How many calories are in Chinese takeaway sweet and sour sauce?

Chinese takeout is a popular meal choice for many busy people looking for a quick and convenient dinner option. Sweet and sour sauce is a classic Chinese takeout sauce that adds a tasty mix of sweet and sour flavors to meat or veggies. But many health-conscious eaters wonder just how many extra calories this flavorful sauce contributes to their meal.

What is in sweet and sour sauce?

Sweet and sour sauce is typically made by combining ingredients like vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, ketchup, cornstarch, pineapple, bell peppers, onions, and garlic. The exact ingredients and amounts can vary between restaurants and ready-made sweet and sour sauce brands. But in general, the core ingredients are vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and cornstarch as a thickening agent.

The sugar content is what gives sweet and sour sauce its characteristic sweet flavor. Common types of sugar used include white sugar, brown sugar, honey, or high fructose corn syrup. The vinegar provides the sour tang. Soy sauce adds savory depth, while ketchup provides extra body and sweetness. Diced pineapple, bell peppers, onions, and garlic give the sauce color and texture.

Calories in sweet and sour sauce

The calorie content of sweet and sour sauce ultimately depends on the specific recipe used to make it. But most versions fall within a range of 50 to 150 calories per tablespoon. The calories come mainly from sugar, with smaller amounts from oil or other ingredients.

Here is the typical calorie range for 2 tablespoons of sweet and sour sauce from popular chain restaurants:

  • Panda Express – 60 calories
  • PF Chang’s – 100 calories
  • Applebee’s – 110 calories
  • Kung Pao chicken – 120 calories

As you can see, 2 tablespoons of sweet and sour sauce from large chains like Panda Express or PF Chang’s generally ranges between 60 to 120 calories. The calorie count increases the more sugar and oil is added during preparation.

Some ready-made bottled sweet and sour sauces have around 70 to 90 calories per 2-tablespoon serving on average. But specialized low-sugar or low-calorie bottled sauces may be lower, with around 50 calories per serving.

Calories per tablespoon

To determine the calories in just 1 tablespoon of sweet and sour sauce, simply divide the 2-tablespoon amount in half:

  • 1 tbsp Panda Express sweet and sour sauce – 30 calories
  • 1 tbsp PF Chang’s sweet and sour sauce – 50 calories
  • 1 tbsp Applebee’s sweet and sour sauce – 55 calories
  • 1 tbsp Kung Pao chicken sweet and sour sauce – 60 calories

As a general guideline, most sweet and sour sauces contain around 30 to 60 calories per single tablespoon. Watch out for specialty sauces made with extra sugar, which may climb closer to 70-80 calories per tablespoon.

Factors that affect calorie count

Several factors impact the number of calories in prepared sweet and sour sauce:

Sugar content

Sweet and sour sauce gets a large portion of its calories from added sugar. Using generous amounts of white sugar, corn syrup, honey, or other natural/artificial sweeteners boosts the calorie count. Some lower-calorie brands replace sugar with artificial zero-calorie sweeteners.


Many sweet and sour sauce recipes call for vegetable oil, which provides around 120 calories per tablespoon. Using less oil or switching to a spray oil can reduce the calorie density.

Thickening agents

Cornstarch and other thickeners are used to give sweet and sour sauce a thicker, saucier texture. Although cornstarch only has about 4 calories per tablespoon, using large amounts adds up. Other possible thickeners like flour or tapioca starch also raise calories slightly.

Fruits and vegetables

Ingredients like pineapple, bell peppers, onions, and garlic add fiber, vitamins, and bulk nutrition to sweet and sour sauce. But they do not significantly increase calories. In fact, they may help displace some higher-calorie ingredients.

Portion size

Obviously, consuming a larger portion of sweet and sour sauce increases the total calorie intake. Sticking to smaller, 2-3 tablespoon portions helps keep calories under control. Asking for sauce on the side allows you to measure portions.

Ways to reduce calories in sweet and sour sauce

Here are some tips for lowering the calorie count if you want to enjoy sweet and sour sauce with your Chinese food:

– Order sauce on the side and use a small dipping amount rather than pouring it directly on your meal.

– Ask for low-sugar or low-calorie sauce options at restaurants.

– Flavor your stir-fries and other foods with vinegar for tanginess rather than sweet and sour sauce.

– Make homemade sweet and sour sauce with less oil, sugar substitute, and more veggies.

– Opt for dishes paired with lighter sauce alternatives like garlic sauce, chili sauce, or soy sauce.

– Balance your meal with non-saucy veggie sides like steamed broccoli, brown rice, or salad.

Nutrition details

Beyond calories, here is how a typical 2-tablespoon serving of sweet and sour sauce stacks up nutritionally:

Total fat: Around 2 grams

Saturated fat: 0.5 grams

Carbohydrates: 10-15 grams

Sugar: 8-12 grams

Sodium: Around 350mg

Protein: 1 gram

As you can see, sweet and sour sauce derives most of its calories from sugar and contains little protein. It also provides a sizable portion of the daily recommended limit for added sugars and sodium per serving.

On the bright side, sweet and sour sauce incorporates veggies like pineapple, onions, and red bell peppers, which contribute some beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, the vegetable content is still relatively low compared to stir-fried dishes filled with broccoli, carrots, bok choy, etc.

Healthier homemade sweet and sour sauce

To create a fresher, less processed sweet and sour sauce at home, try this recipe:


  • 1⁄4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons sugar or honey
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1⁄4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1⁄2 cup diced pineapple
  • 1⁄2 cup julienned carrots
  • 1⁄2 cup julienned red bell pepper
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar/honey, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and cornstarch until smooth.
  2. Pour the pineapple juice into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in the sauce mixture. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the diced pineapple, carrots, bell pepper, and green onion. Let cool to room temperature before serving.
  4. Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

This homemade version saves calories by using less oil and sugar. It also incorporates more veggies for nutrients. Make it your new go-to topping for stir-fries, chicken, shrimp, tofu, rice bowls, and more.


Sweet and sour sauce can add lots of flavor to takeout dishes. But the classic Chinese sauce does come with a calorie cost, mainly from sugar. A 2-tablespoon serving of sweet and sour sauce from large chains or bottles typically provides between 60 and 120 calories. The exact amount depends on factors like sugar content, oil, and portion size. To lighten your meal, request sauce on the side, opt for lower-calorie preparations, balance with non-sauced items, or make a healthier version at home with less added sugar and oil. With some adjustments, you can still enjoy the sweet, tangy zip of sweet and sour sauce without overdoing the calories.

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