Eel sauce is a sweet and savory sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It typically consists of ingredients like soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and starch. Eel sauce is most famously paired with grilled eel dishes like unagi, but it can also be used as a glaze or sauce for other foods like chicken, fish, and vegetables.
With its sweet taste and thick texture, many people wonder if eel sauce is high in calories and unhealthy to consume in large amounts. There are a lot of factors that determine the calorie content of eel sauce, so the answer depends on the specific recipe and ingredients used. In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at the typical calorie count and nutritional value of eel sauce to help you understand how it may fit into a balanced diet.
What is in eel sauce?
Eel sauce consists of just a handful of main ingredients that give it the signature sweet and umami flavor. Here are the most common components found in eel sauce recipes:
– Soy sauce: This provides saltiness, savoriness, and color. Japanese eel sauces typically use a soy sauce blend with added mirin and sugar.
– Mirin: Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine used for cooking. It gives eel sauce a honey-like sweetness.
– Sugar: White granulated sugar adds sweetness to balance out the other salty and umami flavors. The sugar helps thicken the sauce as well.
– Starch: Starch like corn starch, potato starch, or sweet rice flour helps thicken the sauce so it coats and glazes foods nicely.
– Dashi: Some recipes include dashi, a Japanese soup stock, to enhance the umami flavors. Dashi is made from ingredients like dried bonito flakes and kombu seaweed.
– Sake: A small amount of sake or rice wine is sometimes added.
– Water: Water helps thin out the sauce so it has a saucy brushable consistency.
So in summary, the main ingredients are a blend of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, starch, and sometimes dashi and sake. There are no particularly high-calorie ingredients used.
Calories in eel sauce
Since eel sauce recipes can vary, the number of calories per serving can range as well. However, most commercially made and homemade eel sauces contain around 50-150 calories per tablespoon (15 ml) serving.
Some general eel sauce nutrition facts per serving are:
– Total calories: 80 calories
– Total fat: 0g
– Sodium: 480mg
– Total carbs: 18g
– Sugars: 12g
– Protein: 1g
As you can see, a typical eel sauce contains minimal fat, sodium, protein, and calories. The majority of calories come from the sugar and carb content. There are about 12g total sugars in a serving, accounting for a good portion of the calories since sugars provide 4 calories per gram.
The calorie content can vary slightly higher or lower depending on specific brands. But most pre-made eel sauces you find in Asian grocery stores contain around 80-120 calories per serving on average.
Homemade eel sauce can also fall within the same range depending on ingredients used. Keeping the sugar content moderate will help keep homemade eel sauce lower in calories.
Eel sauce calories compared to other condiments
Compared to many other popular condiments and sauces, eel sauce is moderately low in calories:
– Ketchup: 80 calories per tablespoon
– Mayonnaise: 90 calories per tablespoon
– barbecue sauce: 60 calories per tablespoon
– Teriyaki sauce: 40 calories per tablespoon
– Eel sauce: 80 calories per tablespoon
Eel sauce has a similar calorie density to standard ketchup and only slightly higher than teriyaki sauce. It’s noticeably lower in calories than oil and mayo-based sauces. The calorie count of eel sauce is comparable to most moderately thick sauces.
Is eel sauce unhealthy?
Despite having a fair amount of sugar, eel sauce is not considered particularly unhealthy in moderation. Here are some reasons why:
– No fat or cholesterol: Unlike rich sauces, eel sauce has minimal fat, cholesterol, or protein. This makes it lower in calories than oil or cream-based sauces.
– Contains no artificial ingredients: Most commercial eel sauces contain very few additives or preservatives. The sauce gets its flavor from simple whole food ingredients.
– Low sodium: Eel sauce only provides about 10% of your daily recommended sodium intake per serving. Many sauces are much higher in sodium.
– Contains nutrients: Eel sauce provides a small amount of nutrients from its soy sauce, mirin, and dashi ingredients. This includes manganese, riboflavin, magnesium, and potassium.
– High satiety: The sweet flavor and thick texture promotes satisfaction and may prevent overeating. Studies show sweet flavors increase satiety hormones.
– No cholesterol: Cholesterol is only found in animal products. So eel sauce is cholesterol-free unlike dairy or meat-based sauces.
As with any sauce, portion control is key to keeping calorie intake reasonable. Drizzling a restrained 2-3 tablespoons of eel sauce can fit into a healthy meal plan for most people.
Is eel sauce keto or paleo diet friendly?
Eel sauce would not fit into low carb diets like the keto diet or paleo diet due to its high sugar content.
Here are the factors that make eel sauce unsuitable for keto or paleo diets:
– High in sugar: With around 12g net carbs and sugar per serving, eel sauce far exceeds the carb limits on very low carb diets. Keto limits carbs to 20-50g per day.
– Contains rice wine: Mirin rice wine contains starch and natural sugars that don’t fit into paleo or keto diets. Authentic eel sauce recipes rely on mirin for flavor.
– Thickened with starch: Eel sauce’s thick texture comes from starch. Keto and paleo avoid added starches.
– Lacks nutrients: While eel sauce contains a small amount of B vitamins, it does not offer much in the way of micronutrients or protein. Keto and paleo emphasize nutrient-density.
– Processed ingredients: Paleo avoids highly processed modern foods. Soy sauce and mirin require extensive processing that doesn’t align with the paleo philosophy.
People following keto or paleo diets can recreate eel sauce at home using low carb sweeteners and arrowroot starch. But traditional eel sauce made with sugar and mirin does not fit the macronutrient goals of these diets.
Is eel sauce Whole30 approved?
Eel sauce is not compliant with the Whole30 diet. Whole30 aims to eliminate inflammatory foods, additives, and sweeteners for 30 days. Here’s an overview of why eel sauce is not Whole30 approved:
– Added sugars: Whole30 prohibits added sugars like cane sugar, honey, and maple syrup. Eel sauce relies on sugar for its distinct sweet taste.
– Contains soy: Whole30 advises eliminating soy ingredients like soy sauce, miso, and tofu. Eel sauce is traditionally made using soy sauce.
– May contain additives: Some bottled eel sauces have preservatives, MSG, coloring, sulfites, or other additives banned on Whole30. Check labels carefully.
– Uses rice wine: Whole30 avoids all alcohol sources including sake and mirin. These rice wines are common in eel sauce.
– Thickened with starch: Added starches are not permitted on Whole30. Eel sauce’s thick texture requires starch.
– Processed food: Whole30 focuses on whole, unprocessed foods. As a mixed sauce product, eel sauce goes against the diet’s concept.
To make a Whole30 eel sauce alternative at home, you’d need to avoid mirin, sake, and soy sauce. Replacing the sugar and starch would also be necessary. Overall, traditional eel sauce made in Japan does not comply with the Whole30 guidelines.
How to reduce calories in eel sauce
If you’re looking to lighten up eel sauce, there are a few tweaks you can make to reduce the calorie density:
– Use reduced sodium soy sauce: Selecting a low sodium soy sauce cuts back on sodium while providing the same savory flavor.
– Cut added sugars: The sugar is added mainly for flavor rather than preservation. You can use less sugar or a zero-calorie sweetener.
– Skip starch: Omitting the starch may compromise thickness, but eliminates those carbs and calories.
– Increase mirin and sake: Boosting the ratio of mirin and sake to sugar minimizes added sweetness.
– Add konbu dashi: Using konbu dashi instead of bonito dashi cuts calories since it’s just rehydrated seaweed.
– Dilute with water: Thinning the sauce slightly with water cuts calories without sacrificing much flavor.
– Use lean proteins: Pair eel sauce with lean proteins like shrimp, chicken breast, or extra firm tofu to make a lighter dish.
With just a few simple tweaks, it’s possible to create a lighter eel sauce at home. You can lower the calories while still achieving the signature sweetness.
Healthy ways to enjoy eel sauce
Here are some healthy and nutritious ways to work eel sauce into your diet:
– Brush on grilled or baked fish: Eel sauce makes a tasty glaze for salmon, cod, tuna, and other types of fish.
– Toss with roasted vegetables: Roast veggies like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans and drizzle with eel sauce.
– Use as dipping sauce: Try eel sauce as a dip for shrimp tempura, chicken tenders, or spring rolls.
– Make chicken teriyaki: Marshal chicken thighs or breasts in eel sauce, soy sauce, and spices for homemade teriyaki.
– Glaze tofu: Baked marinated tofu in eel sauce for a sweet and salty flavor.
– Stir into rice: Mix just a bit of eel sauce into plain rice or cauliflower rice as a flavor boost.
– Use as meat marinade: Marinate lean cuts of beef, pork, or chicken in eel sauce before cooking.
– Thicken soups or stews: Whisk a tablespoon of eel sauce into Asian soups and stews as a seasoning.
– Make salad dressing: Blend eel sauce with rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger for an Asian vinaigrette.
With a little creativity, eel sauce can be used to add sweet flavor to all sorts of healthy recipes beyond just sushi and eel.
Eel sauce provides a pleasant sweetness that complements savory Japanese dishes like grilled eel. In moderation, this flavorful sauce can fit into a balanced diet. A typical serving of eel sauce contains around 80-120 calories, minimal fat, 10% of your daily sodium, and no cholesterol.
The ingredients like soy sauce, sake, mirin, dashi, and sugar means eel sauce does not comply with low carb, paleo, or Whole30 diets. But the sauce can be tweaked at home to lighten it up. Overall, enjoying eel sauce on occasion with healthy foods like fish, chicken, or vegetables is an indulgence worth savoring.