Top 9 Chinese Sauces and Seasonings

There are many flavorful tastes in Chinese cooking -- courtesy of the rich condiments used in most dishes. From soy sauce to rice wine, here are nine essential sauces and seasonings that you won’t want to be without. 

  • 01 of 09

    Soy Sauce

    Hoisin Sauce in a Bowl with Fresh Ginger Root
    Hoisin sauce. Getty Images/Willie Nash

    Ubiquitous in Chinese cooking, soy sauce is used in marinades, sauces, as a dip and more. Light soy sauce (also called thin soy sauce) is lighter and saltier, while dark soy sauce has a darker color and richer flavor. You’ll want to keep both on hand.

    The following recipes show how soy sauce is used in marinades, dips, and cooked in dishes.

  • 02 of 09

    Hoisin Sauce

    This thick, dark brown sauce is known for its pungent, slightly sweet flavor with just a bit of heat. Hoisin sauce is used in sauces, to marinate meat, especially pork, and as a dip. (It is famous as an accompaniment to Peking Duck -- diners spread hoisin sauce on the thin pancakes served with the duck).

    Here are a few recipes that show how to use hoisin sauce in stir-fries and other dishes.

  • 03 of 09

    Rice Wine or Dry Sherry

    Indispensable in Chinese cooking, rice wine is used as a tenderizer in marinades, to add flavor to sauces and in many dishes. Fortunately, good quality rice wine is becoming more widely available. However, pale dry sherry makes a good substitute.

    Having a hard time finding rice wine? Get some suggested substitutions.

  • 04 of 09

    Rice Vinegar

    While there are exceptions, most Chinese vinegar is rice-based. Generally milder and with more subtle flavor than western vinegar, Chinese rice vinegar is a key ingredient in several recipes, including sweet and sour and hot and sour dishes, and is used as a dip.

    The three most common types of Chinese rice vinegar are white, red, and black rice vinegar. Of the three, white rice vinegar (also simply called rice vinegar) is the easiest to find, and frequently available in major supermarkets....MORE Balsamic vinegar makes an acceptable substitute for black rice vinegar if needed.

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  • 05 of 09

    Oyster Sauce

    Made from oyster extract and spices (and frequently thickened with cornstarch and with caramel added for color), oyster sauce is used to enhance existing flavors and add a darker color to dishes. A vegetarian version of oyster sauce, made from mushrooms, is also available.

  • 06 of 09

    Asian Sesame Oil

    All it takes is a small amount of this dark colored oil, made from pressed and toasted sesame seeds, to add flavor to marinades, dips, and cooked dishes. Sesame oil is generally not used as a cooking oil, both because of its strong flavor and its relatively low smoke point compared to other oils such as peanut oil.

    These recipes show how sesame oil is used to lend flavor in marinades, dips, and to add the finishing touches to a dish.

  • 07 of 09

    Chili Paste/Sauce

    Made from chili peppers and salt, with garlic and other seasonings, a dash of chili paste is all that is needed to add heat to dishes. 

  • 08 of 09

    Chili Bean Sauce

    Not to be confused with regular chili paste or sauce, this thick, spicy paste is made with chilis, fermented soybeans and often fermented broad beans and a variety of seasonings.

    • Stir-Fry Prawns with Hot Sauce
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  • 09 of 09

    Plum Sauce

    While in the West it’s known mainly as a dip, in China this jam-like sauce with a sweet and sour flavor is also used in cooking. In any event, you’ll want to keep a jar on hand, or you can make your own plum sauce.