Chinese cooking may seem complicated. However, if you have the right sauces and spices you can make just about anything taste good. 

Here are six Chinese sauces (separated into savory, sweet and spicy) you can incorporate into your cooking to add an extra layer of “oomph.”

  1. 1 The Savory

    Soy Sauce 酱油 (Jiàng yóu)

    Soy Sauces

    This is the most common sauce used in Chinese cooking. There are two types of soy sauces: dark and light. 

    Dark soy sauce is thicker and has a hint of sweetness. Its main uses are to add color and deepen the flavor. At times, it can also help thicken the consistency. 

    Light soy sauce can be used to add flavor or umami to soups, stews, stir-fries and more. 

    Even though it is considered an Asian sauce, more and more western chefs are using it in their cooking. You should give it a try too! Give this soy sauce chicken recipe a try!


    Oyster Sauce 蚝油 (Háo yóu)

    Oyster Sauce

    There is a funny background story about how oyster sauce came to be. This savory sauce was invented in Guangdong province in the 1800s. 

    Inventor Lee Kam Sheung left oysters boiling in water for too long. When he remembered and opened the lid of the pot, the soup was dark brown and fragrant. Thus oyster sauce was invented.

    Oyster sauce has a thick and smooth texture. It is extremely versatile and will add savoriness to any dish. Try this dish glazed with oyster sauce!

  2. 2 The Sweet

    Hoisin Sauce 海鲜酱 (Hǎi xiān jiàng)

    Hoisin SauceHoisin sauce in Chinese is literally translated as “seafood sauce.” But it is not solely reserved for seafood, nor does it have seafood in it. 

    Hoisin sauce is more popular in Southern China; for example, it is mostly found in Cantonese and Fujianese dishes.

    This sauce is sweet and smooth. Thus it is popular as a dipping sauce, meat glazing sauce and stir-fry sauce. You can find a recipe to make hoisin sauce at home here


    Sweet Bean Sauce 甜面酱 (Tián miàn jiàng)

    Sweet Bean Sauce

    While hoisin sauce is used in Southern China, sweet bean sauce is used in Northern China. It is different from hoisin sauce in consistency, color and taste. 

    Sweet bean sauce is sweeter, darker and pastier. Wheat flour is the main ingredient in sweet bean sauce while fermented soybean paste is one of the main ingredients in hoisin sauce. 

    Sweet bean sauce is used in Beijing roast duck, Chinese savory pancakes and more. Try this recipe for Beijing fried sauce noodles using sweet bean sauce. 

  3. 3 The Spicy

    Chili Oil 辣椒油 (Là jiāo yóu)

    Chili Oil

    If you are a lover of spicy food, this is a must-have. One of the most popular Chinese chili oils is 老干妈 (Lǎo gàn mā)

    This brand of chili oil was even praised by John Cena. You can add chili oil to anything: rice, eggs, noodles, soups, meats, you name it!

    To make your own chili oil, you will need a blend of red peppers, mixed seasonings, Sichuan peppercorns and more. Follow this recipe to make some at home. 


    Sha Cha Sauce 沙茶酱 (Shā chá jiàng)

    Sha Cha Sauce

    Sha cha sauce is also known as the Chinese barbeque sauce. It is most popular in Guangdong and Taiwan. 

    Sha cha sauce is also very versatile. It can be a base in soups, a marinade for meats, a sauce for stir-fries and a dipping sauce for hotpot. 

    Sha Cha sauce is savory with a hint of spice. It is used in sha cha noodles, this recipe for sha cha beef and more. 


    What other sauces do you know? Leave it in the comments below so we can try it! 



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Amie Lin

Amie Lin is currently attending Hunter College double majoring in Mandarin and Media Studies. She is such a foodie and loves Chinese dramas.
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