Oyster sauce is a key ingredient in many Chinese and Asian recipes, including many of the recipes on The Woks of Life. It’s also included in our list of 10 Essential Chinese Pantry Ingredients. But what if you’re vegan or vegetarian, or have a shellfish allergy? That’s where vegetarian oyster sauce comes in!
What is Vegetarian Oyster Sauce?
Regular oyster sauce (háo yóu, 蚝油) is made with oyster extracts and seasonings. Vegetarian oyster sauce has no oysters in it. Instead, it is made with mushrooms, though it’s similar in color and texture to regular oyster sauce.
See the difference between the vegetarian and regular versions below. The vegetarian is on the left, and the regular is on the right. They are similar in color and consistency, though the vegetarian version is a little thinner.
How Is It Used?
Oyster sauce is an umami booster/flavor enhancer. We add it to meat marinades, stir-fry sauces, and braises.
Luckily, mushrooms have a deep, meaty flavor. They are the perfect candidate to create a vegetarian version of oyster sauce.
Buying & Storing
Just a few brands make vegetarian oyster sauce as of this writing (October 2019).
Oriental Mascot makes a “Vegetarian Oyster Flavored Sauce.” Despite what the words “oyster flavored” imply, there are no oysters in it, just mushroom extracts. This brand does not contain soy sauce and appears to be gluten-free. However, it does contain hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which may be derived from wheat, so check the label carefully before purchasing if gluten is an issue!
Lee Kum Kee makes a similar product that they call “Vegetarian Stir-fry Sauce.” (This may be a smarter naming strategy, to make it clear that there are no oysters in it.)
This product contains wheat, and is therefore not gluten-free. (Note: Lee Kum Kee does make a gluten-free oyster sauce under its Panda Brand, but it is not vegetarian.)
The other brand you might find is Wan Ja Shan.
As you can see from the ingredients below, soybeans and shiitake mushroom powder form the base and flavor of the sauce. It does contain wheat, however, so it is not gluten-free.
Store these in the refrigerator, and they will keep for 1 year. Just be sure to avoid any cross-contamination in the bottle.
If you don’t have an Asian grocery store near you, find Vegetarian Oyster Sauce online.
Our Favorite Vegetarian Dishes Using This Ingredient:
- Vegetable Chow Fun
- Ultimate Braised Tofu
- Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
- Stir-fry Sauce
- Braised Chinese Mushrooms with Bok Choy
- Vegetable Chow Mein
- Lotus Root Stir-fry
- Long Life Noodles
Find more vegetarian/vegan recipes here.
If you have further questions, let us know in the comments––we try to answer every single one.