Plum sauce is a unique condiment originating from China. It is essentially a combination of sweet plums, vinegar, garlic, chili, ginger, sugar, and salt. While it may seem like a rather strange combination, it is an extremely popular sauce – and not only in Chinese cuisine.
As unique as it is, the plum sauce can be replaced in your recipes. If you’re simply not a fan of this combination of flavors, or you don’t have any plum sauce at the moment, we can help you find the perfect plum sauce substitute.
The best plum sauce substitutes
Plum sauce is without a doubt one of the most delicious sauces you’ll come across in Chinese restaurants. It owes its growing popularity not only to the incredible taste but also to the versatility it offers. There are many uses for plum sauce, as it works great as a dipping sauce, finishing sauce with a roasted duck, stir fry sauce, basting sauce, or even as a glaze.
Plum sauce usually has a specific light-brown color and a thick consistency. The taste is hard to describe, but it is both sweet and sour, which is a common combination in Chinese cuisine. Even though it is originally made with plums, there are even variations with other fruit such as pineapple, apricot, and peach.
Depending on the combination of ingredients, the sauce can be a bit tart and spicy. Plum sauce from red plums will usually have a darker purple color, while golden plums will give a lighter color. It complements a number of dishes, including rice, chicken, shrimp, pork, egg rolls, noodles, moo shu, Asian slaw, dumplings, and many more.
However, the plum sauce can also elevate any plain dessert, such as vanilla bean ice cream, pudding, or even a fruit salad.
1. Homemade plum sauce
If you don’t happen to have any plum sauce in your fridge, you can simply make some! Perhaps you’re skeptical about cooking your own sauce, but with the right recipe, it can turn out just as good as the “real deal”.
For your quick homemade plum sauce, you’re going to need the following ingredients (these amounts yield 10 servings):
- 16 oz plum jam
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- 1 clove garlic (minced)
- 1 tbsp dried minced onion
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes.
Add all the ingredients into your saucepan and cook over medium heat. Stir the mixture thoroughly until it starts to boil, then remove from the heat. In just 20 minutes total, you will have a delicious plum sauce from scratch, and you might just never buy another jar!
2. Duck Sauce
Duck sauce is often mistaken for plum sauce, as they can have similar appearance, texture, and uses. However, this sauce usually has a bright orange color, it is translucent, and has a jelly-like structure. The term duck sauce comes from the famous combination of this fruity sauce and the Peking duck.
Aside from poultry, duck sauce goes well with all kinds of deep-fried dishes, rice, and noodles. It is often served with spring rolls and egg rolls or used as a glaze. Duck sauce is usually a combination of different fruits, such as pineapple, apricots, apples, pears, and plums.
3. Sweet and sour sauce
If you’re looking for that sweet and sour flavor, the best substitute for plum sauce could be the sweet and sour sauce. This sauce is easy to find, so if you’re having trouble finding a good plum sauce brand, it is definitely your safest bet. However, in case you’re looking for the thick consistency of the plum sauce, keep in mind that sweet and sour sauce is usually more on the liquid side.
Just like plum sauce, sweet and sour can be paired up with many dishes. You can serve it as a dip with your honey chicken, pour it over your shrimp-fried rice, or use it as a sauce for your dumplings.
And if you prefer to make your sauces from scratch, all you need for a homemade sweet and sour sauce are sugar, cider vinegar, garlic powder, soy sauce, onion powder, corn starch, and ketchup. Simply combine all the ingredients except for cornstarch over medium heat and bring the sauce to a simmer. Mix a bit of cornstarch with cold water, add it to the sauce, and keep stirring until the sauce has reached the desired consistency.
4. Hoisin sauce
Hoisin sauce is yet another convenient plum sauce alternative since it has that sticky, thicker texture everyone loves in plum sauce. Since it is widely available both in grocery stores and Asian food stores, you shouldn’t have trouble finding it.
Thanks to its sticky consistency, it works great as a glaze for meat. You can also use it as a dipping sauce or marinade sauce for Peking duck, add it to your rice, or mix it into your stir fry for more flavor. Hoisin sauce is a perfect combination of sweet and salty flavors, with a little bit of spice.
5. Soy sauce
Soy sauce is not only a great plum sauce alternative, but possibly the most widely used Asian sauce there is. It has a unique salty flavor, yet sweet flavor, usually a liquid texture, and deep brown color. However, the dominant flavor is umami, which is recognized as the ultimate savory taste, or the “fifth taste”, in addition to the well-known taste categories: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.
There’s hardly anything you can’t use soy sauce with. It is a great choice for marinades, stews, soups, stir-fries, and pasta. However, many people just use it as a condiment to add more salt or flavor to their food.
You can find soy sauce in many varieties, depending on your preferences. Light soy sauce is liquid and is mainly used as an “all-purpose” sauce, while dark soy sauce is significantly thicker and sweeter. Another popular variety is white soy sauce, which is a lighter alternative and it doesn’t change the color of the dish.
6. Char siu sauce
Char siu sauce, also known as the Chinese barbecue sauce, is mostly paired with pork. It is most commonly used as a marinade or a glaze for roasted pork fork skewers. The sauce is usually a mixture of honey, hoisin, soy sauce, sherry, and Chinese five-spice powder.
The flavor is somewhere between sweet and salty, but it can also be a little bit spicy. Char siu sauce is an ideal substitution for plum sauce since they have similar uses, even though they may differ in texture. Char siu makes for a great marinade, dipping sauce, or even spread.
Homemade char siu may quickly become a favorite in your kitchen since it requires no cooking. All you need to do is combine the following ingredients in a bowl and you got yourself some char siu:
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ⅓ cup hoisin sauce
- 3 tbsp dry sherry
- 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder.
7. Teriyaki sauce
Teriyaki is a popular Japanese sauce, and it is best known as a meat marinade. When it comes to the structure, this plum sauce substitute is more on the basic side, since it only contains 4 ingredients: soy sauce, sake, ginger, and sugar. However, what certainly can’t be described as basic is its taste, which is a beautiful blend of sweet, salty, and tangy.
If you’re out of plum sauce or you’re simply looking for an alternative, teriyaki sauce might be the perfect solution. You can use it to marinade meat, vegetables, tofu, or fish (but make sure to do so at least an hour before cooking). However, when reduced, teriyaki sauce becomes glossy and sticky – just what you need for a glaze or dipping sauce.
8. Ponzu Sauce
This is yet another traditional Japanese sauce, and a worthy plum sauce substitute if you need a dipping sauce. What makes ponzu stand out is its refreshing citrus aroma, savory bonito flakes, and sweet mirin. It is a great dip for your noodles, dumplings, or even grilled meats and fish.
Since ponzu is a liquid sauce, you don’t want to add it too early when cooking. Instead, add it last when preparing stir fry, stew, or soups to add more flavor. Ponzu sauce is also a great addition to your salads as a refreshing, yet salty dressing.
9. Caramelised Onion Chutney
Caramelized onion chutney is a unique combination of sweet and savory flavors that can compliment pretty much any dish. You can use it as a condiment with meat and grilled vegetables, a spread on your toast or bruschetta, or a chunky dipping sauce.
Even though there’s no fruit base, the sweetness of caramelized onions and the sticky texture make chutney a great plum sauce substitute. Chutney can also be found in numerous other variations, including tomato and chili, mango chutney, and papaya.
How to choose a plum sauce substitute
Your best bet for a sticky glaze for any kind of roast would be homemade plum sauce, duck sauce, and hoisin sauce. Just like plum sauce, these sauces have a thicker consistency required for a glaze.
Sweet and sour sauce, char siu, and caramelized onion chutney make for great dipping sauces and marinades. Also, these sauces are easy to make at home if you need a quick dip.
Soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and ponzu sauce will give any dish a kick of umami and take it to the next level. Since they’re usually more on the liquid side, they can be used as salad dressings or simple condiments.
Each of these alternatives can be a pretty good plum sauce substitute, so make sure to choose one depending on your preferences and the dish you have planned out.