Chinese cuisine is as diverse as the culture of its citizens. Cantonese cuisine, for example, is known for its steamed and stir-fried dishes. Szechuan cuisine on the other hand, is known for its use of peppercorns that give its dishes a distinct bold and spicy flavor. Popular examples of Chinese dishes that have become famous around the world include dim sum and spring rolls, both of which you may have eaten before.1
Aside from dishes, certain condiments from China also have become well-known for their various uses. One good example is hoisin sauce, which has a diverse range of applications, such as dips and marinades. If you haven’t tried hoisin sauce before, I encourage you to give it a try to give your foods a new flavor.2
What Is Hoisin Sauce?
The origins of hoisin sauce are quite vague and have been lost in the passage of time. According to Fuchsia Dunlop, a scholar specializing in Chinese cuisine, historians believe that hoisin sauce has Cantonese origins, and that the word was originally a generic term used for seafood sauces.
That’s because hoisin sauce originally had either a bean or wheat sauce as the base that was mixed with a dried/fermented seafood ingredient to provide more umami (savory) flavor. As time went on, the seafood component was decreased due to cost, explaining why hoisin sauce today is no longer made with any seafood-based ingredients.3
The hoisin sauce sold in most stores today is made from a mixture of soybeans, sugar, garlic, chilies and five-spice powder. It’s commonly added to salmon, stir-fries and chicken to give them a distinctive taste that only hoisin sauce can provide.4 The closest thing most people compare hoisin sauce with is American barbecue sauce, but only saltier, richer and less sweet.5
Used moderately, the calories in hoisin sauce are quite low — only 35.2 per tablespoon.6 However, be aware of the nutritional content of hoisin sauce. In a single tablespoon alone, you already have 258.4 milligrams of sodium due to its use of soy sauce, which can throw your sodium-potassium ratio off balance. The chart below gives you an insight on other nutrients found in hoisin sauce:
Serving Size: 16 grams
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
How to Make Gluten-Free Hoisin Sauce
Traditional hoisin sauce generally contains sugar, but this can have negative effects on your health when used in your cooking. If you want to savor the taste of this condiment without the dangers of sugar, try this homemade hoisin sauce recipe, which uses all-natural ingredients:7
Gluten-Free Hoisin Sauce
Cook time: 5 minutes
- Juice of an orange (remove the pits)
- 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 1 tablespoon garlic, grated
- 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 5 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- Add all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Bring ingredients to a boil, then turn the heat down to very low.
- Whisk and simmer gently for five minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the sauce from sticking to the pan.
- Set aside in a ramekin. Leftovers can last up to two weeks when stored in an airtight container.
Cooking With Hoisin Sauce
Once you’ve made your own hoisin sauce, it’s time to put it to good use. Try out this spicy hoisin chicken recipe from Slender Kitchen so you can truly enjoy the full flavor of hoisin sauce:8
Spicy Skillet Hoisin Sauce Chicken
Cook time: 5 minutes
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1.33 pounds boneless, skinless free-range chicken breasts, cut into chunks
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 1/3 cup homemade hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons chili garlic paste (or Sriracha sauce)
- 2 tablespoons water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil over medium high heat.
- Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, then place into the skillet.
- Stir the chicken for four to five minutes until all sides are browned.
- Add the ginger and cook for an additional 30 seconds, then add the hoisin sauce, water and chili paste (or sriracha).
- Stir and bring to a simmer then serve.
Hoisin sauce can be used in stir-fried dishes as well. If you want to make a hoisin-based vegetable dish, you should give this stir-fry recipe from Genius Kitchen a look:9
Stir-Fried Broccoli With Ginger and Hoisin Sauce
Cook time: 4 minutes
- 1.5 pounds broccoli, cut into chunks
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 1 whole garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ginger root, finely chopped
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon organic soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon homemade hoisin sauce
- Heat the coconut oil in a wok or skillet on high. Add the garlic, ginger and green onions, then cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the broccoli and stir-fry for around two minutes.
- Add the water, soy sauce and hoisin sauce, bringing all the ingredients to a boil.
- Continue cooking, stirring for three to four minutes until the broccoli is glazed.
Hoisin Sauce Substitutes You Can Try
If you don’t have authentic hoisin sauce at home, or have no time to make the recipe above, you may be able to create a replica using only a few ingredients. According to PepperScale, you may use barbecue sauce as the base ingredient, then add in Sriracha and Chinese five-spice powder to give the concoction a “hoisin” taste.10
The resulting flavor won’t be an exact replica of authentic hoisin sauce, but it is effective for situations when you need to use it in a dish right away and you only have few ingredients at home. To enhance the taste further, you may add some sesame oil.11 Here are a couple of other hoisin substitutes you can try, although you may need to visit your local Asian specialty store to buy them:12
- Chee hau sauce — Chee hau sauce also contains soybeans and garlic, giving it a near-similar taste to hoisin sauce. The only difference is that chee hau sauce uses more chili peppers.
- Apple butter — Adding soy sauce, garlic and five-powder spice to this condiment can help give it a similar taste to hoisin sauce.
It’s Better to Make Your Own Homemade Hoisin Sauce
As mentioned, traditional hoisin sauce contains sugar, which may negatively affect your health and prevent you from enjoying this Chinese delicacy. I recommend that you make your own sauce at home using high-quality ingredients that negate the need for sugar. This will help you enjoy the sauce without compromising your health.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hoisin Sauce
Q: Is hoisin sauce vegan?
A: The answer depends on what recipe you are following. In the recipe used in this article, the hoisin sauce has honey, which is made by bees. If you’re a vegan, you may replace honey with vegan-approved alternatives.
Q: Is hoisin sauce gluten-free?
A: Yes. Gluten only comes from grains, which hoisin sauce does not have.
Q: What does hoisin sauce taste like?
A: The taste of hoisin sauce is likened to American barbecue sauce, but saltier, richer and less sweet.13
Q: What is hoisin sauce made of?
A: Traditional hoisin sauce is usually made of soy sauce, flour, sugar, water, various spices, garlic and chili.14
Q: What is hoisin sauce used for?
A: The sauce can be added to different recipes in various ways such as chicken, seafood and stir-fried vegetables.15
Q: Where can you buy hoisin sauce?
A: Hoisin sauce is conveniently purchased at your local stores or online. If you don’t have the time to make your own hoisin sauce, make sure that your preferred product is organic, sugar-free and uses high-quality ingredients.
+ Sources and References