Oyster Sauce Vs Hoisin Sauce – What’s The Difference?

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If you have an interest in Chinese cuisine, it is important to know about the different sauces used and where to use which one.

After all, Chinese sauces have a huge impact on the end result. Because of this, it becomes necessary to rule out any confusion.

So, what is the difference between oyster sauce and Hoisin sauce? Hoisin sauce is sweeter than oyster sauce. It’s also a vegan option whereas oyster sauce is not. Oyster sauce has a mild flavor of fish which isn’t seen in Hoisin sauce. 

However, if you wish to make a scrumptious Chinese meal with either oyster sauce or Hoisin sauce, you need to know these differences in depth.

Let us help you with it! In this guide, we will be covering oyster sauce vs Hoisin sauce. So, read on to find out.

What Is Oyster Sauce? 

Oyster sauce is one of the most important sauces in Chinese cuisine. As the name suggests, this sauce is made out of oyster extracts. 

The oyster extracts are first caramelized and boiled down. Then, other ingredients such as salt and sugar are added. Some brands may even add soy sauce and corn starch to the sauce for a slightly thicker consistency. 

The surprising element is that oyster sauce doesn’t taste have the overpowering ‘fish’ taste as you would expect.

Instead, it is more on the sweet, earthy, and slightly salty side. It’s also almost black or dark brown in color with a thick consistency. 

However, an oyster sauce may taste and smell extremely fish if you buy it from cheap brands. Instead, go for high-quality oyster sauce

Today, people use it mainly for Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisines. 

What Is Hoisin Sauce? 

On the other hand, Hoisin sauce is entirely vegan in nature. This sauce is also common in Chinese cuisines, especially for vegans. It is made up of fermented soybeans. 

First, the soybean is turned into a paste with wheat flour. Some other ingredients such as vinegar, oil, garlic, salt, sweeteners, and many more are also used in the Hoisin sauce production. 

The Hoisin sauce has an ‘Umami’ taste due to the fermented soybeans. It’s also very salty and slightly sweet in taste. When it comes to the color and texture, Hoisin sauce is reddish-brown with a thick consistency. 

Today, people mainly use it for Cantonese cuisine. 

Now, you may think that both the oyster and Hoisin sauces sound similar. So, what’s the big difference between them? Well, let’s clear out this confusion. 

Differences Between Oyster And Hoisin Sauce 

If you take some time out to notice and taste both oyster and Hoisin sauce, you may come across the below-mentioned differences. 

Ingredients Used

One of the major differences between both oyster and Hoisin sauce is the ingredients used. Oyster sauce is a non-vegetarian sauce whereas Hoisin sauce is completely vegan.

Hoisin Sauce: 

Hoisin sauce is a suitable option for vegans as it contains animal-free and dairy-free ingredients like:

  • Fermented soybean paste
  • Sesame seeds
  • Chili and garlic
  • Spices 
  • Preservatives like vinegar, sugar, and salt
  • Starch
  • Water

Oyster Sauce: 

Contrarily, oyster sauce is made up of animal products. It mainly contains ingredients like: 

  • Oyster extract
  • Water
  • Preservatives like sugar and salt
  • Starch 
  • Extra thickeners and flavors 

Keep in mind that the ingredients may vary depending on the brand that you are using. 

Hence, you can choose either of the two as per your meal plan. If it is vegan-based, Hoisin sauce is the one you should be looking for! 

Taste And Texture

It is imperative to know the difference in the taste and texture of these sauces to know where to use them. 

Now, both the oyster and Hoisin sauce have one thing in common, both being sweet and salty in nature. They also have a specific ‘Umami’ flavor to them. Yet, there is a difference here. 

Hoisin Sauce: 

You can consider the Hoisin sauce as a richer version of an American-type barbeque sauce.

This is because Hoisin sauce has a sweeter profile with some saltiness and spiciness. The salt content is still less in comparison to sauces like soy sauce.

When it comes to consistency, Hoisin sauce is thicker in texture due to the addition of starches and other thickeners.

Oyster Sauce: 

On the other hand, if we talk about the oyster sauce, then the sweet taste isn’t as dominating as in Hoisin sauce. Instead, you will find that oyster sauce has a slight flavor of fish that is absent in Hoisin sauce. 

Oyster sauce is also thick in consistency due to the addition of starches and thickeners. But, in comparison to Hoisin sauce, it is slightly less thick. 


There are some differences in the smell of both oyster sauce and Hoisin sauce because of the variation in ingredients

Hoisin Sauce: 

Hoisin sauce is on the sweeter side. Hence, the dominating odor profile is also sweet. As it doesn’t contain any non-vegetarian ingredients, like fish or oyster extract, there’s no fish-like smell. 

Instead, you will find a sweet and fruity flavor mainly due to the fermentation of soybeans and the addition of other ingredients. Keep in mind that if you notice a very pungent, strong, and sour odor, the Hoisin sauce may have gone stale. 

Oyster Sauce: 

As oyster sauce contains oyster extracts, you will find that it has a mild odor of fish/seafood. Due to the presence of other ingredients, it also has a slightly sweet and pungent odor. 

The good thing is that you can use it straight from the bottle or jar, unlike other similar sauces with strong odors, like Fish sauce. 

Usage Of Sauces 

If you are planning to use either oyster sauce or Hoisin sauce, it is imperative to know where to use them. As both of them have separate flavor profiles, their uses may differ. 

Hoisin Sauce: 

Hoisin sauce is one of the widely-used sauces in Southern China and some parts of Northern China too. Hence, its flavor dominates many dishes of Chinese and Cantonese cuisine. 

For instance, Hoisin adds a sweet flavor to dishes like stir fry and noodles. It’s also the main ingredient in Hoisin mayo or vinaigrette. 

But, one of the most popular uses of Hoisin sauce is as a dip. So, you can use it with dumplings, spring rolls, and duck pancakes. 

Hoisin sauce is also popular for its glaze effect. Hence, it can add a beautiful shine (or glaze) to dishes made up of chicken, duck, beef, or even vegetables. You just need to brush it slightly on your dish to get that glaze!

Note that Hoisin sauce has a very overpowering flavor. You need to use it in smaller quantities or dilute the strong taste using oil or water. 

Oyster Sauce:

The oyster sauce also has a similar use as Hoisin sauce. But, here, the dishes will taste less sweet and have a slight taste of oysters too

Oyster sauce is the main sauce used in the case of stir-fry vegetables as well as noodles, like Sichuan noodles or Chow Mein. It is because this sauce adds a unique flavor and even an appealing dark brown color to the stir-fry. 

Just like Hoisin sauce, the oyster sauce also provides a lovely glaze to food items. You can brush it on top of beef, mushrooms, or even vegetables, like broccoli. 

You can also use it with dishes like Pad Thai and Kung Pao Shrimp. 

Shelf Life And Storage  

There are some differences in the shelf life and storage of both oyster sauce and Hoisin sauce as given below: 

Hoisin Sauce: 

If you are planning to buy Hoisin sauce, you can expect it to last for about 12-18 months if you have opened the seal. 

On the other hand, if you haven’t opened the seal yet, you can expect it to last for around three years or more. After that, you may notice some slight changes in the flavor and odor of the sauce. 

Please keep in mind that you need to store Hoisin sauce properly if you want it to last for long. If you don’t, it may develop mold and become stale. 

If you want to store the Hoisin sauce, you need to refrigerate it at all times. Also, make sure that you put the lid on tightly. 

Oyster Sauce:

Oyster sauce doesn’t last as long as Hoisin sauce. If you have opened the seal, you can expect it to last for around six months to one year. After that, it may lose its flavor and freshness. 

If you haven’t opened the seal, you can expect it to last for around 18-24 months

Just like Hoisin sauce, you need to store the oyster sauce in the refrigerator too with a proper lid. If you haven’t opened the seal, you can keep it in a cool place and away from any heating appliances. 


The oyster sauce and Hoisin sauce consist of varying ingredients. This causes a difference in their nutritional value as given below: 

Hoisin Sauce: 

Hoisin sauce contains a lot of sodium due to the presence of salt. It is near about 400 mg of sodium for one serving (around two tablespoons). 

Apart from sodium, Hoisin sauce also contains a lot of sugar due to its sweet taste. It’s also not good for people who avoid foods with high sugar. Moreover, there’s very little protein (around 1 g) and fat in Hoisin sauce. 

Note that the nutritional values vary depending on the brand. 

Oyster Sauce:

Oyster sauce is also low in nutrients. It has a high amount of sodium due to preservatives. Additionally, it is also more than Hoisin as it is around 490 mg in just one tablespoon! 

So, make sure that you balance the sodium content out if you plan to use oyster sauce more frequently. 

Oyster sauce isn’t very sweet and hence, has a reduced amount of sugar. It also doesn’t contain enough protein (around 0.24 g) and fats required for a healthy diet. 

You can use oyster sauce while dieting as it has a reduced amount of sugars and fats.

Which Is Better? 

Both oyster sauce and Hoisin sauce have their own flavor and benefits. Hence, it depends on your requirements. 

You can go for oyster sauce if: 

  • You want a salty flavor with a mild taste of the oyster. 
  • You’re planning to prepare stir-fry vegetables, noodles, beef, etc. 
  • You want a sauce with less sugar content. 

On the other hand, Hoisin sauce is a better match if: 

  • You want a fully vegan option. 
  • You want a sweet flavor rather than salty. 
  • You want to use a dip for spring rolls, duck pancakes, etc.

Can You Substitute Hoisin Sauce For Oyster Sauce? 

The answer is yes, you can substitute Hoisin sauce for oyster sauce but with certain tweaks. 

Hoisin sauce has a sweeter taste in comparison to oyster sauce. Hence, it may make your dish a bit sweeter. If you don’t want it to be sweet, you may want to consider choosing some other substitute.

Moreover, if you like the mild taste of fish, you can take a Hoisin sauce and add some fish sauce to it. This may produce a taste similar to oyster sauce. 

If you want to go full vegan, consider adding both Hoisin sauce and soy sauce in a 1:1 ratio. The soy sauce can help in balancing out the sweetness of Hoisin sauce and giving you a similar substitute for oyster sauce. 

Similarly, if you want to substitute oyster sauce for Hoisin sauce, you need to balance the salt content. Just reduce the overall salt content of other ingredients and add some sugar for the sweetness. 

What Are Some Other Substitutes For Oyster Sauce Or Hoisin Sauce? 

You can use oyster sauce and Hoisin sauce interchangeably. However, there are also some other substitutes for them that you can use such as: 

For Oyster Sauce: 

  • Soy Sauce: This sauce has a salty taste instead of a sweet one. Hence, it is a great oyster sauce substitute. Make sure that you use less soy sauce than oyster sauce as it has more salt. 
  • Fish Sauce: Again, fish sauce isn’t sweet. It is also salty with no sweetness which makes it ideal as a substitute. You also get the mild flavor of fish as seen in oyster sauce. 
  • Sweet Soy Sauce: If you don’t mind sweetness, then you can go for a sweet soy sauce instead of oyster sauce. 
  • Black Bean Sauce: Black bean sauce has the perfect salty and savory taste as seen in oyster sauce. You can substitute it in the same amount as the oyster sauce. 

For Hoisin Sauce:

  • Miso Paste: You can try using a Miso paste to substitute Hoisin sauce. It also has a savory and sweet flavor. But, the sugar content is quite less here. 
  • BBQ Sauce: If you’re not looking for authentic and rich flavor, BBQ sauce can act as a substitute for Hoisin sauce too.
  • Black Bean Sauce: As black bean sauce has a great savory flavor, you can use it by adding some sugar to it. It will act as one of the best substitutes for Hoisin. 

Final Thoughts

Oyster sauce and Hoisin sauce have a unique flavor that is certainly a treat to your taste buds. However, the difficult part is choosing either one for your Chinese cuisine. 

Hopefully, with this guide, you will be able to be a better judge of which one suits your requirements more!

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