Way back in the mid-19th century, the US got its first taste of Chinese cuisine. The California Gold Rush brought immigrants from all over the world to the country, and China was no exception. As the Chinese population increased, so did their cooking influence. People loved it then, and they love it now. According to the Chinese American Restaurant Association, there are more than 45,000 Chinese restaurants currently open across the US. And it’s also the most Googled cuisine in the country.
It’s not surprising that Chinese food is so popular: the dishes are bursting with delicious flavors, and a lot of that is down to the sauce blends. Here are some of the best vegan Chinese sauces, and how to make them yourself.
Are all Chinese sauces vegan?
Not all Chinese sauces are vegan—fish sauce, for example, is made with anchovies or krill that have been fermented for up to two years. And oyster sauce, as the name suggests, is made with caramelized oysters. Many vegan chefs turn to mushroom sauce to get the same rich flavor and syrupy texture as oyster sauce. XO sauce, which was developed in Hong Kong, is also made with chopped and dried seafood.
But whether you’re ordering Chinese food from your local restaurant, or you want to whip up a tasty dinner from home, there are plenty of delicious, and totally vegan Chinese sauces to choose from. Here are some of our favorites.
The best vegan Chinese takeout sauces (and how to make them yourself)
Made from fermented black soybeans, garlic, ginger, and various seasonings, black bean sauce has a rich, umami taste. The salty, slightly sweet sauce—which has been produced in China for centuries and is an American takeout favorite—adds depth and complexity to dishes. It’s often used in stir-fries and noodle dishes, and it also tastes great with tofu, vegan chicken, and mixed vegetables.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Chinese Black Bean Sauce
2 Sweet and sour
Sweet and sour sauce was likely first invented back in 18th century China, but it’s now one of the most popular sauces in Westernized Cantonese cuisine. The sweet, tangy condiment is made with sugar, vinegar, and fruit juices, and can be served with most ingredients, including crispy tofu, mushrooms, mixed vegetables, noodles, and much more.
Try it in a recipe: Sweet & Sour Vegan Ribs with Lemongrass Bones
3 Orange sesame
Orange sesame, which offers a delicious balance of nutty, savory, and sweet flavors, wasn’t actually invented in China. It’s a fusion sauce, as it combines elements from different Asian culinary traditions. Often made with ingredients like orange juice, soy sauce, and sesame oil, orange sesame is a takeout favorite in the US, and you can mix it with everything from tofu to vegan chicken to stir-fried vegetables.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Sticky Orange Sesame Tofu
This thick, dark brown Cantonese sauce—made with fermented soybeans, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and spices—is a rich blend of salty and sweet, and is another popular choice on takeout menus in the US. It’s also often used in fusion dishes (as you can see from the recipe below!), and is a popular choice for wraps and even pizza toppings, too.
Try it in a recipe: Crispy Hoisin Tofu Vegan Tacos With Scallion Tortillas
5 Kung Pao
A staple choice for many Chinese takeout lovers, this Sichuan sauce is incredibly popular in the US. The flavorful condiment is spicy, sweet, and tangy, and is made with ingredients like soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chili peppers. It’s bold and aromatic and is a go-to for stir-fry dishes.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Copycat Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken
6 Char siu
Char siu sauce is a Chinese barbecue sauce, which is typically used to flavor and glaze meats, especially pork. But the rich, sweet, slightly smoky sauce, which is typically made with ingredients like hoisin, soy sauce, honey, sugar, and Chinese five-spice powder, also tastes great with vegan ingredients—especially tofu.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Sticky Sweet Char Siu Tofu
7 Sichuan chili oil
Sichuan chili oil, also known as Szechuan chili oil, is made by infusing vegetable oil with spices, Sichuan peppercorns, and dried red chili peppers. The oil is heated to release the flavors of the ingredients and then strained to create a fragrant and spicy oil. It’s delicious with dumplings, noodles, stir-fries, rice dishes, and so much more.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Mushroom Wontons in Sichuan Chili Oil