18 Best Chinese Sauces: Origins, Flavours and Serving Suggestions

Mar 20, 2023

From crispy roast pork, braised beef noodles to steaming baskets of dim sum, these mouth-watering dishes centre on an assortment of Chinese sauces that form the building blocks of authentic Chinese cuisine.

Today we’ll explore 18 of the most popular Chinese sauces, including some of our favourites, that will take your Chinese cooking to the next level!

→ Shop now: Our handpicked range of Chinese sauces and pantry ingredients

#1 Oyster Sauce

Traditionally made from oyster juices that have been reduced and caramelised, this dark viscous sauce is packed full of flavour. Today, oysters are replaced with oyster extract to speed up the production process, with salt and sugar added to the mix. With a slightly sweet, salty and savoury taste, it is mainly added to Cantonese cooking and is used in marinades, glazes or stir-fries. Our favourite use of oyster sauce is in vegetable dishes such as broccoli or pak-choy, as well as tofu dishes.

Oyster Sauce

#2 Light Soy Sauce

This ubiquitous sauce in authentic Chinese cooking has its origins in China nearly 2,000 years ago, and is produced by fermenting soybeans and wheat – a process that can take months and even years to complete. Light soy sauce adds instant umami flavour to all sorts of cooking like stews, soups or used as a dipping sauce for dumplings. Light soy sauce is not only found in Chinese cuisine, it is one of the most popular Asian sauces that's literally everywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

Light Soy Sauce

#3 Dark Soy Sauce

A thicker and slightly sweeter variation of soy sauce due to added sugar, dark soy sauce is often used to achieve a deeper colour to a variety of dishes such as Soy Sauce Chicken or Braised Pork Belly. The trick here is that a little goes a long way, using too much could overpower your cooking due to its intensity. I also love pairing dark soy sauce with a nice bowl of steamed rice.

Dark Soy Sauce

#4 Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a delicious combination of salty, sweet and tangy flavours, and is sometimes referred to as Chinese barbecue sauce. Made from fermented soybean, this fragrant sauce is often used as a marinade for roasted meats and is featured in popular dishes such as Asian Lettuce Wraps or Beef Stir-Fry.

Hoisin Sauce

#5 Plum Sauce

As its name suggests, plum sauce is made from fully ripened plums, although some recipes add apricot or prunes for a thicker consistency. While it’s commonly used as a dip for roast duck, plum sauce can be paired with other grilled meats, egg rolls and spring rolls. Its sweet-sour flavour with hints of aromatic spices adds incredible depth to any dish!

Plum Sauce

#6 XO Sauce

Did you know? XO sauce originates from Hong Kong, where ‘XO’ is slang for prestige and luxury. This iconic sauce is packed with an abundance of flavours due to its key ingredients: dried shrimp, dried scallops and cured ham, which contribute to its steep price tag. Add it to fried rice, noodles or meat and vegetable dishes and get ready to ascend to umami heaven!

#7 Char Siu Sauce

Char Siu refers to roast pork prepared in a famous Cantonese style, which includes glazing this salty-sweet sauce onto the meat for greater taste. Typically made with hoisin and the aromatic five spices, it also elevates other roast meat recipes such as BBQ ribs, and is used in one of our favourite dim sum dishes, Char Siu buns.

Char Siu Sauce

#8 Rice Vinegar

Perfect on its own as a seasoning or added to cooking for some acidity, rice vinegar is primarily made from fermented rice. Different variations of this sauce exist in China, but the black and white varieties are more widely used outside the country. It’s a lot sweeter and milder than its Western counterpart and is enjoyed in salads or meat dishes as a marinade or as part of a dipping sauce.

Rice vinegar

#9 Rice Wine

Produced by fermenting glutinous rice, the use of rice wine has ancient roots in China, dating back thousands of years. The two popular types of rice wine are mijiu, a clear wine with a light taste, and Shaoxing wine, a darker, more aromatic wine with deeper flavour. While mijiu is commonly used in various recipes, including seafood dishes, Shaoxing wine is a staple in many Chinese dishes, enhancing them with its unique aroma and depth, particularly in stir-fries and marinades.

Rice wine

#10 Sichuan Chilli Sauce

For those who, like me, love spicy foods, look no further than Sichuan chilli sauce – a spicy, savoury-sweet sauce originating from Sichuan province in China. In addition to chilli peppers, its distinct, mouth-numbing sensation comes from peppercorns and is featured in popular dishes such as Mapo Tofu, Kung Pao Chicken and Sichuan Chilli Oil Dumplings. I also like using it as a base for hot pot.

Sichuan chilli sauce

#11 Guilin Chilli Sauce

Prefer something a little spicier? Originating from the city of Guilin in southern China, this sauce is made from extra hot dried chillis, garlic, soy sauce and fermented soybeans. It’s the perfect savoury accompaniment to grilled meats, spicy noodles, stir-fries, steamed or cold dishes!

#12 Chilli Bean Paste

Another fiery addition to your collection of chillis is the Chilli Bean Paste – a thick, bright red paste that is packed with complex, umami flavours due to the presence of fermented broad beans. It’s a core ingredient of Sichuan cuisine and featured in famous dishes like Mapo Tofu and Mala Xiang Guo or Sichuan Mala Stir-fry Pot.

Chilli Bean Paste

#13 Garlic Sauce

Although many variations of this sauce exist, garlic sauce contains a medley of key Chinese ingredients such as sesame oil, vinegar and soy sauce to help accentuate the flavour of garlic. This aromatic sauce goes well with steamed dishes including fish and vegetable stir-fries; add chilli flakes or pepper for that little bit of heat!

#14 Ginger Sauce

A staple in authentic Chinese cooking, many Chinese families have their own recipes for ginger sauce depending on which region of China they come from. This versatile condiment is often enjoyed with popular dishes such as Chinese soup dumplings (Xiao Long Bao), Steamed Fish, and Hainanese Chicken Rice.

#15 Yellow Bean Sauce

Yellow bean sauce is a tasty combination of fermented soybeans, flour, salt and sugar and is featured predominantly in Northern Chinese cuisine. It’s used as a base for the famous Zha Jiang Mian (Fried Sauce Noodles) and commonly added to stir-fries and stews for an instant flavour boost. 

#16 Black Bean Sauce

Widely used in Cantonese and Sichuan cooking, its salty and umami tastes come from fermented black soybeans. Often paired with ginger and garlic to balance out the intense flavours, it's commonly added to beef in beef in black bean sauce, vegetable stir-fries or noodle and rice dishes.

#17 Five Spice Sauce

Five spice sauce is a delectable blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and peppercorns, mixed with other essential Chinese condiments like soy sauce and ginger to create a unique mix of vibrant flavours. It compliments roast and braised meats, stir-fries and can even be used as a dipping sauce.

5 Spice Sauce

#18 Black Pepper Sauce

Its bold, rich flavours come from its star ingredients – black pepper and garlic. It’s spicy and savoury, popularly enjoyed in Hong Kong over hotplate beef, pork or chicken chop, where the aromatic sizzle of steam is a sure way to whet your appetite!

Final Word

This list of the best Chinese sauces highlights the endless possibilities of Chinese cooking and hopefully inspires you to get creative with some delicious dishes. So what are you waiting for? Head to your local Asian grocer or purchase them online and get ready to cook up a storm!

→ Shop now: Our handpicked range of Chinese sauces & pantry ingredients

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