Canned Pineapple Juice Is The Key To Well-Balanced Sweet And Sour Sauce

Recreating a specific cuisine, with the nuances and expectations that come with that, is a challenge, especially if you didn't grow up seeing people cooking dishes from that part of the world. People tend to stick to their culinary and cultural wheelhouses, but if you're considering starting to branch out in terms of the cuisines you cook or want to try replacing some of your takeout orders with homecooked versions, one of the easiest, most beloved, and most forgiving ways you can start is by making your own sweet and sour sauce.

Mashed recipe developer Catherine Brookes has created an accessible sweet and sour sauce recipe that comes together in a matter of minutes and is made mostly of storecupboard staples. Brookes opts for a few fresh twists, such as a little minced ginger, which, according to her, "adds a nice bit of warmth that balances really well with the sweet and sour flavors." Everything else, however, is shelf-stable, so if you have a well-stocked pantry, you're only ever 5 to 10 minutes away from having fresh dipping sauce for your egg rolls.

With a degree in biology and a passion for gluten-free cooking, Brookes understands that it's the subtleties of the chemical interactions underlying the recipe that really make the difference between a sauce that's sweet, sour, and similar to the restaurant version and a sauce that, in her words, "can transform meat, rice and noodle dishes into a super tasty meal that tastes just like takeout!"

Canned pineapple juice makes the difference

The tangy, tropical flavor and red hue that develops thanks to using pineapple juice as the fruity base of sweet and sour sauce is a distinctively Western innovation. You won't find pineapple juice in many sweet and sour sauces in China, but without it, your sauce just won't hit right.

But, as anyone who's eaten too much fresh pineapple knows, pineapple isn't just sweet and sour; it can end up burning your tongue. This is thanks to bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme that makes pineapple such a good thing to add to marinades — it's a great meat tenderizer, as well as adding zest to any dish. Bromelain won't just pickle your pork and tenderize your tongue, though — the enzyme's protein-busting properties make fresh pineapple a no-go for Jell-o and other set desserts.  As a gluten-free cooking expert, Brookes is aware of the scientific underpinnings that flours rely on to create texture, and so insists that you use canned pineapple juice to make sweet and sour sauce. As she explained, this is because the enzymes in fresh juice "can react with the cornstarch and stop the sauce from staying thick."

The sauce contains quite a lot of ketchup and brown sugar, so the sweet side of the equation is well-catered for already. This is why Brookes also stipulates the canned pineapple juice be unsweetened — the sauce doesn't need more sugar! If it's still too sweet, just add some extra vinegar to balance it out.