Is Hoisin Sauce Vegan? (Here’s Everything You Need To Know)

Oftentimes people confuse hoisin sauce with fish sauce or oyster sauce, but they’re different. 

Even though hoisin means “seafood sauce” in Chinese, the sauce itself is made from soya beans, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and various spices, which makes it suitable for vegans. 

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about hoisin sauce. 

What Is Hoisin Sauce? 

hoisin sauce

Hoisin sauce is a thick, fragrant sauce that is commonly used in Cantonese cuisine as a glaze for meat, a condiment for stir-dry, or as a dipping sauce. 

Although the recipe differs from region to region, hoisin sauce typically includes soya beans, fennel, red chili peppers, vinegar, sugar, garlic, as well as a few other spices.

The main ingredient in hoisin sauce is fermented soya beans, but some hoisin sauces might also include sweet potato, wheat, and rice, though never an ingredient that is unsuitable for vegans. 

In American cuisine, hoisin sauce is typically used as a marinade sauce for Peking duck and lettuce wraps, or as a dipping sauce for moo shu pork, which is yet another meat-based dish. 

Though, I’m pretty sure you can use it in a lot of vegan dishes, especially ones like fried rice with tofu, or seitan.

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Is Hoisin Sauce Vegan?

Fortunately, hoisin sauce is suitable for vegans, including other regional variations of the sauce, which usually include starches like sweet potato, wheat, and rice. 

Even though hoisin means “seafood” in Chinese, that’s because hoisin sauce is typically consumed with seafood, not because it contains seafood.

Sauces like fish sauce and oyster sauce are the ones that contain fish or seafood. 

Hoisin sauce is made with soybeans and a mix of other plant-based ingredients, including:

  • garlic
  • vinegar
  • chili
  • xantham gum
  • artificial colors
  • caramel color
  • sugar
  • and salt. 

A few of these ingredients are regarded as controversial within the vegan community, but most of them are safe to consume, even for the strictest vegans. 

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Controversial Ingredients in Hoisin Sauce

As far as I know, three ingredients are frowned upon by strict vegans, and those ingredients are ‘artificial colors’, which some hoisin sauces happen to contain red #40 and yellow #5, sugar, and the caramel color, which is almost always vegan. 

Many vegans, or at least those that are more strict, do not eat artificial colors because they are linked to animal testing, which is conducted to ensure artificial colors are safe to consume. 

Some individuals suggest that even though animal testing is cruel, it’s crucial for mankind, but most vegans disagree and suggest that alternative methods should be further explored.

An ingredient that is also frowned upon is sugar because it’s sometimes processed with bone char, which is a charcoal-like powder derived from cattle bones. 

This is also the reason why a small fraction of caramel color is not vegan, because a tiny percentage of it is made with sugar, and some of it may be processed with bone char. 

However, that’s not always the case, especially for hoisin sauces manufactured outside North America as bone char is prohibited in most European countries, as well as New Zealand and Australia. 

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Hoisin Sauce Brands

Let’s look at a few hoisin sauce brands that might be suitable for vegans:

Brand:  Ingredients: 
Lee Kum Kee Hoisin Sauce Sugar, water, fermented soybean paste ( water, salt, soybean, wheat flour ), spices extract, dried sweet potato, colors added (caramel, Red #40), modified corn starch, sesame seed paste, dried garlic, salt, salted chili pepper ( chili, salt ), and acetic acid.
Whole Foods Hoisin Sauce Filtered water, organic cane sugar, organic soy sauce (water, organic soybeans, salt, organic wheat, organic alcohol), organic cider vinegar, organic miso (organic rice koji, organic soybeans, sea salt, water, koji spores [aspergillus oryzae]), organic molasses, organic cornstarch, organic orange juice concentrate, organic ginger puree, organic expeller-pressed sesame seed oil, organic onion powder, organic garlic powder, organic caramel color, organic chili powder, organic garlic, organic tamarind, and xantham gum.
Kikkoman Hoisin Sauce
Sugar, water, miso (water, soybeans, rice, salt, alcohol), plum puree, naturally brewed soy sauce (water, wheat, soybeans, salt), garlic, vinegar, caramel color, modified corn starch, fermented wheat protein, salt, spices, xanthan gum, citric acid, and natural flavors.
Wok Mei Hoisin Sauce

Miso (water, soybeans, rice, salt), filtered water, dried cane syrup, non-GMO vinegar, sesame oil, GMO-free corn starch, gluten-free soy sauce (water, soybeans, salt), natural caramel color, spices, onion powder, salt, and garlic.

Among the aforementioned hoisin sauces, only the Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce contains controversial artificial colors (red #40), which means it’s the only one strict vegans should avoid.

Caramel is also an added color, but it’s usually derived from corn, so it’s suitable for vegans.

A very small fraction of caramel colors are made using white sugar as a starting sweetener, and only a small percentage of that is actually processed with bone char (cattle bones). However, if your hoisin sauce contains organic caramel color, like the hoisin sauce selling at Whole Foods, that usually means it contains unprocessed ingredients, so it’s 100% vegan. 

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What To Use If You Don’t Have Hoisin Sauce?

If you don’t have any hoisin sauce available and you really have to use it for a specific dish, there are a few alternatives that you can use, including:

  • garlic with miso paste and mustard paste
  • molasses and sriracha sauce
  • ginger and plum jam
  • bean paste and brown sugar
  • garlic and prunes. 

Basically, these are combinations that have a sweet and salty taste, which is what hoisin sauce kinda tastes like, though not all combinations will give you an identical consistency. 

Does Hoisin Sauce Have Gluten?

Unfortunately, most hoisin sauces contain wheat, so they’re not suitable for people with a gluten allergy.

Some sauces, even though might not contain wheat, may have come into contact with other products that may contain wheat, so always check out for allergy warning on the label.

Wok Mei, one of the brands we’ve listed in this article, does not contain wheat and is gluten-free. 

Conclusion

Fortunately, most hoisin sauces are vegan as they don’t contain animal ingredients. However, some hoisin sauces contain artificial colors, which some vegans avoid because of their link to animal testing. 

In addition, hoisin sauces also typically contain caramel color, which may not always be vegan because sometimes sugar that is processed with bone char may be used to create it. However, I’d say that 99% of the time caramel color is suitable for vegans.  

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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