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Hoisin Sauce vs Oyster Sauce: What’s the Difference?

Hoisin sauce and oyster sauce are famous Chinese sauces used in various Chinese dishes and other types of cuisine.

Many people find both sauces delicious. However, people often confuse the two due to their similar color and texture. In some cases, these sauces can even act as substitutes for each other.

In this article, you will learn what hoisin sauce is, what oyster sauce is, and the differences between the two.

Hoisin Sauce vs. Oyster Sauce: 15-Second Summary

Here is a quick summary of the main differences between hoisin sauce vs. oyster sauce:

  • Hoisin sauce is typically made from fermented soybean paste, whereas oyster sauce is made from boiling oysters with sugar and salt.
  • Hoisin sauce can be vegetarian, whereas oyster sauce is made from animal products.
  • Hoisin sauce has a sweeter taste, while oyster sauce is saltier.
  • While both are commonly used in fried rice, the result is different due to the more robust flavor that oyster sauce has.

What Is Hoisin Sauce?

what is hoisin sauce

Hoisin sauce is a Chinese condiment used on many dishes, including rice, noodle, soups, and meat dishes. But the most common hoisin sauce uses are marinades, grilled dishes, and vegetable stir-fries.

You will often find hoisin sauce on the table at Vietnamese restaurants, especially pho restaurants and Chinese eateries. Some grocery stores even have a whole section dedicated to hoisin sauce due to its popularity in home cooking.

The sauce is quite thick, typically with a dark brown color that’s easy to distinguish. Some call hoisin sauce Chinese barbeque sauce, as it has a similar color and texture.

The most common ingredients in hoisin sauce include:

  • Soybeans
  • Sesame seeds or paste
  • Chili
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar
  • Wheat flour
  • Sugar
  • Spices
  • Salt
  • Starches (like corn starch)
  • Water

These ingredients combine to produce a richly sweet and salty flavor. The texture is smooth and shiny, and it adds a cool sweetness to most dishes.

Hoisin sauce isn’t made from animal products (the main component is soybean paste [1]), so vegetarians and vegans can eat it without violating their dietary restrictions. In addition, people on a soy-free diet can find soy-free hoisin sauce variants.

What Is Oyster Sauce?

oyster sauce

Oyster sauce is also a Chinese sauce said to have been discovered by accident [2] in 1888.

Oyster sauce is rich and syrupy like hoisin sauce. However, it is made from boiled oysters in sugar and salt. This process creates a dark sauce with a predominantly salty taste, though not as salty as soy sauce, for instance.

Although oyster sauce is made from fish, its taste isn’t as fishy as one might expect. Though the home-made recipe doesn’t necessarily include them, oyster sauce can also contain thickeners and flavors, depending on the brand you’re buying.

Because their textures are similar, oyster sauce is used in similar dishes to hoisin sauce, like stir-fries, noodles, and rice. Oyster sauce is a popular condiment in Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Thai dishes.

Differences Between Hoisin Sauce and Oyster Sauce

Some people ask, “Is hoisin sauce oyster sauce?” The answer is “No.” Hoisin sauce and oyster sauce just aren’t the same.


The primary difference between oyster sauce and hoisin sauce is their main ingredients. Hoisin sauce is usually made from soybeans, whereas oyster sauce is made from boiling oysters down to a paste.

Hoisin sauce is vegan and vegetarian, whereas oyster sauce is made from animal products.


Secondly, while they have similar colors and textures, hoisin sauce and oyster sauce taste different.

Hoisin sauce is sweeter and has a slightly oily finish, while oyster sauce is saltier and tends to have a more robust flavor overall. It has a more umami [3] flavor to it.

You can generally use more hoisin sauce in a dish than oyster sauce, as the taste isn’t as strong. When using oyster sauce, you may want to start with smaller amounts and add more gradually since the flavor of oyster sauce is powerful enough to take over a dish.

For Fried Rice

Both hoisin sauce and oyster are common in fried rice dishes. However, the added flavor is different, so they are not direct substitutes in that regard.

If you want to add a sweeter flavor to your fried rice, then hoisin sauce is better. Oyster sauce is probably better if you want to add a saltier flavor.


Here are some frequently asked questions regarding hoisin sauce vs. oyster sauce:

Can hoisin sauce replace oyster sauce?

Hoisin sauce can replace oyster sauce if you want to add thickness and a slightly different flavor to a dish. However, hoisin sauce can’t replace oyster sauce if you want to add a saltier kick to the dish.

Which is better: hoisin vs. oyster sauce?

The only person who can answer whether hoisin sauce or oyster sauce is better is you. Everyone’s taste buds are different.

Also, you may prefer hoisin sauce with dishes like pho, and oyster sauce with dishes like Chinese broccoli. It all depends on what you’re eating and what you prefer.

Where to find hoisin sauce in the grocery store?

Hoisin sauce is often found in the condiments section of the grocery store. Asian grocery stores will have hoisin sauce in abundance, but it can even be found in large chain supermarkets.

If you can’t find it, ask a store representative to help you.

Is hoisin sauce vegan?

Since hoisin sauce isn’t made from animal products or byproducts, hoisin sauce is considered vegan and vegetarian.

However, people on soy-free diets may need to look for soy-free versions of the sauce. It may taste different, but the texture is similar.


Hoisin sauce and oyster sauce can sometimes be confused. However, they have distinct differences, such as ingredients and taste, that make them unique. Both sauces are famous in Asian cuisine, in restaurant and home settings.

You can substitute hoisin sauce and oyster sauce under the right circumstances. However, it is ultimately a personal preference as to which one you like better.

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I’m Jennifer Schlette, a Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I love cooking, reading, and my kids! Here you’ll find the healthiest recipes & substitutions for your cooking. Enjoy, and be well, friends!

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