Sub in for sweet, spicy, and savory…
Akin to Western barbecue sauce, hoisin sauce is a delicious sweet and spicy mix that’s a must for many authentic Asian meals and a terrific barbecue sauce alternative for grilled meats. Hoisin sauce is carried in most supermarkets with international food sections, but where can you turn if there’s none available? What’s a good hoisin sauce substitute when you’re in a creative culinary mood, or what can you use in a quick pinch? We review your best options here.
Your best bet: Make your own
If you have the time and the ingredients, making your own hoisin sauce is the best way to go to mirror the flavors you expect. Hoisin has a unique flavor profile – part sweet, part spicy, and part umami. It’s not a simple flavor to mimic with one or two simple ingredients.
Luckily, there are many hoisin sauce recipes out there that use ingredients common to well-stocked spice racks. See our homemade hoisin sauce recipe as a good starting place. It’s a delicious mix of sesame oil, molasses, soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, peanut butter, rice vinegar, garlic, and Chinese five-spice powder. There are many other variants available online as well.
Potential pre-made sauce substitutes: Brown bean sauce or chee hou sauce
These two Asian sauces are made from soy beans, so there’s a distinct umami flavor to them – pleasant and savory, also a little sweet. Both of these sauces can be surprisingly spicy – often much more spicy than hoisin sauce, especially chee hou sauce – so be prepared if you are using either as an alternative to hoisin sauce. You can cut the bean sauces with other ingredients, like those from our recipe, to dilute the spiciness if necessary and better mirror the overall hoisin flavor.
A simplified short cut: Sweet barbecue sauce, Sriracha, and Chinese five-spice powder
Think of barbecue sauce as a short cut ingredient to take out the need for many of the other ingredients in our recipe above. Make sure it’s a sweet barbecue sauce – it needs to mirror a sweet and tangy flavor you’d expect from ingredients like molasses and rice vinegar. The additives of Sriracha and Chinese five-spice powder are to provide the expected sizzle to the sauce.
The flavor won’t be an exact match, but you can then add in additional ingredients from our recipe (like sesame oil or peanut butter) to adjust the taste to your liking. Think of this hoisin sauce substitute as an “in a pinch” alternative. You are better off, if you have the time and the ingredients, making hoisin sauce from scratch to get the best overall flavor.
Photo by Cmglee – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14780598