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Oyster Sauce is the killer special ingredient in all kinds of delicious Chinese (and other Asian dishes). Its rich, salty, umami flavor adds real depth to the flavor of countless stir-fries, marinades, and stews.
However, as you can clearly tell from the name, it's made from oysters. This, of course, is a problem for vegetarians and vegans, who can't eat it. However, that doesn't mean they have to give up on the delicious oyster sauce flavor.
That's because there are now vegetarian and vegan friendly versions of oyster sauce. These are made with other ingredients like mushrooms (often oyster and shiitake mushrooms) instead of the oysters, making them acceptable for anyone to eat.
However, the world of different oyster sauce brands, let alone vegetarian oyster sauces, can be a bit confusing to someone who isn't sure which brand is which.
The last thing you want is to be a disappointing or unpleasant bottle of sauce.
However, this guide is here to help. We'll take you through a selection of the best options for vegetarian/vegan oyster sauces to give you some great options for what to buy.
It won't stop there, either - be sure to read our buyer's guide and frequently asked questions sections below, so that you're completely clued up on what you need to know before you decide. For now, though, let's get into the sauces!
OUR TOP PICK
You might be feeling slightly concerned that you can't see the words "oyster sauce" anywhere in the name of this product, but don't worry - this is Lee Kum Kee's substitute for oyster sauce for vegetarians.
If you don't recognize the brand name, you can also be assured that you're in good hands. Lee Kum Kee is a company that was set up (and is still based) in Hong Kong, producing a huge range of authentic Chinese sauces.
They're widely sold in China as well as in the west, so you can be sure this is the real stuff. It uses shiitake mushrooms instead of oysters to add that meaty umami flavor, making it totally vegan, and also perfectly suitable for anyone who might have an allergy to oysters.
You can use it in the same way you'd use a regular oyster sauce. You should note, however, that it's saltier than most brands of regular oyster sauce, so you'll want to add less salt than usual.
- Lee Kum Kee is a well-respected brand
- Great for a wide range of purposes
- Authentically Chinese
- Saltier than regular oyster sauce.
For shoppers who prefer to check other retailers for oyster sauce, pop over to 99 Ranch Market.
Wan Ja Shan is a Taiwanese brand, so you'll again have the comfort of knowing that their product is nothing but authentic. The flavor here comes from mushrooms and soy beans, like many brands of vegetarian oyster sauce.
However, the label on the bottle doesn't specify whether the mushrooms used are oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, or both (or other varieties).
Nevertheless, this isn't likely to matter for the vast majority of customers.
You'll also probably be pleased to know that the manufacturers have included a promise that this sauce does not contain any MSG, and is entirely free of genetically modified organisms (GMO).
- Large bottle makes for good value
- Bottle in unclear on which mushrooms are used for flavoring
This is another great option if you're looking for a vegetarian/vegan friendly oyster sauce substitute.
Naturally, you'll find no oyster extract here, as the flavor in this sauce comes from mushrooms and soybeans (though again, the bottle isn't clear about which mushrooms are used).
This one matches the thickness of real oyster sauce very well (fairly similar to the thickness of hoisin sauce), and will be delicious as a marinade or as the base for a dipping sauce.
It'll also be perfect in a vegetarian chow mein, so you can start to plan stir-fries with no worries.
- Large bottle means good value
- Taste is very close to real oyster sauce
- Multiple uses
- Contains MSG (under the name "yeast extract")
For shoppers who prefer to look at other similar sauce options, try 99 Ranch Market.
This is another sauce which doesn't have the phrase "oyster sauce", or even "vegetarian oyster sauce" in its name, but that is what it is.
Like oyster sauce, its main purpose and greatest strength is adding a sizable umami hit to any dish that it's added to. In fact, the manufacturer also recommends it as an alternative to soy sauce, fish sauce and even bouillon cubes.
It certainly has the umami flavor for it to be good in this role, and you might find that you even prefer it to the more traditional options even if you're not a vegetarian.
It uses triple fermented organic soybeans, as well as shiitake mushroom and other vegetable extracts to achieve this great taste.
Note that it's very salty, so you probably won't want to add too much salt to your dish after you've added this.
- Very versatile
- Clear ingredients list
- USDA organic
- Might be too salty for some
This mushroom sauce mix isn't sold specifically as a vegetarian oyster sauce, but since it has very similar mushroom flavors, it can certainly be used as one.
Note that while this is a vegetarian sauce, it is NOT a vegan sauce, as it contains milk. However, you shouldn't expect exactly the same thing as oyster sauce, since this isn't trying to imitate oyster sauce exactly.
It does include some ingredients that you wouldn't typically find in oyster sauce, like paprika, so be prepared for that.
Nevertheless, it's a very tasty sauce that could also serve as a substitute for various other savory ingredients. As you can tell from the title, it's also organic, which is a big plus.
- Simple to prepare
- Full of seasoning
- Not an exact match for oyster sauce
For shoppers who prefer to check the Simply Organic Store for oyster sauce, head over to Simply Organic!
Yes, this is a kind of soy sauce, rather than oyster sauce. They're definitely not the same thing, although their flavor profiles aren't a million miles away from each other.
In this case, that's even more true because this soy sauce carries a delicious mushroom flavoring as well. In this way, it's quite similar to the vegan oyster sauces that use mushrooms for flavor.
You can't expect the same texture as you would get with oyster sauce, but when it's mixed in with all your other ingredients, that's not much of an issue.
It also leans a bit saltier with perhaps slightly less umami than an oyster sauce, so plan accordingly. Of course, it has the added benefit that you can use it in most recipes when a soy sauce is called for.
- Mushroom flavor mimics vegan oyster sauce
- Soy sauce rather than oyster sauce
Other great options for soy sauce can be found online at Walmart!
There are a few things that you'll want to consider before you make your choice as to which sauce to choose.
We'll go through them here to make sure that you're armed with all the necessary knowledge.
With this being such a large category of sauces, there are many different brands out there, each doing their own individual versions of these sauces.
Some are better-known than others and, while brand of course isn't everything, it can be reassuring to go with a well-known name, particularly if you don't have too much experience with the thing you're shopping for.
For example, it's hard to go wrong buying Lee Kum Kee, even if you're a total newcomer to Asian cuisines.
That said, brands can sometimes come with different prices, and you don't want to end up paying for just a name - make sure that the quality matches the hype before you part with your money.
The Flavor Profile
When you first open the package, it might appear that they're all pretty similar. Many contain sugar, and some might contain MSG.
Sure enough, many will say on their packaging that they're free of additives or preservatives, but those claims are often just marketing speak. Most importantly, look at what the main ingredient is - what's the primary thing in there?
For a vegetarian oyster sauce, this will often be some kind of mushroom. Just because that's the main source of flavor, however, doesn't mean it'll be the first thing on the ingredient list.
Other things to look out far are soybeans (or some kind of extract), as well as those aforementioned additives. All these things will have their own effect on the flavor profile.
While you can never be totally sure until you taste it for yourself, it's possible to build up a fairly good idea beforehand by paying close attention to the ingredients.
Is It Free From?
Different kinds of vegan oyster sauce may or may not be free from a variety of different things. For instance, some are gluten-free, while others contain wheat flour and so are not.
Others might claim to be free-from MSG, GMO, or various other additives. If this is important to you, then you'll want to make sure you check carefully in the small print to see which things the sauce does and doesn't contain.
This one will probably depend on the brand itself. Is it thick like regular oyster sauce, or thin like a tamari? A good one will be very similar to oyster sauce in its consistency, but you can consider how important the texture is to you.
If you're going to be mixing it into a stew, for example, the texture is much less important. That could mean that you could use a flavored soy sauce instead.
To sum it all up: Look for a good brand, a good texture, and a decent price.
Once you've found something you like, then read through the reviews online and ask around about it!
Country Of Origin
This is more of a secondary consideration really, but different brands are made in different places. While most oyster sauces have a lot more similarities than differences, some people prefer the preparations of one country in particular.
This applies even more if you're thinking of using soy sauce of some kind as a substitute for oyster sauce. The soy sauces of different countries often taste noticeably different from one another.
For example Japan's is usually lighter than China's, while Indonesia's is sweeter. Keep this in mind when you're choosing a sauce, because it can be very jarring when the flavor profile of your dish is off and you can't work out why.
How Much Does It Cost?
The last issue here is cost. You don't need to go too crazy with spending money on fancy sauces, but you do need to pay reasonable prices.
Some cheap ones tend to lack flavor, but some quite expensive ones also come with a high price tag that's worth it. One easy way to find out where you stand with regards to pricing is to simply compare prices between two similar products.
See how far apart they fall, and that should give you an indication of whether you can afford to spend a little extra and get better quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Oyster Sauce?
Oyster sauce is a sauce that originated in Southern China. It is widely used as an ingredient in many Chinese dishes - particularly in the Cantonese cuisine of the south - as well as several of the countries to China's south, including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and various others.
It's traditionally made by boiling oysters in water until the water has absorbed a large amount of the oysters' essence and flavor. This water is then reduced until it reaches the desired thickness.
However, though this is the traditional method, it is rather time-consuming. For that reason, most commercial manufacturers of oyster sauce today use additives to speed up the thickening and flavoring process.
Cornstarch to thicken it is a common one, and caramel color to darken the sauce is another, though they're not the only ones. The sauce has a rich, umami taste that is just a little less salty than soy sauce or fish sauce.
What Is Vegetarian/Vegan Oyster Sauce?
Admittedly, that recipe we've just described for oyster sauce sounds (and is) decidedly non-vegetarian.
However, it's possible to make a very good imitation of oyster sauce with a very close flavor profile by using other flavorings.
This usually means mushrooms like oyster and shiitake mushrooms, and often soybean extracts as well. There are, thankfully, several good vegan oyster sauces available on the market today, and we've listed some of the very best in this article.
How Is Oyster Sauce Different From Soy Sauce?
If you're not all that familiar with Asian cuisines, it's easy to see how you might not be sure what the difference is between these two (whether it's regular or vegan oyster sauce you're talking about).
They both have their origins in China and both have salty and umami flavor profiles, but oyster sauce is generally heavier on the umami while soy sauce is heavier on the salt.
Oyster sauce is also much thicker than soy sauce (it's more like honey while soy sauce is more like water). Another important difference is that soy sauce is usually vegan right from the start since there are generally no animal products involved in the recipe.
It's not a case of one or the other, though, and dishes like stir-fries and marinades often use both of the two together.
You might also find that one will work reasonably well as a substitute for the other. That's why we included a mushroom flavored soy sauce on this list, since it's not too far off the vegetarian oyster sauce flavor (at least when it's used as one ingredient among various others).
Where Can I Buy Vegetarian/Vegan Oyster Sauce Substitutes?
Of course, one place you can get them is the links in this article, though you'll be able to find them in other places online as well.
However, if you want them a bit more quickly than that, your local Asian store will probably have some. Not all of them sell vegetarian versions, but it's becoming more and more common these days.
They might also be able to let you know which brand they'd recommend for various different dishes or recipes.
So, there you have it, a list of all the best vegetarian/vegan oyster sauces (and oyster sauce substitutes) available.
While any of them could make for a great meal, make sure you consider what you're going to be using it for when you buy. While that mushroom sauce mix might be ideal for a hearty stew, for example, it's going to make your chow mein taste different to what you might be expecting, so be ready.
Additionally, since you've read the buyer's guide and FAQ section, you know everything that you need to know to make the right choice. With that taken care of, make your choice and get cooking!