Pad Thai is a very popular stir fry dish, served traditionally as street food in Thailand. Thai restaurants across the globe have made this versatile dish the signature dish of their cultural cuisine.
Pad Thai is a relatively simple dish to recreate at home if your favorite restaurant is unavailable to you.
Rice noodles, tossed with stirfried vegetables and protein of your choice make up the foundation of the dish, but what really sets it apart is the sauce. Pad Thai sauce is a surprisingly satisfying combination of sweet, savory and tangy.
So what makes for the best pad Thai sauce? The best pad Thai sauce is a perfect blend of sweet, savory, and tangy. It will be the perfect complement to any vegetables and meats you prefer to add to your stir fry and be satisfyingly flavorful without overpowering the other flavors of your dish.
In this article, we’ll offer more details about pad Thai sauce and what else you should expect from a great sauce. We’ll also share 7 of our favorite pad Thai sauces available on the market today!
What Is Pad Thai?
Pad Thai is one of the most recognizable, signature dishes to come from Thailand and make its way into homes across the entire globe. It is easily customizable and has something for everyone.
As a traditional rice noodle dish, it’s prepared with stir-fried vegetables and protein of your preference perfectly coated in a sweet, salty, and tangy pad Thai sauce.
One of the most common protein options in pad Thai is shrimp, which complements and emphasizes the fish and/or oyster sauce flavor from the sauce.
If you’re not a fan of fishy flavors, there are vegetarian or vegan sauce options available that pair well with other types of protein, such as chicken or tofu.
Pad Thai Sauce Ingredients
Traditional pad Thai sauce has tamarind as the signature ingredient. Tamarind has a uniquely complex flavor that is very popular in South East Asian cooking.
Depending on how it is prepared, tamarind can be both sweet and sour, with tart and tangy undertones.
Authentic pad Thai sauce enhances the standout flavor of tamarind with fish sauce, oyster sauce and brown sugar.
What Makes Pad Thai Sauce Red?
Not all pad Thai has a red hue to it, but many dishes that are served in restaurants are. Some pre-made pad Thai sauces are also red or orange in color.
What is responsible for the red color and is it less authentic if your pad Thai isn’t red?
A lot of classic, streetfood pad Thai chefs use shrimp tomalley in their recipes, which are shrimp heads. Not only do they add to the fishy flavor of the dish, but they also give off an orange-red tint to the food.
Shrimp heads aren’t as popular or commonly used in North America, but some chefs will use paprika or even ketchup to imitate the red color in their pad Thai sauce.
Pad Thai Sauce Without Tamarind
Though tamarind is what traditionally makes pad Thai the flavorful, creative dish it is, it isn’t always easy to find tamarind in grocery stores or supermarkets.
If you’re trying to make pad Thai sauce at home and you don’t have or can’t use tamarind for any reason, a surprisingly effective substitute is ketchup. The preparation of tomatoes brings a sweet and savory base to your sauce.
It won’t be an exact flavor match, but if you add a bit of rice vinegar for some extra tang, it will be very close.
Vegan Pad Thai Sauce
If you’re plant-based, allergic to seafood, or trying to avoid fish and/or oyster sauce for any other reason, you can make vegan pad thai sauce with a few simple swaps.
What Does Pad Thai Sauce Taste Like?
Pad Thai as a street food served in Thailand will have distinctly fishy flavors, brimming with prawns used as protein and oyster sauce and fish sauce both in the sauce. Of course, the tang of tamarind will also shine through.
Pad Thai sauce that you might find from some of the more generic mass-market brands in North America will focus more on the sweet and salty flavors and less on the unique, standout flavors of fish and tamarind.
Most North American Thai restaurants will have a version that respects the authenticity of the dish while also catering to Americans’ sweeter, saltier taste preferences.
7 Best Pad Thai Sauces to Buy
If you’re looking for a meal that is full of flavor and incredibly satisfying, we have a selection of the 7 best pad Thai sauces to buy so that you can create this signature meal in the comfort of your own home kitchen.
|Thai Kitchen Store Gluten-Free Pad Thai
|Lightly fishy, tamarind-rich
|A Taste of Thai Pad Thai Sauce
|Vegan, mild, no fishy flavors
|Watcharee's Pad Thai Sauce
|Vegan, bold, garlic and shallot, chili pepper
|Simply Organic Pad Thai Simmer Sauce
|Vegan, no tamarind, sweet, salty, and tangy
|Annie Chun's Pad Thai Sauce
|Gluten-free, touch of fish sauce
|Saffron Road Pad Thai Sauce
|Mild yet tangy and salty
|Por Kwan Pad Thai Sauce
|Fishy flavor with peanuts and mild spice
1. Thai Kitchen Gluten-Free Pad Thai Sauce
Thai Kitchen is a well-known brand in North America, beloved for its ability to make international cuisine easy to recreate in your own home.
This pad Thai sauce is a perfect blend of lightly fishy, tamarind-rich authentic flavor with just enough sweetness, umami richness, and ease of use to make pad Thai a very satisfying dinner option any day of the week.
- Our pick for the best pad Thai sauce overall
- Certified gluten-free
- Packaged in a glass jar
This is not the most authentic pad Thai sauce on our list, so if that’s what you’re searching for, you may want to skip down to Por Kwan.
This is the most popular choice for typical American palettes, but it can be overly sweet to some who are used to a more fishy flavor.
2. A Taste of Thai Pad Thai Sauce
If you enjoy international cuisine but hesitate when the ingredients list includes things like oyster sauce or fish sauce, this is the pad Thai sauce option for you.
It is vegetarian and vegan, free from all seafood, so you can enjoy the sweet, tangy, umami experience of pad Thai without the fishy undertones.
- Vegetarian and vegan
- Gluten-free, non-GMO, no preservatives, and trans-fat-free
- Available in a single resealable tub, 6 pack of 3.25 oz boxes, or a 6 pack of 9 oz boxes
This sauce is good for people who aren’t fans of overly strong flavors. This sauce is mild and can be underwhelming to those who are expecting a cacophony of rich, exotic flavors.
It’s more of a gentle introduction to pad Thai for sensitive palettes.
3. Watcharee’s Pad Thai Sauce
Watcharee is another completely vegan and vegetarian pad Thai sauce.
It has the bold flavor of tamarind but is offset by the umami flavors of shallots and garlic rather than fish sauce.
It also provides a bit of kick with some dried chili peppers to keep the flavor interesting.
- Best vegan pad Thai sauce
- Non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, and free from artificial flavors, preservatives, and colors
- Packaged in 13.3 oz glass jars
The flavor is Thai fusion, rather than authentic pad Thai. True Thai streetfood-style pad Thai is made with multiple seafood ingredients which are eliminated to create a vegan alternative.
It may not be true to tradition, but it is flavorful and a good option for anyone choosing plant-based.
4. Simply Organic Pad Thai Simmer Sauce
A quick look through the ingredients list will verify that this pad Thai simmer sauce is far from traditional.
Not only is it vegan and therefore lacking in the traditional fishy flavors, but it is also made without tamarind.
Even diverging so far from authentic recipes, the simmer sauce is packed with flavor that provides the sweet, salty, tangy and umami experience you expect from pad Thai.
- Best pad thai sauce without tamarind
- Organic, vegan, free from artificial flavors and preservatives
- Packaged in ready-made simmer sauce package
The biggest problem with this simmer sauce is the claim that one package will make 8 servings.
This is clearly designed to make the nutritional information look appealing because it’s highly unlikely that preparing pad Thai according to the instructions on this package would result in a satisfying 8 portions for the average person.
5. Annie Chun’s Pad Thai Sauce
Annie Chun makes a wide variety of delicious, simple Asian cuisine options.
If you’re already a fan of their ramen, noodle bowls, seaweed snacks, and more, it just makes sense to make this pad Thai sauce your next obsession.
The Annie Chun’s Amazon store can be a one-stop shop for sauce, rice, noodles, and anything else you may want to experiment with.
- Part of an entire family of Asian cuisine products
- Gluten-free, no high-fructose corn syrup
- Packaged in 9.7oz glass bottles, shipped as a 6-pack
Annie Chun has a ready-made pad Thai bowl that many people love, not only for the flavor but for the fact that it is seafood-free.
This sauce is not the same as what is used in the bowl and it does contain fish sauce. You should not try this sauce if you have a seafood allergy or are vegan.
6. Saffron Road Pad Thai Simmer Sauce
Saffron Road is a brand that consistently delivers world cuisine in easy to prepare at-home solutions.
They’re dedicated to products that are high-quality and make the flavors of international cuisine accessible in ready-made meals and simmer sauces.
This pad Thai sauce only takes a few minutes to develop a complete meal.
- Certified gluten-free, Halal, Kosher, and vegan, peanut-free and free from artificial flavors, preservatives, and colors
- Packaged in an 8-pack of 7oz simmer sauce packages
This sauce is mildly flavored and, though it does have a nice tang from the tamarind, it seems like the manufacturer tried to make up for the missing umami flavor of the fish ingredients by making it salty, which isn’t the same experience.
If you’re willing and inspired to add some dried mushrooms or a touch of miso, the flavor will develop nicely.
7. Por Kwan Pad Thai Sauce
Por Kwan provides the most authentic pad Thai sauce on our list despite having no tamarind.
It is full of fishy flavor and mild space, with plenty of complexity thanks to the addition of peanuts.
- Contains allergens like peanuts but is free from preservatives and artificial colors
- Packaged in an 8 oz glass jar, enough to make approximately 15 servings
This is more of a paste and requires extra moisture to turn it into a full sauce. However, this means you can include liquid tamarind if you want to make it slightly more traditional.
If you’re a new cook, this is not the pad Thai sauce for you, but if you’re adept at experimenting with a variety of Asian-style cuisine, you will love the challenge of this authentic sauce.
How Do You Make Traditional Pad Thai?
If you’re still on the fence about purchasing a pre-made sauce instead of making one yourself, we’ve still got your back.
We found a fantastic tutorial on the Food Network Channel on YouTube for making pad Thai the traditional way from chef Jet Tila, whose family established the first restaurant to serve pad Thai in America.
Are Pad Thai Noodles Gluten-Free?
Pad Thai is traditionally made with rice noodles which are naturally gluten-free.
This does not mean that all pad Thai recipes or preparations will be gluten-free, however, so if you’re not making the dish yourself, it’s important to ask specifically if the entire dish is gluten-free.
The sauce is often not gluten-free. Most pad Thai sauce uses both soy sauce and fish sauce, which both can contain wheat.
If you’re buying pre-made sauce, make sure to look for gluten-free certification.
Can You Make Pad Thai With Peanut Sauce?
Pad Thai is not traditionally made with peanut sauce, however, peanut is a very traditional flavor in Thai food, so even though it may not be exactly conventional, you can still make a pad Thai-like dish with peanut influences.
If you love the flavor of peanut sauce, our favorite peanut pad thai sauce is Mr. Spice’s Organic Thai Peanut Sauce.
Can You Freeze Pad Thai Sauce?
You can freeze pad Thai sauce, but if you’re buying store-bought, premade sauce, it’s best to follow the directions on the bottle for storage instead of freezing it.
Pad Thai sauce has high levels of salt and sugar, both of which help ensure a long life, so freezing is usually unnecessary.
If you’ve made a large batch of homemade sauce, you can consider freezing it, but certain ingredients can crystalize if they’re kept cold for too long, such as fish sauce.
When you’re ready to use the pad Thai sauce, you may want to reheat it by itself before adding it to your recipe to melt and reconstitute any crunchy elements that may have developed in the freezer.