What’s the Best Substitute for Oyster Sauce? We Have 10 Tasty Swaps

You know that oyster sauce is made from oysters but did you know that this syrupy concoction delivers umami deliciousness for days? To make oyster sauce, mollusks are first cooked in water to create a sort of shellfish soup. This is then strained and cooked with salt and sugar until the sweet and savory juices of the sea have caramelized into a dark brown syrup that makes culinary dreams come true. But is your stir-fry or meat marinade destined to disappoint if you aren’t stocked with this secret ingredient? Nope. Let us be your guide so you can find the most ideal substitutes for oyster sauce (including vegan ones) and not miss out on an ounce of flavor when you whip up your favorite dishes at home.

But First, Why Should You Care About Oyster Sauce?

You’ve got a bottle of fish sauce that you’ve barely touched and a half-used tube of anchovy paste in the fridge. So when a recipe calls for oyster sauce, you might wonder why you should care when you have so many other fishy condiments hanging around already. The benefit of oyster sauce comes from the fact that its flavor is both sweet and briny, but not overly fishy—so it delivers the goods without overwhelming your palate with too much sea funk. Just a dollop of this stuff adds serious flavor and richness to stir-fries, marinades, veggie dishes, soups and more. If you’re hoping to cook up a delicious dish that demands oyster sauce and you have none, pick a substitute wisely so you can best imitate its subtle umami flavor.

10 Substitutes for Oyster Sauce

1. Soy Sauce

Soy sauce lacks the syrupy consistency of oyster sauce and unsurprisingly, it also lacks the sweetness. Still, umami is the name of the game when it comes to oyster sauce and salt is not the enemy, either. Try substituting with a slightly lesser amount of soy sauce and adding a (sparing) pinch of brown sugar for a bonafide oyster sauce alternative.

2. Sweet Soy Sauce

Following the same logic as above, this Indonesian variation on classic soy sauce is a suitable alternative for the oyster stuff. Loads of salty umami flavor, with plenty of sweetness (actually a bit more than you’d get from oyster sauce, so you can definitely skip the brown sugar here.) If you use it sparingly, the only thing missing is the mollusk.

3. Hoisin Sauce

Equal parts sweet and salty, this is one of the best substitutes for oyster sauce. Alas, there’s a difference between briny and salty so it isn’t a perfect stand-in, but it will do the trick. Best of all, this alternative can be substituted in equal quantities so you can still follow your recipe step-by-step.

4. Soy and Hoisin

If you have both of these condiments available, combine soy and hoisin sauce in a 1:1 ratio. Again, oyster sauce is basically the inimitable manifestation of umami but we saved the best for last and this combo will come closest to checking all the boxes.

5. Teriyaki Sauce

Teriyaki sauce is oyster sauce’s sweeter and tangier cousin, which means it delivers a little less umami (and your recipe might require a touch more salt, to taste). Nevertheless, it’s a totally fish-free way to flavor most any stir-fry, and works particularly well with veggies and rice dishes.

6. Worcestershire Sauce

This common fermented sauce packs a major umami punch and is made with both molasses and anchovies, so it boasts a sweet, salty, fishy flavor that can stand in for oyster sauce. That said, worcestershire sauce is far more potent and can easily overpower a dish if it’s not used sparingly. As such, we recommend adding just a few drops to meat marinades or meat-based stir-fries for best results.

7. Tamari

Tamari is another fermented sauce that makes a wonderful substitute for oyster sauce—namely because it has the salty, umami flavor of soy sauce, as well as a tangy and sweet element. Best of all, it works well in all manner of dishes and is gluten-free, so it’s a great option for people with special diets.

8. Anchovies

Anchovies (and anchovy paste) deliver a lot of bright, salty flavor that’s similar to the brininess of oyster sauce. They do, however, lack the sweetness of oyster sauce, so when using this substitute, you might consider adding a pinch of sugar to the mix.

9. Black Bean Paste

Unless you frequently cook Chinese food at home, you’re unlikely to have this one on hand. Still, you might want to make it a pantry staple if you’re seeking a fish-free oyster sauce substitute. Black bean paste is a specialty item that’s made from fermented black soy beans, garlic and sugar, which means it hits all the same flavor notes. It’s worth noting, though, that black bean paste has a little extra heat due to the huge amount of garlic, so it pairs best with bold and spicy dishes.

10. Mushroom Broth

You can buy mushroom broth at the store, but you don’t need much to make it at home—just carrots, celery and a combo of dried and fresh mushrooms can be used to create this umami-forward flavoring agent in very little time. This broth has a rich, savory profile that’s a bit deeper than oyster sauce and lacks the sweetness, but it’s truly delicious and will certainly work in a pinch.

What’s the Best Substitute for Soy Sauce? Here Are 10 Delicious Options