The 10 Best Substitutes For Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is a condiment that adds its own unique spin to stir-frys and other Asian dishes. A little sweet, a little spicy, and really not too fishy despite the fact that yes, it is made from actual oysters. Oyster sauce may also be one of the many foods created by accident, right up there alongside toasted ravioli, Slurpees, and even beer, as legend (and Bon Appetit) has it that the sauce resulted from a pot of oyster soup left to simmer too long until it turned into a surprisingly flavorful sludge perfect for adding an extra hit of umami and a soupçon of je ne sais quoi.

As home cooks increasingly turn to international cuisine for inspiration, oyster sauce shouldn't be too hard to find in most well-stocked grocery stores. And of course, it's readily available at Asian markets. What if you find yourself in a food desert, however? Or it's the middle of winter and you just don't feel like making a grocery run for one ingredient? Depending on what you've got on hand in your pantry, there are various options you can try using as oyster sauce substitutes.

1. Soy sauce

Number one on our list of oyster sauce substitutes is an ingredient that isn't necessarily the best flavor or texture match. However, it earns the top spot due to the fact that it's something we all tend to have on hand, either in our pantries or in that drawer we throw all the little sauce packets we get with every takeout order. Soy sauce is a lot thinner than oyster sauce, and it also tends to be quite a bit saltier. Still, it does add a similar savoriness, so it may work in a pinch.

Due to soy sauce's saltier flavor, the Stone Soup blog says it should be substituted for oyster sauce on a 1:2 basis, meaning if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of oyster sauce, you should only use a teaspoon and a half of soy sauce. You can always add more, but you can't remove what you've already soy sauced.

2. Soy sauce, sugar, and Worcestershire sauce

The Kitchen Community also endorses using soy sauce as an oyster sauce substitute, but notes that you might want to doctor it up a bit in order to more closely replicate the flavor of oyster sauce. They suggest adding a small amount of sugar, as oyster sauce tends to have a hint of sweetness that soy sauce is lacking. Another addition they recommend is a couple drops of Worcestershire sauce. How does this favorite British condiment make soy sauce taste more oyster sauce-like? Simply this: Worcestershire sauce is made from fermented fish, so it adds just a bit of that briny seafood tang that soybeans alone cannot supply.

In place of 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce, you can use 1 tablespoon of soy sauce plus ½ teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.

3. Kecap manis

If you have a very well-stocked pantry, and/or a penchant for international flavors, you may be able to use kecap manis as an oyster sauce substitute. Kecap manis is an Indonesian condiment made from soy sauce and coconut palm sugar. It is often described as a sweeter version of soy sauce, but the sugar used to make it not only affects the flavor of the sauce, but also its texture. Kecap manis is heavier and more syrupy than soy sauce, which makes it a fairly good substitute for the much thicker oyster sauce.

As kecap manis retains all of the saltiness of soy sauce, The Kitchen Community says you should only use half the amount of this condiment as you would of oyster sauce. For each tablespoon of oyster sauce called for in a recipe, you can substitute 1 ½ teaspoons of kecap manis instead.

4. Fish sauce

Oyster sauce is made out of oysters and fish sauce is made out of fish –- typically anchovies, according to The Washington Post. While anchovies and oysters are very different, they are both types of seafood, so the one thing fish sauce can supply that soy cannot is that elusive ocean flavor. Stone Soup says that fish sauce can be used as an oyster sauce substitute in a pinch, but notes its flavor is not at all sweet and is both saltier and sharper than that of oyster sauce. As with soy sauce, less is more, so start with a small amount and add more fish sauce to taste. Healthline adds that fish sauce may be best as an oyster sauce replacement only in used in very strong-tasting dishes or ones that already have a fishy flavor.

In a recipe, use only half as much fish sauce as you would oyster sauce. In fact, you may want to start with just ¼ the amount and work your way up.

5. Teriyaki sauce

Teriyaki sauce, which is nice and thick, might be a decent substitute for oyster sauce, depending on the recipe. Teriyaki sauce tends to be sweeter than oyster sauce, and is also less salty and fishy. Its flavor comes from soy sauce mixed with sugar, rice wine, and other seasonings. If the brand of teriyaki sauce you have is Lee Kum Kee, then you're actually not out of oyster sauce at all since oyster sauce is right there on the ingredient label! Healthline suggests using teriyaki sauce in place of oyster sauce in noodle dishes and stir fries, and adds that it might also work well in dips and marinades.

As teriyaki sauce has a similar texture to oyster sauce as well as a mild, non-overpowering taste, you can use the same amount in a recipe. If you feel the flavor isn't strong enough, you can always add a little bit more.

6. Hoisin sauce

Yet another readily-available Asian condiment that can be used in place of oyster sauce is hoisin sauce. Unlike oyster sauce –- and fish sauce and soy sauce, for that matter -– the name "hoisin" doesn't really provide us a clue as to its ingredients. In fact, even if you speak Cantonese, it's actually somewhat of a misnomer. "Hoisin," according to The Spruce Eats, translates to "seafood," and this is one ingredient the sauce does not contain. Instead, it is made from fermented soy paste and flavored with garlic, chiles, vinegar, sesame oil, and some type of sweetener. It is thick, fairly salty, and a little bit sweet, all qualities that make it a pretty good substitute for oyster sauce.

As hoisin sauce is less salty than soy sauce, and in fact isn't really much saltier than oyster sauce itself, you can swap one for the other on a 1:1 basis.

7. Hoisin/soy sauce mixture

While hoisin and soy both make for a decent oyster sauce substitute, PureWow says that the very best stand-in for this last-named condiment may well be a blend of the first two. That way, you get all of the umami from soy sauce, plus the sweetness and thickness of hoisin sauce. This mixture is sweet, salty, and basically gives you everything you get from oyster sauce — save for the tang of the briny sea. If the part you don't like about oyster sauce is the oysters themselves, though, you may find the hoisin/soy mix well-suited to your stir-fry needs.

It's probably best to mix the soy and hoisin sauces right before you'll be using them, as that lessens the risk of any contamination. The mixture can be substituted 1:1 for oyster sauce, which means you'll be using 1 ½ teaspoon of soy sauce and 1 ½ teaspoons of hoisin for every tablespoon of oyster sauce called for in a recipe.

8. Vegetarian oyster sauce

Perhaps you are looking for an oyster sauce substitute not because you ran out of the real deal, but because it's not the kind of thing you'd have in the house to begin with. You may well be among the many people dealing with a shellfish allergy, or you may avoid seafood for religious or ethical reasons or because you just plain don't like eating anything that used to swim in the ocean. Not that oysters actually swim, but you get where we're going with this. At any rate, if your main objection to oyster sauce is the main ingredient, you may be glad to know that there are several commercially-available vegetarian "oyster" sauces. Kikkoman makes one that is basically a thickened, sweetened soy sauce, while a number of brands available on sites like Amazon use mushrooms to supply the umami flavor.

Vegetarian oyster sauce may be used in place of oyster sauce on a 1:1 basis.

9. Homemade vegan "oyster" sauce

If you can't find or don't want to purchase a vegetarian oyster sauce substitute, it's easy enough to make your own. TasteEssence has a recipe which calls for mushroom broth made from a bouillon cube along with brown bean sauce, sugar, and cornstarch. WoonHeng's recipe seasons dried shiitake mushrooms with sugar, salt, and soy sauce, cooks them in veggie broth, then thickens the mix with cornstarch before blending the mixture into a smooth sauce. When prepared properly, either of these sauces should be sufficiently thick, sweet, salty, and umami-rich to stand in for oyster sauce while keeping things meat (and fish)-free. Plus, you can always tweak these recipes to suit your own preferences.

A homemade mushroom-based oyster sauce substitute can be used in place of an equal amount of oyster sauce in any type of recipe.

10. Homemade oyster sauce

If you're a dedicated DIY-er, and/or you find yourself in the enviable position of being inundated with fresh oysters, you can actually concoct a homemade oyster sauce. All you will need to make the sauce, according to TasteEssence, is half a pound of oysters and their liquid, along with a little salt and both light and dark varieties of soy sauce. Sure, making your own oyster sauce is going to be far more labor intensive than making a run to the grocery store, especially if you opt to do your own shucking, but think of the satisfaction you'll feel when you transform raw materials into your own homemade oyster sauce! Once you're able to start creating your own condiments, you'll know you've got some next-level cooking skills.

The homemade oyster sauce, assuming you've had the patience to simmer it down to the proper thickness, should have the same flavor and consistency as the oyster sauce you can buy in the store. For this reason, you can use the same amount of your DIY version as is called for in any recipe featuring oyster sauce.