I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of plum 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 that I’ve got you covered.
The best substitutes for plum sauce are the homemade version and duck sauce. You can also try sweet and sour sauce for a fruity alternative. Thai sweet chili sauce is an excellent option if you’re craving a bit of heat to jazz up your meals. Cranberry sauce will work in a pinch!
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made egg rolls to put different plum sauce substitutes for a taste test.
Plum sauce is a Chinese condiment with a viscous consistency. It boasts a sweet-tangy flavor thanks to the fresh plums and the classic Chinese five-spice powder.
I was looking for a substitute that could deliver the a similar moreish flavor.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Homemade plum sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Duck sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Sweet and sour sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Thai sweet chili sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Cranberry sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with cranberry sauce mixed with Chinese five-spice and ginger||9/10|
|Teriyaki sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Sweet soy sauce + vinegar||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with equal parts sweet soy sauce and vinegar||8/10|
Common uses for plum sauce and the best substitutes
Here are some common use cases for plum sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- As a dipping sauce: Try using homemade plum sauce, duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or Thai sweet chili sauce. You can also use cranberry sauce, although you may want to add the Chinese five-spice if you’re pairing it with an Asian dish.
- For glazing and basting: Try using homemade plum sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or teriyaki sauce.
- For marinades and dressings: Try using homemade plum sauce, sweet chili sauce, or a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar.
Homemade plum sauce
Creating plum sauce is easier than you think! My go-to recipe is from Marion’s Kitchen, which uses fresh plums.
It involves a bit of hands-on effort because you need to cut and pit the plums, but the resulting fresh flavor is absolutely worth it.
You get a much brighter taste than commercial plum sauces.
The recipe uses black plums for that deep, jewel-tone color.
But yellow plums work just as well if they’re all you can find. You can even mix in a pinch of beetroot powder to replicate the red color.
And don’t worry if fresh plums aren’t an option – you can also use a jar of plum jam (like with this recipe).
How to substitute: Replace plum sauce in a 1:1 ratio with homemade plum sauce.
Ah, duck sauce. A delightful condiment often found in American-Chinese restaurants, it’s closely associated with plum sauce but has a personality all its own.
And it’s not made of ducks!
Instead, it’s made from apricot jam, which gives it a cheerful yellow color and a thinner, jelly-like consistency.
I thought it was a tad sweeter than plum sauce, but you can easily balance out the sweetness with a splash of lemon juice.
Psst… why not check out my tried and tested substitutes for duck sauce.
How to substitute: Replace plum sauce in a 1:1 ratio with duck sauce.
Sweet and sour sauce
Sweet and sour sauce is an uncomplicated alternative to plum sauce when you’re craving that classic tangy flavor.
It’s well known for complementing greasy foods like egg rolls or fried chicken, and the addition of pineapple juice imparts a fruity sweetness similar to plum sauce.
And if you’re a fan of Asian cuisines, chances are you have an old jar lying around in your cupboards!
Psst… making your own sweet and sour sauce but need a pineapple juice substitute? I’ve got you covered.
How to substitute: Replace plum sauce in a 1:1 ratio with sweet and sour sauce.
Thai sweet chili sauce
Don’t mind straying a bit from the essence of plum sauce?
Look no further than Thai sweet chili sauce.
It lacks the fruity notes of plum sauce, but it has a subtle heat to it that helps cut through rich Chinese dishes like egg rolls.
It pairs well with pretty much anything too, so it’s a great condiment to have handy.
How to substitute: Replace plum sauce in a 1:1 ratio with Thai sweet chili sauce.
This holiday favorite may not be the first option that comes to mind when considering plum sauce substitutes, but it’s a worthy contender!
With its distinct tart flavor and prominent sweetness, cranberry sauce shares striking similarities with plum sauce.
And to create an even closer match, mix in a pinch of Chinese five-spice and ginger (both are key ingredients in plum sauce).
This delightful fusion of flavors tasted superb with my crispy egg rolls!
How to substitute: Replace plum sauce in a 1:1 ratio with cranberry sauce mixed with Chinese five-spice and ginger.
Teriyaki sauce is another substitute that is moving away from the flavor of plum sauce, but tastes delicious as a dipping sauce.
It’s a mouthwatering blend of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, so brings its own sweet-but-savory flavor.
I found it was missing the tang plum sauce had, but a good trick to rectify this is adding a splash of rice wine vinegar.
Commercial (American style) teriyaki sauces tend to have a similar thick consistency to plum sauce, but if you’re making it from scratch, add cornstarch to thicken it.
How to substitute: Replace plum sauce in a 1:1 ratio with teriyaki sauce.
Sweet soy sauce + vinegar
A simple combination of sweet soy sauce and vinegar can save the day as a plum sauce substitute.
It will be more one-dimensional than plum sauce, but it will do the job.
Combine equal parts sweet soy sauce and vinegar, then taste and adjust the ratio to your liking.
If you have ginger, grate some into the mix for an extra layer of flavor.
Psst… I also have an article on the best ways to replace sweet soy sauce.
How to substitute: Replace plum sauce in a 1:1 ratio with a mixture of sweet soy sauce and vinegar.
Other substitutes to consider
- Char siu sauce – this is made from hoisin sauce and seasoned with Chinese five-spice, which gives it a flavor reminiscent of plum sauce. It has a more savory taste, but it’s still delicious.
- Ponzu sauce – this is not an exact flavor match for plum sauce, but it’s a great option if you want to switch things up. You get a bright, citrusy kick that can help cut through the greasiness of your egg rolls or fried dumplings.
- Mambo sauce – this is a condiment developed in Washington, DC. It’s tomato-based and some compare it to BBQ sauce, but it’s flavor profile reminds me of plum sauce.
- Amba sauce – this is an option you can try if you’re expanding your horizons. It has a tangy-sweet flavor thanks to the pickled mangoes, with a bit of earthiness and heat thrown in. You can find it in specialty stores like Trader Joe’s.
- Chamoy – this may be a staple in Mexican cuisine, but it has Asian origins. It has a similar tart flavor, but with a bit more heat from the dried chili peppers.
Substitutes to avoid
These substitutes often came up during my research so I had to give them a try. But I don’t think they worked that well as substitutes. The other options I’ve listed are better.
- Sha cha sauce – this is a Chinese condiment like plum sauce (which I guess is why people suggest it), but it tastes nothing like plum sauce. Instead, it has a savory, spicy flavor.
- XO sauce– this is tasty. But I found it’s rich, umami flavor pretty overpowering compared to plum sauce.
- Caramelized onion chutney- this is much better saved for your Western food! I don’t think it works at all with the Asian dishes you normally find plum sauce in.
Read next: the best substitutes for soy sauce.
12 BEST Plum Sauce Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 4 prunes, soaked in 4 tbsp hot water for 10 minutes
- 500 grams black plums, cut into chunks and pits discarded
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup white sugar
- 3 large slices ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, lightly bruised
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 tbsp Chinese five-spice
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp corn starch mixed with 1 tbsp water, if necessary
- Into a sauce pan over low heat, combine the prunes, plums, vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick, star anise, and five-spice. Simmer everything for 10 minutes, then remove the heat and discard the ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick and star anise.
- In a food processor, blitz the plum mixture until smooth. Transfer the mixture into a clean saucepan and simmer for 2-3 minutes until it begins to thicken. Season to taste. If you find the mixture is too thin, add your cornstarch slurry.
- Enjoy immediately or store in a lidded jar inside the fridge for up to two weeks.