Chinese cuisine

Is oyster sauce vegan? Overview, ethics and alternatives


Oyster sauce is made from oysters, you guessed it. This means that the sauce, which is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, is not suitable for most vegan diets.

This savory condiment is known to have the perfect balance between sweet and savory with a base of oyster extract, sugar, salt, and sometimes thickened with cornstarch or wheat flour. Other ingredients, such as MSG and caramel coloring, may also appear on the label.

Why most oyster sauces aren’t vegan

Puppa Fromm / EyeEm / Getty Images

Oyster sauce is made by simmering raw oyster juices until they are caramelized into a rich, salty sauce with a hint of sweetness. To add extra depth of flavor, manufacturers can incorporate additional salt, MSG, or sugar to enhance the sauce, thicken it with cornstarch, or add caramel to deepen the sauce’s natural dark brown hue.

According to Lee kum kee, the company that made oyster sauce famous, the brand’s founder accidentally invented oyster sauce in Nanshui, Zhuhai, China in 1888.

Why some vegans eat oysters

The case for consuming oysters by vegans is one of the centuries-old dilemmas that have sparked controversy within the plant community. Along with mussels and scallops, oysters are part of the bivalve family.

While bivalves do not have a central nervous system or complex brain, whether or not they experience pain is a matter of scientific debate, so some vegans choose to eat them. Others think that since oysters have evolved stress response mechanisms and are living things, they are not suitable for a vegan diet.

Products to avoid that include oyster sauce

tirc83 / Getty Images

Oyster sauce is commonly found in stir-fries, noodles, and other Chinese-style dishes, but it is also used to marinate and coat meats and vegetables.

Although oyster sauce is mostly found in Chinese food restaurants, it is also found in Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisines.

Vegan alternatives to oyster sauce

Andrey St / Getty Images

Although traditional oyster sauce is not vegan, some companies produce vegan versions made with organic, plant-based ingredients. If you don’t have vegan-style oyster sauce, alternatives like coconut aminos, hoisin sauce, and teriyaki sauce can do the trick.

Vegan oyster sauce with mushrooms

The most common ingredients used to replace oysters in vegan varieties of “oyster” sauce are mushrooms, as they offer a rich, umami-like taste.

Be aware that these products will likely contain sugar, which some vegans may not consider part of a vegan diet if it cannot be determined whether the bone method is used or not. Since organic sugar cannot use bone charcoal, a good way to avoid this dilemma is to look for organic varieties of vegan sauce or just go for the sugar-free versions.

Coconut aminos

While it’s probably saltier and thinner than oyster sauce, coconut amino acids can taste similar, especially when mixed with a little organic sugar.

Hoisin sauce

Another classic condiment used in Chinese cuisine, hoisin sauce is sweet and tangy with a quality reminiscent of barbecue sauce.

Hoisin uses vinegar, chili paste, and garlic, as well as sugar, so be sure to choose an organic variety to make sure she doesn’t use bone charcoal.

teriyaki sauce

While it’s probably much sweeter than oyster sauce, teriyaki has a closer consistency than the other alternatives.

Like hoisin sauce, teriyaki works well in stir-fries and marinades. Vegans who are concerned about bone trout should look for organic versions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How to store oyster sauce

    If left unopened, oyster sauce can be stored in the pantry. Once opened, however, it should be refrigerated and stored in a jar or bottle with a closed lid. Always look for specific storage instructions on the bottle, as some formulas may have different requirements.

  • Does oyster sauce taste like oysters?

    Despite the name, oyster sauce tastes more like a combination of salty soy sauce and sweet barbecue sauce. However, lower quality or cheaper brands may taste more fishy.

  • How to use oyster sauce

    Oyster sauce is commonly used in stir-fries, marinades, soups, or as a dip. It has a strong flavor and should be used sparingly at first until you have had a chance to taste your dish.

  • Can oyster shells be recycled?

    In most aquaculture facilities around the world, methods of recycling oyster shells are less than ideal and lead to most of the shells being thrown into food waste.

    In response, researchers explored ways to alleviate this widespread oyster shell waste, including techniques that combine shells with natural limestone to produce an ecological cement.