Also referred to as the Indo-Chinese spicy sauce, Szechuan is a spicy sauce prepared with chilies and spices. It is used as a dipping sauce, stir-fry sauce, as well as a marinade. Its name derives from the place where it originated — the ‘Sichuan’ province in Southwest China, where the locals correctly refer to it as ‘Sichuan’ sauce.
It is a delicious spicy sauce that tends to merge well with other ingredients on the dish, without leading to an overwhelming pungent flavor. Its spiciness derives from the special ‘Sichuan’ peppers, which are typically used to make ‘Sichuan’ dishes such as Mapo Doufu and Chongqing Hot Pot.
So, Is Szechuan Sauce Vegan?
Unfortunately, not all the Szechuan sauces are suitable for vegans as a lot of them include honey, but some recipes may use alternatives such as maple syrup, agave syrup, coconut sugar, brown sugar, or any other sugar option.
In terms of Szechuan sauces that you can actually purchase in-store, most of what you’ll find is not vegan as honey is often included. San-J’s Szechuan sauce contains honey. Minor’s also has a Szechuan sauce but even though it does not contain any honey, it has oyster sauce, which is not vegan.
A brand of Szechuan sauce without flagrant animal ingredients is the House of Tsang. You can find it on Amazon as well as in other retailers/supermarkets such as Walmart or Publix.
This particular brand of Szechuan sauce contains:
- soy sauce (water, wheat, soybeans, salt)
- sherry wine
- rice starch
- rice vinegar
- sesame seed oil
- yeast extract
- ginger puree (ginger, water)
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- and natural flavoring.
There are no flagrant animal ingredients that you have to worry about, but some vegans might have some issues with certain ingredients such as sugar, (sherry) wine, and natural flavoring.
Refined sugar comes from two sources: sugarcane and beets.
While both sugars are similar in taste and texture, the refining process from these sources is very different. Beet sugar is extracted using a diffuser and mixed with additives to crystallize, and it’s always vegan.
However, to make cane sugar, sugarcane stalks are crushed to separate the juice from the pulp, and the juice is often processed, filtered, and bleached with a property called bone char.
What is Bone Char?
According to Peta, bone char is made from the bones of cattle from countries like Afghanistan, Argentina, India, and Pakistan. The bones are sold to traders in Scotland, Egypt, and Brazil who then sell them to sugar companies in the United States.
Bone char, also known as natural carbon, is used by the sugar industry as a decolorizing filter, which is what gives refined sugar its white, pristine color. Bone char is also used in other types of sugar.
For instance, brown sugar is created by adding molasses to refined sugar, so companies that use bone char in regular, refined sugar, also include bone char in brown sugar production.
Some Companies Rely On Alternatives
Thankfully, not all companies rely on bone char to process sugar.
Some companies use other types of filters such as granular carbon or an ion-exchange system.
However, the problem is that ingredient labels do not distinguish which type of sugar is being used on their product. The only way of knowing that is by contacting the company.
What I’ve noticed (at least in companies I’ve contacted), is that they source sugar from different suppliers, so you have the same product with both types of sugar.
As you might know, not all wine is produced in a vegan-friendly way. Some wineries, unfortunately, produce their wine using fining agents such as gelatin, isinglass, egg whites, or milk powder.
As such, it’s possible that some brands of Szechuan sauce (that opt to include wine in their recipe) might not be vegan.
If you want to be safe, avoiding any products that might include wine is advisable, unless you know exactly which brand of wine is being used. Websites such as Barnivore allow you to check which brands of wine are vegan-friendly.
The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) definition of natural flavors is:
In other words, natural flavors can be anything approved for use in food, including animal ingredients.
Therefore, before you purchase a Szechuan sauce, it’s recommended that you contact the brand/company to find out whether they’re using any animal ingredients.
Is Szechuan Sauce Gluten-Free?
Unfortunately, Szechuan sauce is not gluten-free because its main ingredient is soy sauce, which is generally made with a few ingredients, including wheat.
I believe the safest option would be for you to make your Szechuan sauce at home, following a gluten-free recipe, which is pretty easy to find online. For instance, this vegan Szechuan sauce recipe also happens to be gluten-free, and it only takes 45 minutes to make.
Unfortunately, whilst you might be able to find vegan Szechuan sauce, you’re more likely to find recipes that contain animal ingredients, particularly honey.
If you want to have a vegan Szechuan sauce, your best option is to find a vegan recipe, buy the required ingredients, and replicate it at home.