Hoisin Sauce Ingredients and Uses

Hoisin sauce
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Hoisin sauce is a fragrant, pungent sauce used frequently in Asian vegetable stir-fries, marinades, and grilled dishes. It is not made with any animal products and is suitable for vegans and vegetarians, although it comes from Cantonese cuisine and is traditionally served with Peking duck. Hoisin sauce is a key ingredient in many Chinese dishes and some Vietnamese food recipes. It is sometimes called Chinese barbecue sauce.

What Is in Hoisin Sauce?

Hoisin sauce is made from a combination of fermented soybean paste, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, chiles, and sweetener. Commercially prepared hoisin sauce may have preservatives, stabilizers, and coloring agents added.

Although the name hoisin comes from the Chinese word for seafood, it doesn't contain any seafood. Not only that, it usually isn't used with seafood, so the origin of the name is a mystery.

Hoisin sauce will be very salty no matter which kind you buy, so it's not suitable for those on a sodium-restricted diet. A typical hoisin sauce has 258 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, as well as 35 calories, 0.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams protein, and 7 grams carbohydrates.

If you are eliminating gluten from your diet, be sure to check the ingredient label for any hidden gluten. Since it is typically made with soybeans, you would have to look for a soy-free version made with a different bean if you are eliminating soy from your diet.

For home use, there are many recipes that start with black bean paste (which is fermented soybeans), miso, or peanut butter. They typically add soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot pepper sauce. Many recipes also call for Chinese five spice powder.

What Does Hoisin Sauce Taste Like?

Hoisin is dark in color and thick in consistency. It has a very strong salty and slightly sweet flavor. Hoisin sauce does taste a bit like an American-style barbecue sauce, but much saltier, richer, less sweet, and has a flavor all of its own. The fermented soybeans add the savory umami element that some other sauces use fish or meat to achieve.

Because the unique taste can be overpowering, particularly if you’re new to Asian cuisine, it’s recommended that you use only a bit at a time to experiment with the flavor. Or, dilute the flavor by adding water or oil to the hoisin sauce before using in a recipe.

Using Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a great way to add an authentic Asian flavor, thickening, and color to a stir-fry or noodle dish. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for egg rolls, spring rolls, or other vegetarian appetizers.

Some vegan or vegetarian recipes that may call for hoisin sauce include grilled tofu, vegan Chinese stir-fryThai stir-fry.

Finding Hoisin Sauce

Many grocery stores stock hoisin sauce. It is made by several companies such as Lee Kum Kee. Look for it in the ethnic foods section of most grocery stores near the noodles, soy sauce, and Thai curry pastes. You may want to seek out more authentic producers from Asia by shopping at Chinese or Asian specialty grocers. You can also readily buy hoisin sauce online. 

Substitutes for Hoisin Sauce

If you can't find hoisin sauce at the store, your best bet is to use a recipe to make a substitute with peanut butter, miso, or black bean paste. You might substitute Chinese brown bean sauce or chee hou sauce if you have those on hand. Both of these are made from soybeans but may be spicier than hoisin sauce.

Another quick substitute is to take typical American sweet barbecue sauce and add Sriracha and Chinese five spice powder. Be sure to check any substitutes to see if they include things you are eliminating from your diet such as animal products or gluten.

Storing Hoisin Sauce

An unopened bottle of hoisin sauce can be stored in a cool, dark place and will be shelf-stable for a couple of years. Check the bottle for its "best by" date that will indicate when it will begin to degrade. Check it to ensure it hasn't grown any mold or developed an off odor.

Once you open a bottle, it should be refrigerated. But you don't have to use it quickly as it should last for up to a year in the refrigerator, thanks to the high salt content that keeps bacteria and mold at bay. Signs that it's time to toss it include mold, odor, or discoloration.