Does Oyster Sauce Contain Oysters (+ 6 substitutes)

In this brief article, we will answer the question, “does oyster sauce contain oysters?”. Apart from certain general information about oyster sauce, we will also tell you six alternatives you can use to give your dishes the same amazing flavor. 

Does Oyster Sauce Contain Oysters?

Yes, oyster sauce is made with oysters and is routinely used in Asian cooking to stir-fry vegetables such as bok choy and kai-lan. Generally speaking, oyster sauce is a term that describes various sauces made from cooking oysters. 

The most commonly used oyster sauce in present times is a thick, dark brown condiment consisting of sugar, oyster extracts, salt, and water, with cornstarch as the thickening agent. 

Oyster sauce is naturally dark; however, certain versions of oyster sauce are darker than others and consist of caramel. 

Traditionally, oyster sauce is prepared by boiling fresh oysters and adding soy sauce, salt and certain spices. Oyster sauce is cherished for its unique umami flavor, caramel color and viscous texture (1).

Does Oyster Sauce Taste Like Oysters?

The taste of oyster sauce is a combination of barbecue sauce and soy sauce; it tastes both sweet and salty and is full of umami flavor. 

While the saltiness is attributed to the brininess of the oysters, the complex sweetness depicts hints of caramel. Commercial oyster sauces are produced from oyster extract with brine, flavor enhancers, caramel coloring and chemical preservatives. Oyster, as a raw material, contributes towards the unique flavor, which is derived from its free amino acids and 5′-nucleotides. The free amino acids can be divided into umami amino acids, bitter amino acids and sweet amino acids based on the taste characteristics (1).

Can You Make An Oyster Sauce Substitute?

Yes, you can! To make a reasonable substitute for oyster sauce, mix some Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce and add a little sugar to taste; use the sauces in small amounts. 

If you’re making a marinade or a stir-fry, start with a good amount of soy sauce, add a little sugar, and finish with some drops of Worcestershire sauce.

It is also possible to make oyster sauce from real oysters, as is done in traditional Chinese home cooking. The ingredients are oyster juice, water, sugar, modified starch, brown sugar, caramel, yeast extract, and flavoring agents ( such as sodium glutamate). The juice is boiled and concentrated and then strained (1).

Is Oyster Sauce Healthy?

Not exactly. Oyster sauce contains high amounts of sodium which can have adverse effects on blood pressure. 

So when using this sauce, use it sparingly, especially if you’re struggling to maintain your blood pressure or actively reducing your sodium consumption in every meal. 

Added sugar isn’t good for health either. Besides having minimal nutrition, consuming excess sugar predisposes an individual to diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health issues. It is recommended that you eat no more than 50 grams of sugar per day.

If you want to avoid using the sauce altogether, you can stir-fry your greens using spices such as garlic, ginger, and peppercorns.

One tablespoon of oyster sauce contains:

  • 580 milligrams of Sodium (30 percent of daily recommended intake)
  • 10 kcal

In addition, it may contain chloropropanols, chemical compounds that are formed in foods and food ingredients. The most commonly studied chloropropanols are 3-monochloropropane-1,2-diol (3-MCPD) and 1,3-dichloropropan-2-ol (1,3-DCP). They can mainly result from the reaction between chloride ions and lipid components (glycerol orcglycero-lipids) during thermal treatment, the use of acid-hydrolyzed vegetable products (produced with HCl), the migration from coating materials treated with epichlorohydrin, the reaction between chloride ions and 3-hydroxyacetone during the smoking processes, or the enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of their esters. It has been shown that chloropropanols can affect male fertility, kidney functioning, and body weight of rats when regularly ingested in large amounts. Studies have also shown their capacity of inducing a variety of tumors in various organs in rats (2).

 According to studies, soy sauces and oyster sauces have been identified as the main dietary sources of 3-MCPD for the general population (2). 

Can You Eat Oyster Sauce If You Are Allergic To Shellfish?

Not at all. If you are allergic or sensitive to shellfish, then eating it or even inhaling any airborne dust/fumes can potentially result in a mild or severe allergic reaction. So such individuals must be extremely cautious when using oyster sauce.

What Are The Alternatives For Oyster Sauce?

Here are some alternatives to oyster sauce that can give your dishes, if not the same, but an almost similar Umami taste.

Fish Sauce: This sauce is made by fermenting fish, and features a thinner consistency plus a fishier taste as compared to oyster sauce. However, it is saltier than the latter but is less sweet.

Soy Sauce: This is a vegan and vegetarian-friendly option which is thinner and saltier than oyster sauce. Sweet soy sauce, or Indonesian kecap manis, is a more suitable alternative, and for those sensitive to gluten, tamari is a gluten-free soy sauce made using fermented soybeans.

Hoisin Sauce: this Chinese condiment has a thick consistency with hints of umami, sweetness, and tanginess. It’s quite similar to barbecue sauce and can be made using chili paste, vinegar, and garlic. However, it is more potent than oyster sauce, so use it in smaller amounts.

Worcestershire Sauce: this sauce is made using anchovies and, due to its umami flavor, is often used as a replacement for oyster sauce; all you need is a little more sugar. 

Teriyaki Sauce: this sauce has a similar consistency as oyster sauce, but it’s sweeter since it is made with soy sauce, sugar, and mirin/sake. It is a good replacement in stir-fries, marinades, and noodle dishes.

Vegan Mushroom Sauce: this is the best alternative that contains no fish or animal products. With just dried mushrooms (or mushroom broth), sugar, soy sauce, and cornstarch, you can get the same delicious umami flavor. 

Other FAQs about Sauce that you may be interested in.

What can I use instead of a1 steak sauce?

Conclusion

In this brief article, we answered the question, “does oyster sauce contain oysters?” Apart from certain general information about oyster sauce, we will also tell you six alternatives you can use to give your dishes the same amazing flavor. 

If you have any more questions or comments please let us know.

References

  1. Bai, X., M. Meenu, and B. Xu. Taurine, Free Amino Acids and 5′-Nucleotides in Oyster Sauce Products Marketed in China. J Nutr Nutr Ther, 2021, 1. 
  2. Arisseto, Adriana Pavesi, et al. Estimate of dietary intake of chloropropanols (3-MCPD and 1, 3-DCP) and health risk assessment. Food Sci Technol, 2013, 33, 125-133.