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6 BEST XO Sauce Substitutes + 3 To Avoid

I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of XO 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 substitute for XO sauce is making it yourself. Spicy condiments like chili crisp or nam prik pao (Thai chili paste) are also good options. Common Asian condiments like oyster and hoisin will work in a pinch. You can mix them with chili flakes and smoked ham to bring them closer to XO sauce.

Ready? Let’s jump right in.

The experiment

I made fried noodles to put different XO sauce substitutes to the test. 

XO sauce is a seafood-based sauce that originated from Hong Kong. It has a punchy sweet-salty flavor and loads of umami, making it incredibly moreish. 

Finding a substitute for this condiment was difficult because XO sauce has such a unique flavor, but there are lots of options to add a hit umami.

Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts: 

SubstitutesSubstitute DirectionsVerdict
Homemade XO SauceReplace in a 1:1 ratio10/10
Chili crispReplace in a 1:1 ratio9/10
Nam prik pao (Thai chili paste)Replace in a 1:1 ratio9/10
Chili garlic sauceReplace in a 1:1 ratio, add fish sauce to taste9/10
Oyster sauce + smoked hamReplace in a 1:1 ratio, add red pepper flakes to taste8/10
Hoisin sauce + chiliReplace in a 1:1 ratio8/10

Common uses of XO sauce and the best substitutes

Here are some popular ways to use XO sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:

  • As a table condiment: Try using the homemade version, chili crisp, or chili garlic sauce.
  • For stir-fries, rice, and noodle dishes: Try using the homemade version, chili crisp, nam prik pao, or chili garlic sauce. Condiments like oyster or hoisin sauce will also work in a pinch.
  • For marinades and sauces: Try using the homemade version, chili crisp, or Thai chili paste)

Homemade XO sauce

Most people are intimidated by the thought of making XO sauce from scratch because it calls for a few unusual ingredients, but I found this recipe from Marion’s Kitchen that’s much more accessible. 

You’ll still need dried scallops and shrimp (they’re a must-have), but you should be able to find them in your nearest Asian grocery store. 

When you have everything ready, the process is straightforward and takes just over half an hour.

I promise everything will be worth it once you get a taste of this homemade XO sauce! The umami kick it gave my fried noodles was so tasty that I wanted to whip up another batch.

How to substitute: Replace XO sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade XO sauce.

Vegan XO sauce

XO sauce is packed with seafood, but don’t count it out if you’re plant-based.

This recipe swaps the seafood with dried shiitake mushrooms and seaweed.

It’s just as tasty as XO sauce, and has a similar chunkiness.

Overall, I was very impressed.

How to substitute: Replace XO sauce in your recipe with a 1:1 ratio of your homemade XO sauce.

Chili crisp

Craving XO sauce’s characteristic heat? Try swapping it for chili crisp. 

The crunchy bits of garlic mimic XO’s texture pretty well and it’s just as tasty – although the flavors are distinctly different.

Chili crisp has none of the seafood undertones that XO sauce has.

You can buy jars of chili crisp are your local grocery store (my favorite is the Lao Gan Ma brand), or you can make your own

It works to liven up stir-fries, soups, marinade, and even as a savory dip for dumplings.

How to substitute: Replace XO sauce in your recipe with a 1:1 ratio of chili crisp.

Nam prik pao (Thai chili paste)

This chili paste may not match XO sauce in texture, but it compensates with flavor.

It’s got dried chilis for a fiery kick, and dried shrimp and shrimp paste to bring a briny, umami twist similar to the one you find in XO sauce (shrimp paste has SO MUCH umami).

Pssst… most of the ingredient you need to make this chili paste are easier to find than XO sauce if you fancy to DIY it.

How to substitute: Replace XO sauce in your recipe with a 1:1 ratio of nam prik pao.

Chili garlic sauce

Chili garlic sauce is really easy to find. If you’re into Asian food, you might already have some in your cupboard, and if you can’t find it I have some great substitute suggestions here!

True to its name, it’s spicy, garlicky, and oh-so-addictive! 

It doesn’t have XO sauce’s salty notes, but it’s an easy fix – mix it with a bit of fish sauce (or a vegan fish sauce alternative). 

The combo wasn’t as flavorful as XO sauce. But it still added a complex, umami flavor to my fried noodles. 

How to substitute: Replace XO sauce in your recipe with a 1:1 ratio of chili garlic sauce, and add fish sauce to taste.

Oyster sauce + smoked prosciutto

I know you’re probably thinking I made a mistake here.

But I did actually mean to write oyster sauce and smoked ham (or Iberico). Together they make a surprisingly effective stand-in for XO sauce.

The ham contributes a smoky, savory note that pairs well with the sweetish oyster sauce.

Let’s be clear, though – it won’t give you the same umami hit XO sauce has, especially when you’re using it as a condiment. But it will work well to enhance the flavors in a noodle or rice dish.

Missing the heat? Stir in red pepper flakes. 

Psst… you can also just use oyster sauce.

How to substitute: Replace XO sauce in your recipe with a 1:1 ratio of oyster sauce combined with minced Iberico ham, and add red pepper flakes to taste.

Hoisin sauce

Hoisin sauce had a warm, complex flavor thanks to chinese 5 spice. It’s similar to XO sauce in the fact that it’s hard to put your finger on why exactly you love it – but you do.

It’s strongly salty, slightly sweet, and rich in umami.

I recommend mixing in some chili or hot sauce to give it more heat.

And you can also throw in some smoky ham like I suggested with oyster sauce.

How to substitute: Replace XO sauce in your recipe with a 1:1 ratio of hoisin sauce mixed with red pepper flakes and diced smoky ham to taste.

Substitutes to avoid 

I saw these substitutes suggested on a few blogs so tried them out in the place of XO sauce.

But I don’t recommend them – I think they stray too far from the flavor we’re trying to replicate.

  • Teriyaki sauce – this is similar to oyster sauce and hoisin sauce but sweeter than both of them. For me it was too sweet to stand in for XO sauce. But if you have a sweet tooth, you might love it (psst… I also have an article on the best substitutes for teriyaki sauce)
  • Sweet and sour sauce – sweet and sour sauce is totally different to XO sauce. It’s tasty but has none of the smokey, savory notes you’d expect.
  • Sambal oelek – this is deliciously spicy, but it’s nowhere near as complex as XO sauce. Chili crisp is a better replacement.

6 Best XO sauce substitutes + 3 To Avoid

I tested loads of XO sauce substitutes to fin the best one. I also provided a homemade version you can try if you're up for the challenge.
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Ingredient
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: substitutes for xo sauce, xo sauce substitutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 20 servings
Calories: 98kcal


  • 60 g dried scallops
  • 60 g dried shrimp
  • ¼ cup shaoxing wine
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 thick rasher smoked bacon, cut into thin strips
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 6 small Asian red shallots, roughly chopped
  • 3 long fresh red chilies
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp good quality chili powder, adjust to taste


  • Place the scallops and prawns in separate bowls. Add 1 tablespoon of shaoxing into each bowl and cover them with enough water. Place in the fridge overnight.
  • Reserve ½ cup of the scallop soaking water. Drain the scallops, cover, and microwave for 3 minutes. Transfer the scallops and liquid into a food processor and blitz until coarsely shredded. Set aside. Drain the shrimps and give them a blitz in the food processor until finely chopped. Set aside.
  • Add the garlic, shallot, and chili in the food processor until finely chopped.
  • Over medium heat, cook the bacon until starting to crisp. Add the shredded scallops and cook for 4 minutes or until crisp. Add the prawns and cook for 5 minutes. Add in the garlic mixture and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes or until aromatic.
  • Add the reserved soaking liquid, oyster sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, chili powder and the remaining Shaoxing. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the mixture is dark and jammy. Pour into a sterilized jar and store in the fridge.


other options: chili crisp, nam prik pao, chili garlic sauce, oyster sauce + minced iberico ham, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce


Serving: 1tbsp | Calories: 98kcal

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