Rich, thick, salty, and sweet, hoisin sauce is a mouth watering addition to any meal. Can’t you just imagine dipping a fluffy bao bun into a dish of hoisin, and letting the flavor explode on your tongue?
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Or biting into a juicy roast pork, coated in lashings of hoisin? Even from a bottle, the intense and complicated flavor of hoisin feels decadent.
Sadly, most of us don’t own an unending supply of hoisin, although that would be the stuff dreams are made of. Instead, we have to deal with the endless frustration of reaching into the back of the fridge only to discover the bottle was drained on its last use.
So what to do when you’re out of hoisin and a recipe calls for it? Or if you’re looking to cut back on sugar and noticed just how much is in a store bought sauce bottle?
Replacing hoisin in a dish is difficult but not impossible. If you need to substitute, don’t be expecting an exact match. There really is nothing quite like it.
However, with a few tweaks and changes you can make something pretty similar. Or at least tasty enough you don’t care about the differences.
What is Hoisin?
Hoisin is a fragrant sauce often found in Cantonese cuisine. Sweet and salty, it can be used as a marinade or glaze for many types of meat. Versatile enough for use in stir fries and curries, it can also be used as a dipping sauce.
Traditionally made from a base of bean paste, the taste of hoisin plays with sugar, vinegar, salt, and the savory umami taste of soybean. Interestingly, despite the word ‘hoisin’ originating from the Chinese term for seafood sauce, it contains no seafood.
Largely considered as the Chinese equivalent of barbecue sauce, hoisin works well with a variety of meats. From pork to duck, hoisin is a tasty companion. It can even elevate basic vegetable dishes into a treat.
Hoisin sauce is vegetarian and normally vegan. If you’re buying from a store, double-check the bottle. Some companies can use animal products as setting or thickening agents.
What is the best substitute for hoisin?
Due to its unique taste, hoisin is a very difficult flavor to substitute. As a warning, anything you try to use instead will alter the flavor of the dish.
That’s not to say that if you have no hoisin there’s nothing to be done, but be prepared to play with flavors.
Good alternatives include barbecue sauce and black bean sauce. Teriyaki, with a few adjustments, works well too. And if you don’t feel like struggling for a flavor match, a quick addition of soy sauce or oyster sauce is always a solid choice.
Can you make your own?
Yes, hoisin sauce is relatively quick to make. However, many of the traditional Chinese ingredients are hard to come by outside of specialized stores, so there is a need to adapt.
Trying it for yourself is a way to cut down the sugar content and make it that bit healthier, as well as losing the preservatives commonly found in grocery store alternatives.
To make traditional hoisin sauce requires black bean paste and Chinese five spice. Good supermarkets should stock Chinese five spice, and even if you don’t plan on making hoisin it’s a flavorful store cupboard ingredient to have on hand.
Black bean paste is where it gets tricky. Not yet hugely popular outside of Asia, the best place to find it is in specialty stores or online.
If you can’t find any, there are alternatives. The most common choice is smooth, unsweetened, peanut butter. Although it might seem an odd match, the thick consistency is key.
Once you have these two, the peanut butter (or black bean) and five spice are combined with basic store cupboard ingredients: brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, and hot sauce. If you’re a fan of Asian cookery, you should find hoisin easy to make.
If you have no hoisin and want the most accurate experience possible, homemade is the way to go about it.
Homemade may lack some of the depth of the proper stuff, depending on what ingredients you have on hand, but is the best match. There are, however, other alternatives.
The Top 5 Hoisin Substitutes
As hoisin is Chinese barbecue, American barbecue sauce makes a good substitution. Good on its own, to add some authenticity, there are a few things you can do.
Depending on the sweetness level of your barbecue sauce, you’ll probably want to add some type of sugar. Molasses is the best option, as the deeper flavor more closely mimics the original taste of hoisin.
Dark brown sugar is similar, but lacks the thick consistency. Honey and maple syrup can both be used as alternatives if that’s what you have to hand.
The sauce might now seem a little too sweet, and that can be counteracted with the addition of soy sauce and a pinch of the previously mentioned five spice. Alternatively, a splash of rice wine vinegar will give some zest.
The barbecue sauce makes a strong enough base that it’s a matter of choice what gets added. If a recipe only calls for a small amount of hoisin, then an equivalent amount of barbecue sauce will do the trick.
Black Bean Sauce
As Asian cookery grows in popularity, the easier it is to find good stir-fry sauces. Black bean sauce is now easy to locate in major supermarkets, and finding its way into store cupboards and pantries.
Black bean sauce is made from the same base as hoisin, and in many ways is it’s slightly less popular cousin. Hoisin has a more complex flavoring, but one can stand in for the other when needed.
The all essential beans are what gives them a shared consistency. If hoisin is used in large amounts, then black bean sauce might be the best way to go.
If you have black bean sauce, punch it up by adding sugar, soy, and vinegar to make an even stronger substitute for hoisin. To make it even better, half a teaspoon of Chinese five spice and a dash of crushed fennel seeds work well.
An easy way to boost the flavor profile of both barbecue sauce and black bean sauce is by adding a splash of hot sauce. Especially if you have an Asian origin hot sauce, such as Sriracha, which contain similar or complimentary ingredients to hoisin.
If the above options are more effort than you want for a basic stir-fry, the quickest substitute for hoisin sauce is soy sauce.
While the flavors aren’t greatly similar, soy added to a marinade or sauce will achieve many of the same benefits as hoisin. Both are made from fermented soy.
Soy adds depth and umami to an otherwise bland sauce. Add it slowly, to avoid over salting. If you have rice wine vinegar to hand then these two work well together.
A pinch of sugar or honey, and now that plain soy sauce has become something sort of great. To improve consistency, a spoonful of smooth peanut butter should thicken without disrupting the taste much.
If you wanted to use hoisin as a dipping sauce, soy might seem less interesting. However, it’s popular for a reason. Soy sauce goes with almost anything.
Like hoisin, oyster sauce is a common ingredient in Asian cuisine that’s difficult to make from scratch.
The ingredients list is simple, but you do need to get your hands on a whole pile of oysters. At least it’s easier than it’s more pungent sibling, the long fermented fish sauce.
If you were planning on pairing your hoisin with seafood or vegetables, oyster sauce is a bold alternative. The flavor is different, but the consistency is the same, and oyster sauce is delicious on its own.
Be aware that oyster sauce does have a strong flavor, so if you’re adding it to soups and curries start slowly and build up. Otherwise, you risk overwhelming the other ingredients.
Fish sauce can also be used if you don’t mind trying something new. Fish sauce is a traditional East Asian sauce made from fish (or krill) that has been fermented for up to two years.
This long fermentation process means making it homemade is a daunting prospect. Thinner than hoisin, it’s also incredibly strong. A little fish sauce goes a very long way.
The greatest similarity between teriyaki sauce and hoisin sauce is the way it looks, which probably seems a poor start for a recommendation.
While foodies argue we eat with our eyes, for the most part tasting comes from the mouth. Thankfully, there’s more to this substitution than looks.
Teriyaki is a Japanese sauce that’s gained popularity worldwide due to its sweet taste and versatility. Much like hoisin, teriyaki works well as a marinade and a dipping sauce.
If you have teriyaki and want to use it in place of hoisin, be wary of adding other sweeteners. They’re unlikely to be necessary.
However, a spoonful of soy sauce and some crushed garlic could make all the difference. Soy is only a small component of teriyaki, where it plays a much larger role in hoisin.
Garlic is missing entirely. While teriyaki won’t be an exact substitute, it’s still an alternative worth trying. Especially if you have some on hand.
How to choose a substitute for hoisin
If you have a bit of time, making your own hoisin sauce is the best way to go about it. As most substitutions require some flavor matching anyway, it might not be as much of an extra step as you’d first assume.
If you aren’t interested in making your own, what you choose really comes down to what the hoisin is being used for. For a marinade or rub, try barbecue or teriyaki. For a dipping sauce, think of using soy or oyster. For stir fries, black bean sauce might be your best option.
The trick is to remember the consistency, and what flavor you want to emphasize. Don’t be put off by the obvious differences. Experimenting with different options could lead you to discovering something new.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I substitute Worcestershire sauce for hoisin?
Hoisin sauce and Worcestershire sauce don’t make good substitutes for each other, although they can both work in a pinch. The similarity in these sauces is the combination of umami and sweet flavorings.
However, Worcestershire sauce is much thinner than hoisin, and has a fruitier flavor. Hoisin is thick, with a vinegar tang.
These substitutions work best when hoisin is only used for a small part of a sauce or marinade. If you wanted to use hoisin as a dipping sauce, Worcestershire sauce won’t have the right consistency.
If you’re looking to replace Worcestershire sauce, a better option is oyster sauce.
There is still a difference in flavor and texture, but oyster sauce is closer to Worcestershire sauce due to the similar seafood bases.
Soy sauce also works well, and combining hoisin with soy sauce will be a better substitute for Worcestershire sauce.
What tastes like hoisin sauce?
Hoisin sauce is a unique flavor, due to the combination of salty, sweet, and umami. The rich and thick texture also sets it apart from other sauces. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to replace.
The best way to find something that tastes like hoisin sauce is to play around. Hoisin is sometimes considered Chinese barbecue sauce, so American barbecue sauce is a good place to start.
This has the same blend of sweet and salty. Adding molasses will give it depth, soy brings umami, and Chinese 5-spice will add some authenticity.
If you can find black bean sauce, then this is a similar base flavor to hoisin. With the addition of soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine vinegar, it becomes layered.
Oyster sauce has a similar, if thinner consistency, and the same umami profile as hoisin. Use a little, and sweeten with brown sugar.
Can I substitute teriyaki sauce for hoisin sauce?
Teriyaki sauce and hoisin sauce can be used as substitutes for each other, but they aren’t an ideal replacement.
The consistency of both is an important feature, as the thick and sticky sauces are both ideal for marinades and dipping sauces.
They also both have a sweetness, which makes them potential substitutes. However, hoisin contains garlic, which is missing entirely from teriyaki.
Also, while both contain soy sauce, it’s a much more important ingredient in hoisin. If you want to use teriyaki in place of hoisin, adding garlic and soy is necessary.
The best way to substitute teriyaki is to make your own. Traditional teriyaki is made from just 3 ingredients: soy sauce, sake, and sugar.
Sake can be replaced with mirin, dry sherry, or rice wine vinegar. Sugar can be substituted with honey. It works for a basic, but enjoyable, teriyaki.
How do you make hoisin sauce from scratch?
It is possible to make your own hoisin sauce from scratch, but to make it authentically requires black bean paste. This ingredient is essential for authenticity, but difficulty to source.
The second essential ingredient that can be hard to find is Chinese 5-spice seasoning. While black bean sauce can be substituted, 5-spice is vital.
Hoisin is made by blending a mixture of black bean sauce, Chinese 5-spice, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and a splash of hot sauce.
The process is relatively simple, and for Asian cookery fans many of the ingredients are store cupboard staples. If you can’t find black bean paste, there are options.
A popular choice is smooth peanut butter, as this adds umami taste and the same thick consistency. Another option is molasses. Peanut butter is the closest match, but look for unsweetened.