What can I use instead of teriyaki sauce?

In this article, we answer the question of what can be used instead of teriyaki sauce and go in-depth about what is teriyaki sauce, what are its uses and all its substitutes.

What can I use instead of teriyaki sauce?

The market for condiments has been growing continuously in the last few years. Condiment sales grew 9.4% from 2007 to 2009, becoming the second largest category in the specialty foods market, with the largest category being cheese (1).

There are many substitutes for teriyaki sauce that can be commonly found at your nearby grocery store. These include:

What is teriyaki sauce?

Teriyaki sauce is a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine and it was initially used to coat meat which is then grilled over coal. However, it has grown to be used for a variety of dishes like burgers, vegetable sautees and so on. It is normally used as a marinade but can also be used in noodle dishes, as a glaze, sauce, or as seasoning.

Teriyaki sauce is comprised of four main ingredients: soy sauce, sake or mirin, sugar and ginger. Teriyaki sauce is a harmonious blend of umami, tangy and sweet flavour that is sure to spruce up your dish. If boiled down, it becomes thick and sticky; cornstarch can also be added to create this effect.

To produce teriyaki sauce, first, eel bones, krill, shrimp peel and crab peel were roasted until browned in an oven at 180°C for 20 minutes. The roasted samples of eel bones, krill, shrimp peel and crab peel were mixed with other ingredients and materials, such as garlic, ginger, red pepper, starch, syrup, soy sauce, sugar, leek, sea tangle and water. The sauce was simmered slowly for a required time of cooking; starch syrup was added before the end of cooking. It was strained, cooled down to room temperature. It was stored until next measurements of sensory test and volatile compounds (2).

Teriyaki sauce burns easily due to its high sugar content and hence must always be cooked on a low flame or should be applied in the last few minutes onto the meat or vegetables in case of direct-heat cooking such as grilling/barbeque. 

Where is teriyaki sauce used?

Although primarily used as a marinade, teriyaki sauce can be used in a variety of ways:

  • It can be boiled down to make a thick, glossy sauce that can be coated over meat and vegetables or used as a glaze
  • It is used to marinate tofu, fish and meat before being grilled.
  • Can be used as a delicious dipping sauce for potstickers and kebabs.
  • Can be used as a dressing to liven up salads and vegetable bowls.
  • Marinade for barbeque meat as well as the patties in burgers.

What are some substitutes for teriyaki sauce?

Barbeque sauce
Barbeque sauce is a good alternative as it is also sweet and tangy. However, it is sweeter and milder than teriyaki and also has a hint of smokiness. The applications of barbeque sauce are similar as this too is used as marinades and to coat vegetables and meat before grilling. This is a popular and delectable option that is easily available.
Barbeque sauce is quite easy to make at home, and the ratios of the ingredients can be altered to your preference. For example, you can add honey or brown sugar to increase the sweetness, or a dash of lemon juice to increase the tanginess.

In the United-States,barbecue -or BBQ- originated in the late 1800’s during Western cattle drives. The cowboys were fed a tough and stringy piece of meat that required five to seven hours of cooking to tenderize; marinades or sauces were often added to the meat to improve flavor. These barbecue sauces are sweet and contain a significant amount of sugars in the form of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, molasses, etc. Some brand name barbecue sauces contain up to 50% sugar in their formulations (3). 

2. Soy sauce + sugar
Both soy sauce and sugar are two of the four main ingredients in teriyaki sauce. The soy sauce gives an umami, salty flavour while the sugar offsets it by adding that tinge of sweetness. The proportions of both can be changed according to your liking, so this works as a good substitute. You can also use honey or brown sugar for a healthier option

The original soy sauce produced by fermentation. Its fermentation process consists of 2 steps, that is, solid state or koji fermentation by involving molds for the 1st step, and followed by brine or moromi fermentation by involving osmophilic lactic acid bacteria and salt tolerant yeasts as the 2nd step. Generally, there are 2 different types of soy sauce, that is, Japanese type soy sauce which is produced using soybeans and wheat as the ingredients, and Chinese type soy sauce which is made from only soybeans (4).

You can add 2 tablespoons of sugar to half a cup of soy sauce and apply it to your meat before grilling. A few cloves of garlic can be added for a kick. You can also thicken it in a slow boil to be used as a sauce or garnish. 

3. Korean galbi sauce
Korean Galbi (or Kalbi) sauce is a close alternative to teriyaki sauce. It also contains brown sugar, garlic, honey and soy sauce, as well as other ingredients. It is simply a Korean version of this sweet and tangy sauce, however, it has a noticeable smokiness to it that teriyaki sauce does not have.
Koreans use this sauce to marinate their ribs and pork (like in bulgogi). It is used more as a marinade than as a glaze or sauce. It is thus a popular part of Korean cuisine, but unfortunately is not easily available outside of Korea

Throughout the agricultural history of Korea, fermentation technology has been widely used to enrich the flavors of food by utilizing effective microorganisms against microbial spoilage. Fermented soy products such as kanjang, doenjang, cheongkukjang, and gochujang are the fundamental ingredients of various sauces

and kuk (5).

4. Oyster sauce
A popularly used sauce especially in Asian cuisine, oyster sauce is a good substitute that has both sweet and tang, although does have a slight fishy taste. It is much darker in colour and sticker in texture. It is great for using as a glaze or cooking with stir-fry vegetables/meat and noodles.

In the past, oyster sauces were produced by a traditional method, in which fresh oysters were boiled, seasoned with soy sauce, salt, and other spices, and preserved for a certain time. All these ingredients together created this ancient flavor, but nowadays, the product labeled “oyster sauce” is actually made from oyster extract with brine; umami flavor enhancers, such as Monosodium Glutamate; caramel coloring; and typically contains chemical preservatives (0.1% sodium benzoate) to increase its shelf life (6).
There are two more options to consider, although these aren’t as close in flavour or texture as the ones mentioned above. These are Worcestershire sauce and Hoisin sauce. Hoisin is much spicier and involves a lot more intricate flavours, whereas Worcestershire is milder and sweeter with not much of an umami taste to it.

Due to the production process, and ingredients, oyster sauce develops chemical compounds which gives its characteristic flavor. In a study, a total of 75 volatile compounds were identified in the oyster sauce, with alcohols, furans, aldehydes, and pryrasines reported as the most dominant chemical classes (6).


Although you cannot get an exact replica of teriyaki sauce, the aforementioned alternatives are your next best options and each has its own unique flavours. The uses of each of these sauces do not vary much so can easily be substituted.

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García‐Casal, Maria Nieves, Juan Pablo Peña‐Rosas, and Heber Gómez Malavé. Sauces, spices, and condiments: definitions, potential benefits, consumption patterns, and global markets. Annal New York Acad Sci, 2016, 1379, 3-16.


Aramouni, F. A. D. I., Thomas Herald, and M. Abu Ghoush. Development of a non-commercial sugar-free barbecue sauce. Emir J Food Agric, 2013, 509-515.  


Lioe, Hanifah Nuryani, Jinap Selamat, and Masaaki Yasuda. Soy sauce and its umami taste: a link from the past to current situation. J Food Sci, 2010, 75, R71-R76.


Kim, Soon Hee, et al. Korean diet: characteristics and historical background. J Ethnic Foods, 2016, 3, 26-31.