Oyster sauce is a popular ingredient in a lot of Asian dishes that obviously isn’t vegan.
When it comes to substituting oyster sauce, we don’t have a ton of options.
But there are some, and some vegan brands are launching vegan versions of products like oyster sauce, so always keep an eye out for them.
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Is Oyster Sauce Ever Vegan-Friendly?
Real oyster sauce is basically never vegan.
Most of the ingredients in it are plant-based, but there’s always some form of oysters or oyster extracts. For example, the ingredients in Lee Kum Kee sauce are:
Water, Sugar, Salt, Oyster Extractives (Oyster, Water, Salt), Monosodium Glutamate, Modified Corn Starch, Wheat Flour, Caramel Color
Even though it’s debatable how much pain bivalves like oysters and clams can feel, they still are considered a living being and are not vegan.
Vegan Substitutes for Oyster Sauce
These are the best substitutes you’ll find, but none really do the job perfectly. You can use them in a 1:1 ratio in any recipe that calls for oyster sauce.
1. Mushroom-Based Soy Sauce
For whatever reason, soy sauce with mushroom flavoring comes closest to oyster sauce in terms of texture and taste.
You’ll typically find it in Asian grocery stores called either “Mushroom Soy Sauce” or “Shiitake Soy Sauce.”
Some, like Haday Mushroom Soy Sauce can be found online if you can’t find it in person.
Soy sauce in general is a good substitute because it’s one of the main ingredients of most modern oyster sauces.
Word of warning: Some soy sauces with mushroom flavor added are much stronger than others. Test it before adding it to your foods, and if it’s too strong, dilute it by mixing it with regular soy sauce.
2. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is another common Chinese sauce that is almost always vegan.
It consists of soya beans (as soy sauce is), plus vinegar and a mix of spices.
It’s pretty easy to find in grocery stores and a decent 1:1 substitute for oyster sauce, although the flavor doesn’t match quite as well as mushroom-based sauces.
3. Make Your Own Vegan Oyster Sauce
I know it’s not convenient, but in terms of trying to get a perfect substitute, making your own is your best bet.
Here’s a basic recipe you can follow:
- 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, dried or fresh
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari (for a gluten-free option)
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar or other sweetener
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional, for thickening)
- Prepare the Mushrooms:
- If using dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrate them by soaking in hot water for about 20-30 minutes. Once rehydrated, finely chop the mushrooms. If using fresh shiitake mushrooms, simply chop them finely.
- Make the Sauce:
- In a small saucepan, combine the chopped mushrooms, vegetable broth, soy sauce (or tamari), hoisin sauce, and brown sugar.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld and intensify.
- Optional Thickening:
- If you prefer a thicker consistency, mix the cornstarch with a little water to make a slurry. Stir the slurry into the sauce and simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
- Strain (Optional):
- If you prefer a smoother sauce, you can strain the mixture using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove the mushroom bits. This step is optional, as some people enjoy the texture and flavor of the chopped mushrooms in the sauce.
- Cool and Store:
- Allow the vegan oyster sauce to cool before transferring it to a jar or airtight container. Store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Vegan Brands of Fish and Oyster Sauce
Hopefully I’ll be able to add many more brands to this list over time.
For now I’ve only seen a few.
And of those, the only one I’ve seen online is Vegan Fysh Sauce.
Unfortunately even Fysh sauce isn’t a perfect replicate for fish sauce, so I suspect we’ll have to wait at least a few years for better substitutes to become readily available.
It’s similar to how all vegan cheeses sucked for a long time, but in recent years many brands have really improved in quality.
Useful Tidbits About Oyster Sauce
Why is oyster sauce used in recipes?
There are multiple reasons to use oyster sauce in recipes:
- Rich Umami Flavor: Oyster sauce is prized for its rich umami flavor. Umami is one of the five basic tastes, often described as savory or meaty. Oyster sauce’s umami enhances the overall taste of a dish, making it more savory and satisfying.
- Versatility: Oyster sauce is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. It works well in stir-fries, marinades, sauces, and glazes, adding a savory and slightly sweet dimension to the food.
- Balancing Flavors: Oyster sauce has a well-balanced combination of sweet and salty flavors. This balance helps round out the taste of a dish, especially in recipes that include other strong or contrasting flavors.
- Thickening Agent: Oyster sauce has a thick and viscous consistency, which can help add body and thickness to sauces and stir-fry dishes. It contributes to the texture of the final dish, giving it a glossy appearance.
Are there any soy-free vegan oyster sauce alternatives?
Soy-free vegan oyster sauces are harder to find, but possible. These sauces are made with soy sauce substitutes like coconut aminos.
Are there nutritional differences between traditional oyster sauce and its vegan alternatives?
Traditional oyster sauce is made from oyster extracts, soy sauce, and other seasonings. It is known for its rich, savory flavor. Oyster sauce typically contains protein, iron, sodium, and other minerals. However, it can also be high in sodium and may not be suitable for those with shellfish allergies or on vegetarian or vegan diets.
The nutritional profile of vegan oyster sauce alternatives varies depending on the ingredients used. Mushroom-based alternatives may contain some vitamins and minerals found in mushrooms, while homemade versions may incorporate ingredients like seaweed or vegetable broth. Soy-free options may use ingredients like coconut aminos, miso paste, or other plant-based sources to achieve a similar umami taste.
Vegan alternatives may or may not contain protein, depending on the specific ingredients used. They are generally lower in sodium compared to traditional oyster sauce, but the exact content will vary by brand and recipe.