What Chinese sauces are sugar-free?

Chinese cuisine is known for its bold, complex flavors that often rely on sauces and condiments to bring each dish to life. However, many classic Chinese sauces like soy sauce, oyster sauce, and hoisin contain added sugar. For people monitoring their sugar intake or following a low-carb or keto diet, finding authentic Chinese sauces without added sugars can be a challenge.

The good news is that there are sugar-free alternatives for many popular Chinese sauces. By choosing lower-sugar or sugar-free versions and reading labels carefully, you can still enjoy traditional Chinese flavors. Here is an overview of some of the most common Chinese sauces and their sugar-free options.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is the quintessential all-purpose Chinese seasoning, used for everything from stir-fries to dipping sauces. However, many major brands of soy sauce contain 1-2 grams of sugar per tablespoon.

To find a sugar-free soy sauce alternative, look for “naturally brewed” or “fermented” on the label. Naturally brewed soy sauces like Kikkoman’s Less Sodium Soy Sauce rely solely on a natural fermentation process without adding sugars. Tamari is another good option, as it is traditionally made with just soybeans, sea salt, and water. When shopping, examine nutrition labels and aim for soy sauces with 0g sugar per serving.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is a thick, savory sauce that adds rich umami flavor to stir-fries and braised dishes. Authentic versions are made by slowly simmering oysters in water to draw out their natural flavors and thick juices. However, many commercial brands combine the oyster extract with sugar and thickeners like cornstarch.

To avoid added sugars, look for “premium” or “gourmet” oyster sauces that stick to traditional ingredients like Lee Kum Kee’s Premium Oyster Sauce. Health food brands like Paleo Zone and Coconut Secret also make sugar-free options using natural thickeners like coconut aminos or arrowroot. Check labels and select oyster sauces with no added sugars.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a thick, fragrant sauce common in dishes like Peking duck and mu shu pork. It is typically made with fermented soybean paste, garlic, chilies, and sweeteners like sugar. Because hoisin sauce is inherently on the sweet side, sugar-free versions can be difficult to find.

Some brands like Lee Kum Kee make reduced sugar hoisin sauces with only 1g sugar per tablespoon. For maximum sugar reduction, dilute hoisin sauce with naturally brewed soy sauce or opt for chili garlic sauce instead to add garlicky heat without sweetness. You can also make your own clean-ingredients hoisin sauce at home.

Fish Sauce

In Southeast Asian cuisines, fish sauce is often used where soy sauce is used in Chinese cooking. This thin, amber liquid adds an umami depth of flavor. High-quality fish sauces are made solely from fermented anchovies, salt, and water. However, some brands add sugars, so check nutrition labels and look for 0g sugar per serving.

Red Boat and Tiparos are two widely available fish sauce brands praised for their clean, traditionally-made products. For strict low-carb diets, double check that the brand you select does not use added sugars during fermentation.

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar is commonly used in sweet and sour sauces, vinaigrettes, and pickled vegetables. White rice vinegar has a mild acidity that doesn’t overpower dishes. Similar to soy sauce, some brands add sugar to round out the vinegary edge.

Seeking out pure rice vinegars without added sugars can be challenging, but they do exist. Koolan Vinegar and Mizkan are two brands that produce sugar-free white rice vinegars suitable for multiple Asian cuisines. If your local supermarket lacks sugar-free rice vinegar, you can make it easily at home with just rice and water.

Sesame Oil

In small amounts, fragrant sesame oil can provide nutty aroma and flavor to all types of Chinese dishes. Unrefined or toasted sesame oils offer the most authentic flavor. When browsing sesame oils, you mainly want to avoid added chemical preservatives – added sugars are uncommon.

Kadoya and La Tourangelle are two readily available brands of pure sesame oil that avoid chemical additives. You can also find untoasted varieties that maintain the light color of raw sesame seeds. No need to overthink it – quality sesame oil rarely includes added sugars.

Chili Oils

From mild chili crisp sauces to the mouth-numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorn oils, spicy chili oils are common tabletop condiments in many Chinese cuisines. They are also typically sugar-free, since any added sweetness would clash with the tongues-on-fire heat.

Homemade versions are easy to whip up with your oil of choice, flakes of dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, and salt to taste. Lao Gan Ma is a famous commercial brand known for their crispy fried chili flakes. For a sugar-free factory-made option, Lee Kum Kee’s Chili Oil contains zero added sugars. The natural flavor of chilies provides plenty of kick without sweetness.

Cooking Wine

Chinese cooking wine, known as Shao Hsing or Shaoxing, is instrumental for adding complexity to marinades and sauces without overpowering acidity or sweetness. Quality versions are brewed from rice, wheat, or glutinous rice. Lower quality cooking wines use added sugars and preservatives.

To keep carbohydrate counts low, check labels for dry Shao Hsing cooking wines with 0g sugar per serving, such as Pagoda or Reese. You can also substitute dry sherry or marsala wine. When cooking, the small amounts used will not significantly affect sugar levels. Avoid cooking “cream” wines, which have added sugars.

Black Vinegar

Black vinegar is a common staple in Chinese cuisines, valued for its mild fruitiness and smoky complexity. Its dark color comes from glutinous rice that is fermented and aged. Premium black vinegars have no need for added sugars.

Chinkiang and Koon Chun are two readily available brands of black vinegar brewed using traditional methods without sweeteners. You can substitute balsamic vinegar in dishes, which offers similar viscosity and acidity. When buying, as always check labels for 0g sugar per tablespoon to identify naturally brewed black vinegars.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Classic Chinese sweet and sour sauce strikes a balance between tart citrus flavors and sugary sweetness. Ketchup, vinegar, pineapple juice, and corn syrup are common ingredients in take-out versions. To control carbs and sugar intake, make adjustments when using or making sweet and sour sauce.

Opt for low-sugar ketchup and skip the corn syrup. Balancing the sweetness by adding extra rice vinegar, lemon juice, chopped pineapple, or other tart fruits also avoids overt sweetness. For stir-fries or dipping sauces, mix hot chili sauce with rice vinegar and a zero-calorie sweetener like monk fruit extract.

Oyster Oyster Sauce Substitutes

If you cannot find a sugar-free oyster sauce, all is not lost. A few simple ingredient swaps can mimic its savory umami essence:

– Mushroom sauce – Many brands offer sugar-free mushroom sauces that provide meaty flavors.

– Soy sauce + fish sauce – Equal parts of these two pantry staples combines to offer rich savoriness.

– Dried shiitake mushrooms – Rehydrate and puree shiitakes in sauce recipes for oyster flavor.

– Soy sauce + roasted walnuts – Mince walnuts finely and mix with soy sauce for added complexity.

– Caramelized onions – Onions cooked until richly browned contribute sweetness without sugar.

With a combination of umami-rich ingredients, you can approximate oyster sauce’s impact in Chinese dishes without sweeteners.

Hoisin Sauce Substitutes

Finding properly balanced sugar-free hoisin sauce can be tricky. Here are some ideas for mimicking the flavor profile of hoisin:

– Soy sauce + sesame oil + garlic – Mix reduced sodium soy sauce with a flavored oil like chili or sesame and minced garlic.

– Peanut butter + Sriracha – For a nutty, spicy hoisin-like condiment, blend creamy peanut butter with hot sauce.

– Sauteed mushroom + garlic + five spice – Pureeing earthy sauteed mushrooms with garlic and five spice powder offers similar deep flavor.

– Miso paste + chili garlic sauce – Combine smooth miso with garlic chili sauce for an umami hoisin alternative.

– Soy sauce + molasses – Add just a splash of molasses to soy sauce for gentle sweetness (1 teaspoon molasses has 13g carbs).

With a balanced blend of savory, spicy, nutty, and subtly sweet elements, you can craft a satisfying hoisin imposter recipe.

Sugar-Free Sweet and Sour Sauce

To make your own clean version of sweet and sour sauce at home:

– Simmer rice vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice, grated ginger, and garlic.

– Add pineapple chunks, bell pepper slices, chopped scallion greens, and a pinch of stevia or monkfruit sweetener.

– Mix a teaspoon of kuzu, arrowroot, or cornstarch with water to thicken.

– Finish with a dash of toasted sesame oil.

The tart fruit and veggies provide plenty of flavor and sweetness, without any added sugar needed.


With so many indulgent flavors, Chinese cuisine may seem incompatible with sugar-free diets. However, with knowledge of traditional ingredients and close label reading, you can find quality sugar-free versions for most popular Chinese sauces. Seek out brands that stick to time-honored brewing and fermentation methods for naturally delicious, carb-free condiments.

For sauces that tend to contain added sweeteners like hoisin and sweet and sour, get creative with homemade blends or substitutions. Pair umami richness from soy sauce and toasted sesame with spikes of garlic, ginger, chilies, or vinegar for sugar-free Asian flavor. With an arsenal of keto-friendly sauces, you can craft insanely delicious Chinese food at home.

Sauce Sugar-Free Brands Sugar-Free Substitutes
Soy Sauce Kikkoman Less Sodium, Tamari
Oyster Sauce Lee Kum Kee Premium, Paleo Zone Mushroom sauce, soy + fish sauce
Hoisin Sauce Lee Kum Kee Low Sugar Peanut butter + sriracha
Fish Sauce Red Boat, Tiparos
Rice Vinegar Koolan, Mizkan

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