissolve the salt into 6 cups of water. Combine a cup of the salt water (reserve the rest), with the shucked oysters and the liquid with them in a sauce pot. Bring the mixture to a boil then simmer for 5 minutes.
- Pour the cooked oyster and liquid through a sieve and transfer into a big pot.
- Transfer the cooked oysters, shallot, ginger, scallion, garlic, and another cup of salt water in a powerful blender. Blitz until smooth.
- Pour the oyster puree into a sauce pot and simmer for 5 minutes. With a cheesecloth, strain more of the oyster juice from the puree. Discard the solid part.
- Simmer the big pot of oyster liquid over medium low-heat for 1 to 1½ hours until you only have about ⅓ cup of liquid left.
- While waiting, heat the sugar in another sauce pot over medium-low heat. Stir for 6-8 minutes until the sugar melts and turns a golden brown color. Add in the 2 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Once the oyster liqudi has reduced, turn the heat to the lowest setting and stir for 5-8 minutes until it turns into a brown sticky paste. Add the caramel solution in batches and stir thoroughly until dissolved. Mix the cornstarch and water together to create a slurry.
- Season the oyster caramel solution with salt, dark soy sauce and MSG. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the slurry and mix until the sauce thickens.
- Let it cool before transferring the sauce into a clean, lidded jar. This will last for 2 months in the fridge.