Is oyster sauce sugar free?

Oyster sauce is a popular ingredient used in many Asian dishes, especially Cantonese cuisine. It has a rich, savory flavor that enhances the taste of vegetables, meat, seafood, and rice dishes. Many people wonder if oyster sauce contains sugar or is considered sugar-free. This article will dive into the ingredients, nutritional information, and sugar content of oyster sauce to determine if it is indeed sugar free. We’ll also look at how oyster sauce is made, different types of oyster sauces, and tips for choosing a sugar-free oyster sauce. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the sugar content of this versatile Asian condiment.

What is Oyster Sauce?

Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce made from oysters and their juices. It is created by slowly simmering oysters in water until the juices caramelize into a rich, flavorful seasoning. The oyster cooking liquid is then combined with salt, sugar, and thickeners like cornstarch or wheat flour to create the final product. Here are some key facts about oyster sauce:

  • Originated in Canton, China in the late 1800s
  • Used as a seasoning and condiment in Cantonese and other Asian cuisines
  • Adds a savory, umami taste to dishes
  • Made from oysters and their juices boiled down into a concentrated sauce
  • Dark brown in color with a thick, syrupy texture
  • Contains salt, sugar, and thickeners like cornstarch or wheat flour
  • Brands include Lee Kum Kee, Kikkoman, and ABC Sauces

Oyster sauce has a notable sweet, salty, and savory flavor that makes it a popular addition to all kinds of Asian recipes. The natural sugars in the oysters caramelize during cooking which contributes sweetness to the final product. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional profile and ingredients to understand the sugar content.

Oyster Sauce Nutrition Facts

The nutritional content of oyster sauce can vary between brands and recipes. However, most oyster sauces provide the following nutrition per serving (1 tablespoon or 15ml):

  • Calories: 13
  • Total fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 190mg
  • Total carbohydrates: 3g
  • Sugars: 2g
  • Protein: 1g

As you can see, a serving of oyster sauce contains about 2 grams of sugar. The sugar comes from several sources:

  • Natural sugars in the oysters that caramelize during cooking
  • Added sugar in the sauce recipe
  • Small amounts of naturally-occurring sugars in thickeners like wheat flour

So while oyster sauce does contain some sugar, the 2 grams per serving is relatively low compared to many condiments. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, and sweet and sour sauce, for example, can have up to 4-8 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Overall, oyster sauce is not very high in sugar.

Oyster Sauce Ingredients

To get a better idea of where the sugar is coming from in oyster sauce, let’s look at the typical ingredients:

  • Oyster extract (oyster juices and solids)
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Wheat flour, cornstarch, or tapioca starch
  • Water
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Caramel coloring

The main source of sugar in oyster sauce is from added sugar in the recipe. Most brands use white granulated sugar, but some may use brown sugar instead. The wheat flour and starch thickeners also contribute trace amounts of natural sugar.

Some specialty oyster sauce varieties may have additional ingredients like soy sauce, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, ginger, or scallops. Read the ingredients carefully to know exactly what is in the oyster sauce you are purchasing.

How Oyster Sauce is Made

Understanding the traditional process for making oyster sauce gives insight into where the sugars originate:

  1. Fresh oysters are cooked slowly in water for several hours. This concentrates their natural juices and sugars into an oyster extract.
  2. The oyster extract is strained to remove any solid bits. This leaves just the rich, flavorful oyster liquid.
  3. Sugar, salt, starch, and other seasonings are added to the oyster extract. The sugar adds sweetness and helps thicken the sauce.
  4. The mixture is cooked down until it reaches a thick, syrupy texture. This further concentrates the sugars and flavors.
  5. Caramel coloring may be added for appearance and MSG is added for savoriness.
  6. The oyster sauce is bottled once it reaches the desired consistency.

As you can see, sugar is intentionally added to oyster sauce during production to provide sweetness and assist with thickening. The sugars already present in the oyster extract are also concentrated as the water cooks off. This explains why oyster sauce contains about 2 grams of sugars per serving even though oysters themselves have no carbs or sugar when raw.

Types of Oyster Sauce

There are a few varieties of oyster sauce to be aware of:

  • Regular oyster sauce – The most common type. It contains sugar as one of the main ingredients.
  • Premium oyster sauce – Made with a higher proportion of oyster extract. May be less viscous and intense tasting.
  • Vegetarian oyster sauces – Made without oysters for vegetarians/vegans. May use mushrooms or soy sauce for flavor.
  • Low-sodium oyster sauce – Contains less salt but similar sugar content.
  • Sweetened oyster sauce – Flavored with extra sugar, often coconut sugar or palm sugar.

When checking for added sugar, the regular and premium varieties typically have sugar as the second or third ingredient. Sweetened oyster sauces may have even more. Vegetarian oyster sauces often replace the sugar with sweeteners like maple syrup. Low sodium versions usually have similar sugar content as regular oyster sauce.

How to Choose a Sugar-Free Oyster Sauce

To select an oyster sauce with no added sugar, read the label carefully and look for these characteristics:

  • Sugar is not listed in the ingredients
  • Uses natural thickeners like tapioca starch instead of wheat flour
  • Does not contain MSG, which may be replaced with salt
  • Free of preservatives and additives like caramel coloring
  • May say “no added sugar” on the packaging

There are a few brands that make sugar-free oyster sauce such as Megachef and Marunaka. Or make your own at home by simmering oyster extract with seasonings until thickened.

Keep in mind that even without added sugar, oyster sauce will contain traces of natural sugar from the oysters themselves. But a sugar-free version will have negligible sugars compared to regular oyster sauce.

Oyster Sauce vs Other Condiments

How does oyster sauce compare to other popular condiments and sauces in terms of sugar content? Here is a quick overview:

Condiment Total Sugar per Serving
Ketchup 4g
BBQ Sauce 8g
Teriyaki Sauce 7g
Sweet Chili Sauce 4g
Oyster Sauce 2g
Soy Sauce 1g
Worcestershire Sauce 2g

As you can see, oyster sauce is moderate in sugar content. Sauces like ketchup, teriyaki, barbecue, and sweet chili sauce are significantly higher in added sugars. Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce have comparable amounts to oyster sauce.

So while oyster sauce is not completely sugar-free, it contains relatively low sugar compared to many other popular condiments and sauces. It has about half the sugar of ketchup or teriyaki sauce per tablespoon.

How to Use Sugar-Free Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce adds a wonderful savory flavor to all kinds of Asian stir-fries, braises, noodles, and rice dishes. Here are some tips for using sugar-free oyster sauce:

  • Add to stir-fries near the end of cooking for a flavor boost.
  • Mix with soy sauce as a marinade or dipping sauce.
  • Use to baste meats and vegetables before grilling or roasting.
  • Mix into fried rice along with soy sauce.
  • Add to noodle dishes in place of sweet sauces.
  • Use to flavor braises and stewed dishes.
  • Mix with vinegar and chili oil as a dip for dumplings.
  • Substitute for sugar-laden hoisin sauce or sweet chili sauce.

A sugar-free oyster sauce can provide all the delicious umami flavor without adding lots of extra sugar. Use just 1-2 tablespoons per dish to impart flavor. Reduce sodium soy sauce can also be mixed with oyster sauce to cut the saltiness.

Health Benefits of Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce made traditionally from oyster extracts offers some health benefits, including:

  • Protein – Oysters are high in protein. Oyster sauce provides about 1 gram per tablespoon.
  • Vitamin B12 – Oysters contain this important vitamin for nerve and blood health.
  • Zinc – Oysters are very high in zinc, which boosts immunity.
  • Iron – The iron in oyster sauce promotes healthy blood cell production.
  • Magnesium – This mineral in oysters helps regulate blood pressure.
  • Amino acids – Oysters provide taurine, tyrosine, and other amino acids.

However, some of these nutrients may be diminished during the cooking process. So oyster sauce shouldn’t be considered a key source of vitamins and minerals. Just a small added benefit in addition to its robust flavor.

Risks and Drawbacks of Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce does come with a few downsides to consider:

  • High sodium – Regular oyster sauce contains around 190mg sodium per tablespoon.
  • MSG content – Many brands contain MSG flavor enhancer.
  • Allergies – Those with shellfish allergies must avoid oyster sauce.
  • Not vegetarian/vegan friendly – Oyster sauce is made with animal products.
  • Sugar content – While low compared to other condiments, sugar-free varieties are preferable for low-carb diets.

People watching their sodium intake may want to look for low-sodium or salt-free oyster sauce. Those avoiding additives and MSG can find brands without these ingredients. Vegans will need a vegetarian oyster sauce alternative. And people limiting sugar should choose options with no added sugar.

Oyster Sauce Substitutes

For those avoiding oyster sauce, these make good substitutes:

  • Soy sauce – Adds similar savoriness, use double the amount of reduced sodium soy sauce.
  • Mushroom sauce – Made from simmered mushrooms. Look for vegan versions without soy sauce.
  • Hoisin sauce – Sweeter but provides color and thickness. Contains sugar.
  • Fish sauce – Provides umami flavor, not for vegans.
  • Anchovy broth – Soak anchovies in warm water then strain.
  • Miso – Fermented soybean paste that provides deep umami flavor.
  • Seaweed – Soak kombu strips in warm water for natural msg flavor.

For the best flavor match, your best bets are mushroom sauce, anchovy broth, miso, or kombu dashi. Reduce added soy sauce or other salty seasonings to account for using a substitute.

Homemade Oyster Sauce Recipe

It’s easy to whip up your own oyster sauce at home with a simple recipe:


  • 1 cup fresh oyster liquor or clam juice
  • 2 tbsp sugar or honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Dash of white pepper
  • Water as needed


  1. Drain 1 cup fresh raw oysters, reserving the drained liquor.
  2. In a pot, combine oyster liquor, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, tapioca starch, vegetable oil, and white pepper.
  3. Whisk together and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  4. Reduce heat and cook 5-10 minutes until slightly thickened, whisking frequently.
  5. Remove from heat. Add a splash of water if too thick.
  6. Let cool completely then transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate up to 4 weeks.

This quick homemade recipe lets you control the sugar content of your oyster sauce. You can reduce or omit the added sugar. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.


Oyster sauce does contain a small amount of natural and added sugar, around 2 grams per serving. This gives it a lovely caramelized flavor but adds minimal carbohydrates or calories. Compared to many other popular condiments and Asian sauces, oyster sauce is relatively low in sugar. Opt for low-sodium varieties without MSG or excess thickeners when possible. Those restricting sugar can find or make sugar-free oyster sauce. When used in moderation, oyster sauce can add delicious umami depth to Asian recipes without significantly increasing sugar intake.

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