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Oyster sauce is common in Asian cuisine and it’s often used to cook non-vegan dishes.
The sauce itself is not vegan because it’s usually prepared by cooking oysters, however, you can also find a vegan version of oyster sauce that is prepared using mushrooms.
Unfortunately, there are not that many vegan options you can use to replace oyster sauce, but it’s still possible to find a few that provide you with a similar “umami” taste.
What Is Oyster Sauce?
Oyster sauce is, as you might think, made from oysters.
It’s made from the caramelized juices of oysters, and it usually contains several other ingredients, including water, salt, modified cornstarch, wheat flour, caramel color, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Sometimes, it might also be made with soy sauce thickened with cornstarch.
Oyster sauce is dark, brown, almost black in color, and it has a thick consistency, one that is quite similar to hoisin sauce, though it has a distinct taste. It is widely used in meat and vegetable dishes in Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Thai cuisines.
Unfortunately, because it’s typically made with oysters, it’s not suitable for vegans, but there’s a vegetarian oyster sauce that is prepared with mushrooms, often with shitake or oyster mushrooms, as mushrooms have an expressive umami taste.
However, unlike real oyster sauce, it contains more taste enhancers, which is often due to the manufacturers only using a small quantity of mushroom extract.
Vegan Alternatives to Oyster Sauce
Mushroom sauce is basically a vegetarian version of oyster sauce.
Brands like Wan Ja Shan and Kikkoman produce a vegetarian oyster sauce from shitake or oyster mushrooms, which have a high level of umami flavor, which is essentially the same flavor you find in oysters.
These types of sauces are generally made with shitake or oyster mushrooms, water, soybeans, wheat, sugar, and salt, with the addition of seasonings and preservatives.
This is the closest you will get to actually having real oyster sauce as a vegan, so if you have to choose one option, try to get this one.
Hoisin sauce is a dark brown sauce with a very similar consistency to oyster sauce, however, the taste is different even though the sauce itself has a high umami content.
This sauce is used a lot in Cantonese cuisine as a glaze for meat, an addition to stir fry, or as a dipping sauce.
Even though the content of each hoisin sauce may vary based on the brand or region where it’s produced, it usually includes soybeans, fennel, red chili peppers, and garlic. Some manufacturers might include vinegar, different spices, and sometimes sugar.
This sauce is generally easy to find in grocery stores and is a decent substitute for oyster sauce, and it’s one I’d try to purchase if I couldn’t find mushroom sauce.
Sweet Soy Sauce
Sweet soy sauce is a sweetened aromatic soy sauce with a darker color and viscous consistency that is comparatively thicker than regular soy sauce.
The sauce tastes like molasses due to the generous addition of palm sugar, so it confers food with a mildly sweet and umami flavor that you’ll find in many Indonesian dishes, including nasi goreng, ayam kecap, semur dragging, and gurame bakar, which are meat-based dishes.
The sauce itself is made from a fermented paste of black beans, roasted grain, salt, water, and Aspergillus Wentii, a mold to which the palm sugar is added. It’s also often seasoned with spices such as cinnamon, black pepper, coriander, clove, and star anise.
It’s not as good as mushroom sauce, but it’s a decent replacement.
Homemade Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
It’s not as convenient to make your own vegan oyster sauce, but if you’re unable to find the store-bought version, making your own sauce is probably the best way if you want it to have the same taste.
There is a vegan oyster sauce recipe by I Love Umami, which is a recipe blog created by Chihyu, a certified health coach and cookbook author.
She makes her vegetarian oyster sauce with dry shitake mushrooms, mushroom water (from soaking the mushrooms overnight), and fresh ginger. The recipe is quite simple, so you don’t need to be a pro chef to do it, and it’s a way healthier version than the store-bought ones.
Even though there are not many vegan alternatives to oyster sauce, there are still a few that you can use, particularly if you look at existing vegan sauces with a high-umami taste.
The sauces that closely resemble oyster sauce are mushroom sauce, hoisin sauce, and sweet soy sauce, but I would say the best one is the mushroom sauce, since mushrooms, particularly shitake and oyster mushrooms, have a deep umami flavor that is similar to oysters.
Of course, the flavor will not be the same as oyster sauce, however, they’re all good substitutes if you’re looking for a condiment with a similar flavor profile that you can add to a recipe.