I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different ponzu sauce substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding ponzu sauce is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitutes for ponzu sauce are the homemade version and a mixture of soy sauce + acid. You can also go with a Maggi liquid seasoning + lemon juice combo, teriyaki sauce, Worcestershire, or mentsuyu. Other options you can try are a hoisin sauce + water + lemon juice combo and nam prik pla.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I had some sushi for lunch to put 10 ponzu sauce substitutes to the test.
Ponzu sauce is a classic Japanese condiment made with soy sauce. It tastes light and refreshing, with a savory aftertaste.
I was looking for a substitute with a similar citrusy, umami goodness that’ll make your dishes shine.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to substitute||Verdict|
|Homemade ponzu sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Soy sauce + vinegar||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Maggi liquid seasoning + lemon||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, diluting if needed||9/10|
|Teriyaki sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, adjust vinegar||9/10|
|Worcestershire sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, and a splash of lemon juice||8/10|
|Mentsuyu||Dilute then replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
Common uses for ponzu sauce and the substitutes
Here are some popular ways to use ponzu sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- As a condiment/finishing sauce – homemade ponzu sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce
- For sauces, marinades, and salad dressings – homemade ponzu sauce, Maggi liquid seasoning + lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce
- As a dipping sauce – homemade ponzu sauce, soy sauce
Homemade ponzu sauce
Making your own ponzu sauce is the way to go if you want to achieve that authentic citrusy, savory taste.
My go-to recipe is from Just One Cookbook. All you need to do is combine soy sauce, mirin, lemon, bonito flakes, and dried kelp in a jar!
Although it’s a breeze to make, keep in mind that patience is key – the longer the kelp and bonito flakes steep, the more umami your ponzu sauce will get.
Let the mixture rest overnight (at the very least) or, better yet, for a whole week.
It’s definitely worth the wait. And you can make a big batch because this homemade version lasts for a month.
How to substitute: replace store-bought ponzu sauce in a 1:1 ratio with homemade ponzu sauce.
Soy sauce + acid
Can’t wait for your ponzu sauce to steep? A quick mixture of soy sauce and your favorite acidic ingredient will get the job done!
I usually stick with lemon juice because it’s what you typically use when making authentic ponzu sauce.
But you can also go with rice wine vinegar or even orange juice in a pinch! Or try Yuzu lemons (if you can find them) for a more aromatic sauce.
And to make this option gluten-free, simply swap soy sauce with tamari or coconut aminos.
Pro-tip: sprinkle a dash of kelp or dashi granules to give this mixture a deeper umami kick.
How to substitute: replace ponzu sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with the soy sauce and acid mixture.
Maggi liquid seasoning + lemon
Another easy alternative you can whip up in under a minute is a combo of Maggi seasoning and lemon juice.
Maggi seasoning alone packs a deep, umami-rich punch, and adding a spritz of lemon juice gives it that fresh, bright flavor you usually get with ponzu sauce.
If you still find this mixture a tad too salty, just add a touch of sugar pr honey to make the flavors more balanced. Or dilute it with a few drops of water.
How to substitute: replace ponzu sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with the Maggi seasoning and lemon juice combo.
Teriyaki sauce is another classic Japanese condiment you can use if you can’t find ponzu.
It’s quite a bit sweeter, but you can easily balance this by adding a splash of vinegar.
Authentic teriyaki sauce is thin, which is what you’re looking for.
But some westernised brands thicken the sauce. If you have a thick sauce, I recommend mixing it it with a bit of water to give it a thinner consistency.
How to substitute: replace ponzu sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with homemade teriyaki sauce, adjust vinegar and water as needed
Worcestershire sauce isn’t a good flavor match for ponzu sauce, but it’s super convivient because most people have some in their kitchen.
This British condiment is salty, savory, and full of umami. The flavor is quite strong, so like with Maggi seasoning you might want to dilute it.
And I definitely recommend adding a splash of citrus juice.
Pro tip: Worcestershire sauce is better suited for using with red meats and chicken rather than the more delicate flavors of fish.
How to substitute: replace ponzu sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with Worcestershire sauce, adding a splash of lemon juice as needed.
Mentsuyu is a Japanese noodle soup base with a flavor profile so close to ponzu sauce it’s like they’re long-lost cousins.
The only thing missing is that signature citrusy tang that makes ponzu unique (which we’ve learnt by now is easy to fix).
You can buy a bottle of mentsuyu at most Asian grocery stores, but making it from scratch is just as easy – and you don’t need to let it steep like homemade ponzu sauce!
Mentsuyu is very concentrated, and you’ll need to dilute it with 1 cup of water for every ⅓ cup of mentsuyu.
How to substitute: replace ponzu sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with diluted mentsuyu, adding lemon juice or zest as needed.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top alternatives for ponzu sauce, but here are some more options you can consider:
- Hoisin sauce + water + lemon juice – this isn’t the best substitute, so I can only recommend it as a last resort. It has a salty-sweet flavor profile and a thicker consistency than ponzu, so you’ll need to thin it out with water and then add a bit of lemon juice. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent substitute for marinating.
- Nam prik pla – this Thai dipping sauce is very different from ponzu sauce because it uses fish sauce as a base. But it boasts similar bright, umami notes and works well as a dipping sauce for meat and spring rolls.
Substitutes to Avoid
These substitutes frequently came up during my research, so I had to try them out. But I wasn’t impressed and wouldn’t recommend them:
- Tonkatsu sauce – tonkatsu has a more complex flavor profile than ponzu sauce and can easily end up overpowering your dish.
- Korean BBQ sauce – Korean BBQ sauce has a distinct sweet flavor and a spicy kick that tastes nothing like the refreshing, citrusy notes of ponzu sauce.
- Fish sauce – fish sauce is too salty to use as a condiment on its own and works best as a background ingredient rather than the main event.
Homemade Ponzu Sauce + 7 Other Substitutes
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup citrus juice, use a mixture of citrus fruits
- lemon zest
- 2 tbsp mirin, or substitute with 2 tbsp sugar + 2 tbsp water
- ½ cup dried bonito flakes
- 1 piece dried kelp
- Combine everything in a mason jar and mix well.
- Leave to steep overnight or for a week.
- After steeping, strain out the kelp and dried bonito flakes.