Hoisin sauce is a common ingredient across a lot of eastern Asian cooking and is a critical part of a lot of the most popular drinks like Peking Duck and Char Siu, of course, you’ll also find recipes for just about every kind of dish that call for hoisin sauce, from soup dishes to noodle stir fry.
Finding substitutes for the core Asian sauces can be a trick in the kitchen, especially if you aren’t sure what the hoisin sauce is doing in your cooking.
What Is Hoisin Sauce?
Hoisin sauce is a unique combination of sugar, water, soybeans, salt, sweet potatoes, garlic, cornstarch, chili peppers, and other spices. Different brands will have slightly different ingredient lists, but hoisin sauce tends to be just a little spicy, just a little sweet, with a complicated umami flavor that adds a lot of layers to any savory meal.
Hoisin can be used as a marinade or stir-fry sauce on its own, but it’s also often added to other ingredients to create a complete and complex flavor profile.
How Is Hoisin Sauce Used In Cooking
One of the tricks with hoisin sauce, like most Asian cooking sauces, is that the flavor of the sauce and the texture are both critical to the finished dish.
For instance, in Char Siu, a kind of richly marinated Chinese barbecue, hoisin sauce is used to flavor the meat, but also as a glaze that caramelizes on the surface of the meat and provides a smokey sweetness.
Hoisin is also incredibly important for color in a lot of dishes, providing a reddish color to otherwise bland or brown looking foods.
Getting a good substitute for both the flavor and texture is virtually impossible, at least without combining more than one ingredient.
The Best Hoisin Sauce Substitutes
Remember that a lot of these ingredients can be effectively combined to get an even better hoisin sauce substitute, especially if you’re using different ingredients for taste, color, and texture replacements.
Soy Sauce + Spices
Soy sauce is an easy go-to when you don’t have hoisin on hand, or when you don’t have enough hoisin sauce for your recipe. It helps provide savory flavor and salt, but is missing the sweetness, spice, and texture of a good hoisin sauce.
Adding a bit more spice and a touch of sugar can get you closer to the right flavor, but you might want to use a thicker ingredient like molasses or oyster sauce to recreate the texture of good hoisin.
Tamari + Spices
Tamari is a good gluten free alternative to soy sauce (which is not gluten free unless you buy a gluten free variety specifically) that works similarly as a substitute for hoisin as well. However, like soy sauce, it needs to be thickened a bit to be an effective substitute for the texture of hoisin and needs some additional spices or other ingredients to fully mimic the flavor.
Oyster sauce is a great substitute for all but the spice and sweetness of hoisin. It’s a big thicker, brings more umami to the table than soy sauce, and still gives you a lovely authentic flavor to your cooking. A little added sugar and spices will get you a lot closer to hoisin sauce, or you can add sugar and sweetness to it with honey, sugar, agave, or molasses.
Just be careful with oyster sauce because it’s stronger savory flavor can be overwhelming if you add as much as you would add hoisin sauce. Start with less oyster sauce, whether you’re making a cooking sauce, a glaze, or a marinade, and then taste and adjust as needed.
In a lot of recipes, even as little as ¼ the recipe’s recommended hoisin measurement is plenty of oyster sauce.
Thai Chili Sauce
Thai chili sauce is another good alternative that works a little different from the other substitutes we’ve suggested. It has a stronger sweet flavor, and often less raw spice than the name makes it sound. But it gives good texture and color substitutes for hoisin, especially since it adds its own flavor as well.
Thai chili sauce and oyster sauce together are a particularly good substitute for hoisin sauce, especially when you add a little garlic powder and Chinese five spice to the mix. Just remember that you don’t want to add too much since Thai chili sauce has more sugar and is prone to burning when you’re caramelizing the sauce.
Thai chili sauce and chicken are a pairing made in heaven, try this substation in our 26 Asian chicken recipes!
BBQ is another surprisingly good substitute, especially spicy BBQ with a little added ginger or soy sauce. This is an especially good substitute in recipes where you need a sauce that provides flavor and also caramelizes well in an oven.
If you’re looking to get that sticky, crisp, shiny glaze on the surface of a Chinese roast, or don’t have quite as much hoisin sauce as your char siu recipe calls for, substituting in a little BBQ sauce with Asian seasoning is a good option.
Teriyaki sauce is a brilliant substitute for hoisin sauce in most Japanese cooking and might actually be the more authentic flavor profile of the two in some Japanese recipes.
It’s also a good alternative when you’re cooking for kids. Teriyaki is a slightly more familiar flavor, and also tends to be a little sweeter than hoisin, which can make it more appealing to picky eaters who haven’t discovered Asian foods before.
When you need the savory salty flavor addition from hoisin, fish sauce is a reasonable substitute. Just remember that you need far less fish sauce than hoisin since it’s both more concentrated, and far saltier.
Fish sauce is a great substitute in Thai cooking and is the traditional flavorful sauce in Thai cooking.
Added to molasses with a little spice, you can get very close to the classic flavor of hoisin.
That said, fish sauce is a thin sauce, closer to the texture of water than hoisin sauce. So if you’re looking for a good texture substitute it’s a good idea to look for a thicker option, or to use a thickener to get closer.
Miso is another traditional Asian flavor common in a wide range of cuisines and can be a good substitute for hoisin in sauces and stir fry. It’s also a good choice for people who are looking for probiotic foods, since fermented foods like miso paste give a lot of nutrients to your gut bacteria and can help on multiple levels.
That said, miso paste on its own is significantly thicker than hoisin, and doesn’t offer the same sweetness or the additional spices. However, it can be a good base for your hoisin sauce substitute, offers a lot of benefits, and works well with a lot of different spices and seasonings to give you a versatile seasoning base.
Black Bean Paste
Black bean paste is a great authentic ingredient to add savory flavors to your meal, and can help make a lot of sauces feel heartier and more filling, while also providing a good base for other flavors.
You may want to combine black bean paste with a sweetener and spices + water or another liquid to get closer to a hoisin sauce.
Other flavorings, like Shaoxing wine or mirin can also be used to thin out the black bean paste to a more traditional sauce.
Black Beans Or Garlic and Plums Or Prunes
Another option is to make something more like hoisin on your own, you can combine black bean paste or garlic paste with fresh or pickled plums or prunes.
This might sound like an odd combination to Western cooks, but this is actually a combination using very popular and traditional ingredients. Blend these ingredients together with other spices, a little bit of a sweetener, and viola, you’ll have something very close to hoisin sauce with similarly bright layered flavors, similar color, and even similar texture if you’ve chosen your ingredients well.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
Another kid-friendly option, adults might find sweet and sour sauce a little less flavorful than the alternatives, but sweet and sour sauce is familiar, has good color and texture, and can easily be added to if you want a more complex flavor. Plus, since sweet and sour is a familiar food and a familiar food name for a lot of kids, you can spice it up quite a bit and most kids will still buy it as long as they are told it’s sweet and sour.
To make this substitute for hoisin a little more similar to hoisin sauce, a little sesame oil and oyster sauce can go a long way.
Sriracha and Sugar
Lastly, if you’re looking for something that’s flavorful, effective, brightly colored, and brings a lot of flavor and spice to the table, replace your hoisin sauce with a combination of sriracha and sugar. Just be prepared to use a lot less of it unless you have a high spice tolerance.
That said, to make it more like hoisin, or more like sweet and sour, you can add additional ingredients like oyster sauce, pineapple juice, blended prunes, or soy sauce to bulk out your sriracha and add some of those more traditional flavors back into the meal. Looking for an Asian dessert to round out a home cooked Asian meal? Try one of these 26 recipes!