The Key Sauces Used For Flavor In Chinese Food


Have you ever noticed that a lot of the Chinese dishes you order out have similar flavor profiles? This is not a coincidence. It's because Chinese food, like many cuisines, tends to be made with a lot of similar ingredients. More specifically, there are certain sauces that are frequently used to make Chinese dishes. Here are a few of the most common ones.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is common in a lot of Asian cuisines, but each Asian cuisine calls for a somewhat different type of soy sauce. Chinese soy sauces are usually pretty light and thin. They are only brewed for a few weeks, so the flavors tend to be less developed. In Chinese cuisine, soy sauce is typically used like salt to provide a layer of flavor, rather than the main body of the flavor.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is a thick sauce made from fermented oysters. It does not actually taste overly fishy, although it has a very protein-rich, umami flavor. It is thickened with cornstarch, so any dish it is added to tends to thicken as well.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin is basically a Chinese barbecue sauce. It is somewhat sweet with notes of spice and vinegar. It is traditionally used for dipping and is the typical sauce served on the side with Peking duck, one of the most noted Chinese dishes. However, Chinese chefs also add it to various stir fry dishes for a layer of sweetness and complexity. Hoisin is a deep, brown color and looks a bit like thick gravy.

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar may not be a sauce in the strictest sense of the word, but Chinese chefs use it as such. They add it to stir fries to add a layer of acidity that brings out the other flavors, and they add it to rice to give it some deeper flavor. Rice vinegar is basically made by fermenting rice, and it does have a distinct rice flavor.

Chile Paste

Most spicy Chinese dishes are hot because they contain chile paste. Chile peppers are the key ingredient in this sauce, but it also typically contains some sugar and vinegar. Some versions are also made with some garlic. You can also use chile paste as a dipping sauce for Peking duck or other meats.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the sauces typically used in Chinese food. It is often these sauces that give dishes their signature flavors.


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