What You Should Know Before Putting Duck Sauce On Your Chinese Food

Before you rip open the little plastic packet that came with your Sichuan pork, consider what flavors you're adding to the dish. If you're dining somewhere on the Eastern seaboard, that sauce could be wildly different than what you'd find in New England, the Midwest, and West Coast (per Smithsonian Magazine).

Let's get one thing clear: No actual ducks are harmed in the making of duck sauce. The name of the condiment most likely originated because of its association with Peking duck — a distinctive, glossy, roasted duck dish that's served with a savory plum sauce (via Lotte Plaza Market). According to Grammarphobia, the original duck sauce was what the Chinese would call plum sauce, made with plums, vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, and spices. In the U.S., we add apricots (and sometimes other fruit), which gives the sauce its signature orange hue (via Serious Eats).

The sticky sauce delivers the perfect balance of sweet and savory, thanks to a commingling of sugary dried fruits, tangy vinegar, and salty soy sauce. And while it was originally created to balance out the richness of roasted duck and deep-fried foods, it makes an excellent dipping sauce for salty Chinese dishes (via Food Republic).

From Maine to San Diego, duck sauce is a condiment chameleon

The duck sauce in Chinese restaurants on the East Coast and central part of the country is typically orange and jelly-like — think sweet-and-sour sauce with a fruity punch — and it's often served as a dipping sauce for crispy noodles, egg rolls, and other fried foods. In New England, duck sauce is browner, sweet, and chunky — which makes sense because adding applesauce and molasses is common (via Mental Floss). If you hail from west, whether it's San Diego or San Francisco, you might not experience duck sauce at all (via Smithsonian Magazine).

One tablespoon of duck sauce dishes up 40 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates, zero protein, zero fat, and 130 milligrams of sodium (via Spark People). Have leftover packets from your last Chinese take-out adventure? Grubhub suggests tossing them into your lunchbox for added mealtime flair (and no messing with little plastic containers that always leak). They also assert that duck sauce makes an excellent base for "fancier" sauces and dips, similar to the classic "packet-marriage" of mayo and ketchup.

If you want to take a stab at making duck sauce at home, The Woks of Life offers a simple and delicious, sweet and tangy sauce made with apricot preserves, pickled plums, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar.