What is hoisin sauce and what does it taste like?

Chances are you've heard of the Chinese condiment hoisin (pronounced HOY-szin) sauce, but you might be surprised to learn the term hoisin is the Chinese word for "seafood." Which begs the natural question: Is there seafood in hoisin sauce? Strangely, no. It's not even commonly used in seafood dishes, according to Curious Cuisiniere, so why "hoisin" even became the name for this barbecue-style sauce is a mystery.

This brings us back to the question: What is hoisin sauce?

According to Tasty, hoisin is the classic Chinese barbecue sauce: dark, thick, sticky, and brown — the kind that comes on your favorite Chinese restaurant's barbecue ribs. Hoisin is made by combining sugar, fermented soybeans, vinegar, garlic, salt, wheat or potato starch, chili, and other spices.

According to Omnivore's Cookbook, hoisin is popular in Southern Chinese cuisine. This intensely-flavored and versatile sauce is often used in stir-fries, as a dipping sauce, or as a marinade and glaze for meats, according to Curious Cuisinere, adding that the flavor is like that of a sweet, tangy barbecue sauce that has been infused with soy.

Hoisin sauce is versatile and easy to make at home

The Ominivore's Cookbook points out that while hoisin sauce is readily available in supermarkets and Asian food stores, making it from scratch produces a better tasting sauce. The key ingredient is miso or fermented bean paste, which gives hoisin its tangy flavor, but a combination of gochujang and five spice powder, or Thai chili sauce and five spice powder, can be substituted. These are combined with soy sauce, natural peanut butter, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, and black pepper.

Bon Appetit offers a simpler, six-ingredient version of hoisin sauce that includes tahini and sriracha in addition to the soy sauce, honey (or maple syrup), distilled white vinegar, and well-browned garlic.

How to use your hoisin sauce? Epicurious has a vegetable stir-fry recipe with yellow squash, broccoli, and bell peppers. Garlicky hoisin beef from Real Simple packs intense flavor, and Food offers a deliciously sticky hoisin barbecue recipe for spare rib. So if you've been craving a classic Chinese barbecue, this is as close as you can get at home to stirring up a batch of authentic hoisin sauce.