Whether I dine in or get takeout, when I have Chinese food from my local Chinese restaurant I absolutely must have sweet and sour sauce. I use it as a dipping sauce for my egg rolls (of course) as well as my crab rangoons.
I even sometimes drizzle a little of it in my soup. It’s also a great dip for pork or chicken or even for meatballs.
There are lots of different ways to make this sauce but the thing I love about this recipe is that most of the ingredients are pantry staples.
What is Sweet and Sour Sauce?
Sweet and sour sauce (or just sweet sour sauce or Chinese red sauce) is a condiment that is typically associated with Asian cuisine but is actually used in many global cuisines. It refers to any sauce that combines sweet flavors with a puckery acidic balance.
Is duck sauce the same thing as sweet and sour sauce? No, duck sauce is very sweet but with no “sour.” It is typically made with many fruit purees and juices including apricots, plums, peaches or pineapples.
Making this Sauce
Making this sauce took many tests. Some recipes use teriyaki sauce, others light brown sugar or even dark brown sugar and a variety of other ingredients to provide Asian flavors but a balance of sweet and puckery. It’s a challenging balance, for sure!
While I liked the flavor of molasses and brown sugar, those ingredients landed a very dark brown sauce that was slightly too sweet. My goal was to achieve a rosy hue without using natural food dye (usually beet juice) or artificial food coloring.
Commercial sweet and sour sauce uses a combo of light corn syrup and tomato paste, so we opted for ketchup. Tapioca starch is generally used as well, but most folks have cornstarch on hand and it results in a glossy dipping sauce.
What is in Sweet and Sour Sauce?
You are going to love that a lot of these ingredients you might already have on hand in your kitchen.
- White sugar – You can use light brown sugar or dark brown sugar, but white will result in the best hue (pink) and be the most traditional.
- Pineapple juice – Another sweetener for the sauce, it also gives s tropical flare.
- White vinegar – Swaps would include rice vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar.
- Ketchup- The base for the sauce and also what will give it color without having to use food coloring.
- Soy sauce – This adds more acidity and a blast of Asian flavors.
- Cornstarch – Used as thickener and also to give the sauce a velvety consistency. Arrowroot or tapioca can also be used to thicken. Or nothing at all, but it will be quite watery. I advise against using plain flour that can get grainy.
How to Make Sweet and Sour Sauce
Making this dipping sauce is literally as easy as one, two three!
- Whisk ingredients. Whisk together all of the ingredients except the cornstarch, the mixture will not completely blend until fully heated.
- Heat thoroughly. Continue to heat until small bubbles form, but be mindful to keep the heat at medium. This mixture is heavy with sugar and has the tendency to boil over easily. The sugar can also scald easily, so whisk frequently.
- Combine with cornstarch. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water, and then combine with the sauce and remove from the heat.
One thing to make sure you do when you’re making this recipe is to avoid adding cornstarch on its own. Instead, you’ll want to make a cornstarch slurry. Add a little cold water to the cornstarch and mix until you get the perfect consistency before combining it with the other ingredients.
How to use Sweet and Sour Sauce
This versatile sauce is used mostly as a dipping sauce in the States, but it can also be used as a marinade or as the star sauce on sweet and sour chicken or sweet and sour shrimp.
- Egg Rolls
- Potstickers (dumplings)
- Marinade for chicken, fish & seafood
- Dipping sauce for chicken fingers/chicken nuggets
- Dipping sauce for spring rolls
- Basting sauce for grilled shrimp or pork
- Dipping sauce for fried shrimp
- Basting or dipping sauce for pork ribs
- Toss on battered chicken, shrimp or pork
While you can obviously use this as an accompaniment to Chinese cuisine like a homemade stir fry, I like it with lots of other foods as well. It may even make some picky eaters more excited about meal time.
Next time you make chicken nuggets or pork chops try whipping up this easy recipe and serve a little bit on the side with your meal. Or you can slather your sweet and sour sauce on while you’re cooking a great recipe like sweet and sour chicken or even on veggies like bell peppers.
There are lots of ways to add variety to this homemade Chinese sauce. You can easily customize it to make your own tasty sauce.
- Use orange juice instead of pineapple.
- Add fresh ginger for additional flavor.
- Throw in some red pepper flakes for a little heat.
- Substitute maple syrup for some of the sugar.
- Use onion powder or garlic powder to punch up the flavor.
- Try adding some sambal oelek to spice it up.
- Throw a dash of light soy sauce in for a bit saltiness.
More Homemade Sauces
Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup and soy sauce over medium heat.
- Continue to heat until small bubbles form, whisking continually and until sugar dissolves and the ingredients have fully combined.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water, when blended, whisk into the sweet and sour sauce and then remove from heat.
- Serve hot or allow to cool fully before storing.
- If you tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings!