Anyone who loves Asian cooking will have a stash of Ponzu somewhere in their cupboards. Ponzu is a citrus-based sauce used in Asian cooking and it especially goes great with sashimi, grilled fish, steamed chicken, and vegetables.
Ponzu is a great and versatile sauce, but not very well-known outside of Japan. Most supermarkets these days stock Ponzu, but in smaller shops, you might struggle to find it.
Luckily, there are a ton of great ways to substitute Ponzu sauce if you run out or just can’t get your hands on it!
So, what is the best substitute for Ponzu sauce? The best substitute for Ponzu sauce is anything that is similar in flavor and consistency. Ponzu has a tart and citrus-like flavor, so you can even combine some ingredients to mimic these. Soy sauce, Mentsuyu, and Worcestershire sauce are all great ingredients to substitute the umami flavors. And of course, citrus juice (like lemon, lime, or orange), substitutes the floral citrus notes.
But before getting down to our favorite Ponzu substitutes, today, we will have a look at exactly what it is, what Ponzu is made from, and how to choose the best possible substitute.
Then, we will dive deep into the many substitutes and even how to make and use them.s
What Is Ponzu?
Ponzu is an incredibly flavorful Japanese citrus sauce that has now become so popular you can find it across the entire world in your local supermarket or Asian grocer!
This citrus sauce has a very thin and watery consistency and has a very light brown color (almost golden, but very transparent) – almost like watered-down soy sauce!
This sauce is usually made with a combination of citrus juice, soy sauce, sugar, and dashi. There are sometimes other ingredients in the mix like mirin or vinegar.
The most common citrus fruits used to make ponzu includes yuzu, sudachi, or kabosu.
Overall, the flavor very closely resembles that of a vinaigrette – lightly tangy and tart but filled with delicious citrus flavors.
The word “ponzu” originally came from the Dutch word, “pons” which means punch. The “zu” part was added once vinegar came into the equation, ultimately referring to this sauce as a fruit juice vinegar.
How Ponzu Is Made
Ponzu is actually very easy to make and can even be made at home! Usually, rice vinegar, mirin, tuna flakes (katsuobushi flakes), and seaweed (kombu) are simmered together over medium heat.
This allows the flavors to blend seamlessly without overcooking them.
Then, the mixture is completely cooled and strained through a fine filter to remove any flakes and particles.
Only then is the citrus juice added. Like we have mentioned, usually, Asian citrus varietals are used like yuzu, daidai, kabosu, or sudachi. You can also use lemon juice or lime juice.
This sauce, as with most dressings, has to be stored in a glass bottle to prevent anything from altering the flavor or color.
How Is Ponzu Used In Cooking?
Traditionally, Ponzu is used as a dressing for tataki. Tataki isn’t a dish, but rather a way to prepare fish and meat in Japanese cuisine.
This method includes lightly grilling the piece of meat on the outside while keeping the inside raw. After the meat has been cooked, it is then often sliced or chopped.
Another traditional use for Ponzu is that it is used as a dip for dishes like shabu-shabu, a type of Japanese hot pot dish. It is even sometimes used as a dip for sashimi which is sliced raw fish.
Today, especially in non-Asian countries, this sauce has adopted a wide range of uses and is quite versatile! Most often people use it as a marinade, a dip, or a basting sauce.
As a marinade, the acidity of the sauce (from the citrus juice and vinegar) helps it tenderize meat proteins and infuse flavor.
Then, accompanied by the sweet and floral citrus notes, you get an overall well-balanced marinade, especially when paired with fish!
As a dipping sauce, it can either be used as-is (like soy sauce) or it can be used in a recipe as an ingredient. Using it as is, it makes a fantastic dipping sauce for dumplings, sashimi, or even spring rolls!
It can also be incorporated into many recipes, but we would recommend only adding it at the end of a recipe. This will allow it to develop enough flavor without overcooking the sauce.
Even just 1 tablespoon packs a punch and will add an entirely different flavor profile to your dish!
We absolutely love adding it to stir-fry or to make a simple salad dressing!
Different Types Of Ponzu
As with virtually any and all products, over the years different types have developed, each having its own unique flavor profile and even uses.
It isn’t too important to know exactly which type you are using unless you want an exact substitute. There are 6 main types of Ponzu:
“Ponzu sauce” is the original type of Ponzu that was made. It only consists of brewed vinegar and citrus juice – a simple sauce that is still packed with immense flavor!
This sauce has a very light yellow, almost golden color because it doesn’t contain any soy sauce. The color usually comes from citrus juice. You will see that Ponzu sauces that contain soy sauces are naturally darker in color.
Original Ponzu sauce has a very mild and less intense flavor compared to others. It has strong citrus notes and pairs extremely well with pork and fish dishes.
Raw Ponzu Sauce
This lesser-known type is actually one of our favorites, but, it is very hard to find. This gem of a sauce is made from the freshest possible ingredients – literally.
This raw sauce is made using freshly squeezed citrus juice that has been frozen within 4 hours to preserve the maximum amount of flavor.
We aren’t exactly sure why or how this method came about, but regardless, its flavor is absolutely amazing. There aren’t specific ingredients used for this type as it focuses more on the freshness of the citrus juice than anything else.
Ponzu Soy Sauce
This is arguably the most common and popular type of Ponzu sauce. This sauce has a lot more complex flavors and usually contains vinegar, citrus juice, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and other flavoring spices.
What makes this specific type versatile on its own is its many different flavors. It’s like an open canvas and manufacturers play around with spices and flavored ingredients (like the vinegar) a lot.
The trick to this type of sauce is creating an overall balanced flavor profile.
Naturally, this Ponzu sauce has a darker color because it contains soy sauce. This sauce goes amazingly well as is with grilled fish, meats, and even vegetables. Using it in a recipe can be difficult because it already contains so many flavors.
Kombu Ponzu Sauce
The name says it all: Ponzu sauce that contains kombu dashi! Kombu dashi is a type of Japanese stock made from kelp (kombu seaweed). It also has added soy sauce giving it an overall extreme umami flavor profile and dark color.
Despite having complex flavors, it is still a very refreshing sauce thanks to the citrus juice. This sauce specifically makes a fantastic ingredient to use in recipes, stir-fry, or to make salad dressings.
Yuzu Ponzu Sauce
This Ponzu sauce has been made using yuzu citrus specifically. This is a type of Japanese lemon with extremely complex and floral flavors. It is tart with notes of grapefruits and mandarin oranges.
Depending on the manufacturer, some versions of this sauce contain kombu dashi (kelp stock) or bonito soup (a type of fish stock).
Sesame Ponzu Sauce
The final type of Ponzu contains sesame pasta and sometimes even ground sesames. These sesames are usually added to either Yuzu Ponzu sauces or Ponzu soy sauce.
The toasted sesame seeds add some nuttiness to the flavor profile which makes great dipping sauces.
How To Substitute Ponzu
Substituting Ponzu is fairly easy depending on what you’re using it for. The best substitute for Ponzu is simply to make your own, but we don’t always have the time, right!
Decide exactly what function you want to substitute. Do you want something with a similar flavor, a similar color, or to help tenderize food? Making this crucial decision first will save you a lot of time in choosing a substitute.
If you are trying to substitute flavor, you will have to look at the flavor profile of the original ponzu sauce you wanted to use.
For example, if it is a sesame Ponzu sauce, naturally, you will have to find something similar with sesame seeds or simply add some to another substitute.
If you are wanting to substitute the color, then you can either water down some soy sauce or use another sauce (or stock or broth) with a similar color.
And, if you are looking to create a marinade using ponzu, you will have to choose a substitute that has a high enough acidity level to do so or adjust a recipe by adding some more.
The 9 Best Substitutes For Ponzu
So, let’s take a look at the best substitutes for Ponzu sauce. We have naturally included a homemade recipe, however, we also have a ton of quick and easy substitutes you will love!
1. Homemade Ponzu Sauce
Homemade Ponzu sauce is the closest you are going to get to the real deal! The ingredients, however, might be hard to find depending on where you live. On the plus side, even those ingredients have substitutes!
Your best bet at finding these ingredients is a local Asian grocer, or a specialty shop, and even a health shop. You can also try finding them online.
- 45 ml (3 tablespoons) of rice vinegar
- 45 ml (3 tablespoons) of mirin
- 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of soy sauce
- 30 ml (2 tablespoons) bonito flakes
- 62.5 ml (1/4 cup) of lemon juice or yuzu juice
- In a small pot, combine all of the ingredients together except for the citrus juice. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.
- Once the mixture has boiled, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool completely.
- Strain the mixture and whisk in the lemon juice. Place the homemade ponzu sauce in a glass jug and keep it inside the fridge for up to 3 days.
2. Soy Sauce And Lemon Juice
A combination of soy sauce and lemon juice is truly an extremely quick and easy substitute, especially for soy-sauce based ponzu sauces. It has a very similar flavor profile, consistency, and color.
And, because you are specifically adding lemon juice, it gives your substitute the acidity it needs to still help tenderize meats.
To make this substitute, simply combine 4 parts soy sauce with 1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice. You can add more lemon juice if you want to, or even lime juice.
Whisk the ingredients together and use the amount called for in the recipe.
3. Soy Sauce And vinegar
Both of these ingredients will most likely already be in your pantry, making this a fantastic easy substitution. And what is great about this one is that you can play around with different types of vinegar to change the flavor profile as well!
This substitution will give you the color that you need as well as the acidity. One thing to note is that it doesn’t have any citrus juice.
So, this substitute can either be used with recipes that already contain some, or you can simply add any citrus you’d like.
To make this substitute, use 3 parts soy sauce and 1 part vinegar – as easy as that!
4. Soy Sauce And Orange Juice
While orange juice isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Ponzu, in a pinch it definitely works. While it adds the citrus flavor profile, it doesn’t have any acidity.
So, if you want to make a marinade, you will have to add some acidity to the mi, however, without any, it makes a fantastic dipping sauce or addition to a dressing.
For this substitute, combine 4 tablespoons (60ml) of soy sauce (preferable a low-sodium one) with 4 teaspoons (20ml) of orange juice.
5. Mentsuyu And Lemon
Mentsuyu is another type of Japanese soup base that is extremely popular. It is made from a combination of soy sauce, sugar, mirin, dashi, and salt – as you can see, virtually the same ingredients Ponzu is made from.
The addition of lemon to the mix is merely to help add some acidity that Ponzu has. This substitution will have a fantastically sweet, salty, and tart flavor profile.
You can buy Mentsuyu at your local Asian grocery store or online. It saves you a ton of time having to make a substitution from scratch and can also be used for other recipes.
You can use 4 parts Mentsuyu with 1 part lemon juice (or even another type of citrus juice).
6. Mentsuyu And Fruit Vinegar
Okay, so this substitution is more for when you actually have or found Mentsuyu, but doesn’t have any citrus fruit – or maybe you simply want to experiment a bit!
There are a ton of different fruit vinegar on the market that can make your Ponzu very interesting.
We always love a good apple, apricot, grape, or raspberry vinegar. All of these have the necessary acidity, but a slightly different flavor profile.
You can play around with the ratios as well, but to start using 4 parts Mentsuyu with 1 part fruit vinegar.
7. Worcestershire Sauce
If you are looking for a Ponzu-marinade substitute specifically, then Worcestershire sauce alone can do the trick.
It contains tamarind and anchovies which help substitute the flavors of the bonito flakes and citrus juice.
The biggest downside to this substitute is that Worcestershire sauce also contains additional spices which you may not want to include in your recipe.
But, in our opinion, this is a great time to then experiment and practice your recipe development skills.
8. Mentsuyu And Vinegar
Fruit vinegar is not the only vinegar you can use with Mentsuyu. Regular vinegar also works great, although it tends to have a more pungent flavor which is great for tenderizing meats.
Make sure to use good quality vinegar or add a little bit of sugar if your vinegar is very tart.
Mix together 4 parts of Mentsuyu with 1 part vinegar. To slightly tone down the pungent kick, a little bit of sugar or honey can be added, or a splash of water to slightly dilute the sauce.
9. Nam Prik Pla
Nam prik pla is an essential traditional dipping sauce in Thai Cuisine. It’s a perfect balance of sour, salty, sweet, and spicy, much like Ponzu sauce. But yes, the spiciness of this sauce may be the reason you cannot use it.
However, look at the recipe you are using Ponzu in. If there are chilies or wasabi included, simply remove them and use this sauce instead. It will also substitute the spiciness.
While this is definitely an easy sauce to find, you can also make your own at home.
- 2 garlic cloves, crushes
- 3 bird’s eye chilies, sliced
- 75 ml (5 tbsp) fish sauce
- 90 ml (6 tbsp) lemon or lime juice
- 30 ml (2tbsp) sugar
- Combine all the ingredients together.
- Allow the sauce to infuse for a day or two and strain the sauce before using it in your recipes.
Now that we’ve gone over the best substitutes for Ponzu, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Should Ponzu sauce be reduced over heat?
No, Ponzu sauce can be used just like soy sauce to finish a dish or used as a dipping sauce. There is no need to heat the sauce unless you want a thicker consistency, then heat is needed to reduce the Ponzu sauce.
Is Ponzu sauce gluten-free?
Ponzu sauce is tree nut and gluten-free; it however does contain soy, which many people have allergies to. You should always check the ingredient list on the packaging to ensure it doesn’t contain any other common allergens.
How long can you keep Ponzu sauce?
If you are making Ponzu sauce from scratch we wouldn’t recommend keeping it inside your fridge for longer than 1 week. However, if you are buying some from the store you can check the “best by” date.