The surprise ingredient not found in duck sauce

Unlike the majority of condiments and sauces, duck sauce is not named for its ingredients — it's named for what it's typically served with. While this distinction has confused many a newcomer to Chinese-American food, the sticky-sweet sauce is an iconic condiment that elevates almost any food it's served with. 

According to The Spruce Eats, classic duck sauce contains plums, apricots, sugar, and spices, and is often served with — you guessed it — duck, as well as chicken, pork, and spareribs. Duck sauce actually has more in common with jams and jellies than it does savory sauces. Serious Eats notes that duck sauce may stem from plum sauce, which is a staple in traditional Chinese cuisine. Most homemade duck sauce recipes involve preserves (apricot or plum), soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and water, but some recipes also call for additional ingredients. Duck sauce is especially delicious with egg rolls, spring rolls, and crispy fried noodles, but it adds a bright pop of zesty flavor to any food, so don't be shy about trying it out with lots of different dishes from your favorite Chinese-American restaurant.

What does duck sauce taste like?

Smithsonian Magazine notes that duck sauce is more of a "thing" on the East Coast than it is elsewhere throughout America, and that different regions have slight variations in the products they refer to as "duck sauce." A homemade duck sauce might be preferable to the little packets, just because those can sometimes contain preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and other problematic ingredients, as noted by Food52. Duck sauce is often served alongside hot mustard, as stated by Woks of Life. The two condiments are a contrast in flavors: duck sauce is bright, sweet, and slightly tangy, whereas the hot mustard is earthy and super spicy.

Supporting local and family-owned restaurants is more important now than ever, so we hope this inspires you to get some Chinese-American takeout tonight. Regardless of its origins and nomenclature, duck sauce is a tried and true component of Chinese-American food, and no order is complete without a few of those trusty packets.