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What is Hoisin Sauce?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 16, 2024
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Hoisin sauce is a thick, dark Chinese sauce that is used as a dipping sauce or for glazing or marinating food. It is made with soybean paste, chilies and salt, and it might contain a combination of other ingredients, such as sugar, vinegar and garlic. This pungent sauce is sometimes referred to as Chinese barbecue sauce. Although it is not similar in flavor to common barbecue sauce, it can be used in much the same way.


The ingredients in hoisin sauce can vary, but its basic ingredients are always soybean paste, salt, a starch and various spices and sweeteners. Garlic, vinegar, sugar and chilies are common ingredients. A starch derived from wheat, rice or sweet potatoes helps thicken the sauce. Food coloring and other ingredients also might be included.


The taste of hoisin sauce is often described as sweet, salty, spicy and tangy. It is has a strong flavor, and some people might find the taste unpleasant. If the taste is too strong, it can be diluted with oil or water. People who are trying this sauce for the first time are advised to use a very small amount of it at first. Some people consider it to be an acquired taste.

Consistency and Appearance

Hoisin sauce usually is thick or somewhat creamy. The consistency often depends on the particular brand or recipe used. Some versions are more liquid, especially when the sauce has been watered down. This sauce is dark brown, sometimes with a reddish tint.


One of the most common uses of this sauce is as a condiment with the popular Chinese dish Peking duck, and it is sometimes referred to as Peking sauce. This sauce can be used as a glaze or marinade for meat, poultry, seafood or tofu. It also can be used as a dipping sauce for Asian foods such as spring rolls or egg rolls. This sauce can even be used in stir-fry recipes, mixed into soups or added to noodle dishes.

Buying or Making It

Hoisin sauce can be purchased from most grocery stores, but where traditional grocery stores do not carry it, Asian food markets usually will. It typically comes in jars, bottles or cans. Some people consider the best sauce to be imported directly from China or Hong Kong.

It also is possible to make hoisin sauce from scratch. Many recipes can be found online. The flavor can vary slightly depending on the recipe, so trying several recipes might be necessary to find one that is preferred. Someone who is familiar with the taste of this sauce also might be able to modify a recipe to his or her liking.


An unopened container of hoisin sauce can be kept on a shelf for quite a while. Every container, however, should indicate the date by which the sauce should be used. An opened container can be stored for an extended period of time if it is re-sealed and stored in a properly cooled refrigerator. The sauce also can be stored in a freezer if it is in an appropriate container.

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Discussion Comments

By anon280964 — On Jul 21, 2012

Products containing MSG very rarely state they contain Monosodium Glutamate.

By anon130029 — On Nov 26, 2010

Once a jar of hoisin sauce has been opened, how long will it stay good in the fridge?

By Laos — On Jul 30, 2010

to #2

A tablespoon of hoisin sauce has about 250mg of sodium. That's about 1/10 (or 10%) of your recommended daily allowance for sodium.

To put this in perspective, 250mg is about twice as much sodium as a tablespoon of barbecue sauce. Hoisin sauce, however, has about 1/3 the sodium in teriyaki sauce.

You should note, that many companies are now producing low-sodium versions of their sauces.

By anon67583 — On Feb 25, 2010

I love this stuff in my pho.

By anon43931 — On Sep 03, 2009

what can I use in place of hoisin sauce?

By anon43564 — On Aug 30, 2009

I just bought a big can of hoisin sauce. I put some of it in the freezer about a week ago. Today I took it out to make some pho and I found that it did not freeze in the freezer at -17C. Is that normal?

By anon35020 — On Jul 01, 2009

I have been looking for years for a few typical Chinese recipes. When I say Chinese, I refer to American Chinese, particularly in the North East US. One is Chinese BBQ ribs. THey are always so flavorful all the way through and get such a nice crisp to them. I am not referring to the honey ribs. The BBQ/marinade is more of a combination of hoison and teroyaki (Japanese), because it is thinner than a tradiaitona; BBQ sauce. Any idea what the ingredients may be? Also, I am wondering how to make a flavorful Wonton soup stock? So many of the local Chinese restaurants are not good anymore, and there are tons of them, and I can't get a consistent good wonton soup anymore. Thanks!!

By anon33457 — On Jun 06, 2009

Does Hoisin sauce have any seafood ingredients in it? My whole family is allergic, deathly allergic, to seafoods and all seafood products, mostly shell fish. I would like to know before I purchase this.

Thank you, Sheila

By anon31935 — On May 13, 2009

I merely wonder, how can hoisin sauce have a very distinct taste when there are any number of available recipes and the best tasting pre-mades are from China? None of which have a standard salt content.

By anon31694 — On May 10, 2009

if MSG is in any foods it will be listed on the label, check and see is it includes "monosodium glutamate" - the full name of MSG.

By MatyPara — On Apr 14, 2009

I have had Hoi Sin (Seafood) sauce at Chinese Restaurants and I love it. I bought some myself and it tastes a lot different. It tastes a lot more pungent and strong and does not taste as nice. What can I add to it or how can I cook it so it tastes different?

By ted — On Jun 23, 2008

Some soy sauce has MSG. Is most Hoisin sauce MSg free?

By anon8493 — On Feb 14, 2008

5 spice powder or finely ground star anise can be added to enhance the flavor, especially if the flavor of licorice is desired.

Bottled hoisin can be thinned with vegetable oil if desired.

By anon8079 — On Feb 07, 2008

How much salt is in hoisin sauce?

By anon6380 — On Dec 27, 2007

hoisin sauce is great over beef before it is roasted - gives it a dark, sweet taste!

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