Is Oyster Sauce Vegan or Vegetarian?

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Oyster sauce is one of the most popular condiments in Asian cuisine, so much so it is considered a must-have ingredient in most Asian kitchens.

But for those not so well versed in Asian cuisine, this thick, sticky, delicious sauce remains somewhat of a mystery. So what exactly is oyster sauce? Is it made from real oysters? Or is oyster sauce suitable for vegans and vegetarians? 

oyster sauce

This article will provide you with all the information you need on oyster sauce, its uses, and whether or not it is vegan-friendly. Then, you’ll also find a helpful list of oyster sauce alternatives to suit different dietary needs. 

Is oyster sauce vegan?

Oyster sauce is not suitable for vegans because it is made from real oysters. While oysters don’t have a central nervous system and are unlikely to feel pain, they are still classed as living animals and so vegans and vegetarians will avoid eating them.

A minority of people who identify as vegan choose to consume oysters and other bivalves like mussels, clams and scallops. They say that because these animals do not feel pain that it is okay to eat them because they are not actually hurting the animals.

Of course, people choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle for many different reasons and veganism can be seen as a continuum, rather than something with black and white rules. So if you decide to eat oysters, that’s entirely you’re decision. Although most vegans would say agree that the consumption of seafood would make a person pescatarian, not vegan.

a plate of oysters and oyster sauce

What is Oyster sauce, exactly? 

Oyster sauce is a rich, syrup-like condiment that’s made from oyster juices, salt, sugar, water and corn starch. It is easily identifiable thanks to its thick viscous consistency, pungent umami smell, taste, and deep dark colour. 

What is oyster sauce use for? 

Oyster sauce is a staple ingredient across Asia and is most commonly associated with Thai and Cantonese cuisine. Its main use is to flavour sauces and is commonly used in dishes like Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodles), Pad See Ew (Thai Stir-Fried Noodles), chow mein and lo mein. 

Is oyster sauce gluten-free? 

Oyster sauce is sometimes gluten-free, but not always. It depends on the brand and the recipe. Some types of oyster sauce are thickened with corn starch, but others contain wheat flour. 

That being the case, some brands such as Lee Kum Kee do make a gluten-free oyster sauce. 

What can I use instead of oyster sauce? 

Replacing oyster sauce is pretty easy, other at home or when you order food from a restaurant. Here are a few vegan alternatives that you can use in place of oyster sauce… 

1. Soy Sauce

The cheapest and most accessible alternative to oyster sauce, soy sauce, mimics oyster sauce’s umami notes. 

2. Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is usually vegan and it’s a good option to include in many Chinese dishes. Even though it doesn’t taste like oyster sauce, it will still add a rich flavour to your dishes. I like to mix soy sauce and hoisin together for the best vegan oyster sauce alternative.

3. Vegan Worcester Sauce

Another great oyster sauce alternative, Worcester sauce, packs the sweet flavour that oyster sauce provides. The vegan version uses tamarind to mimic its tangy flavour in place of the anchovies found in most non-vegan Worchester sauce. 

4. Kicap Manis

It might be harder to get a hold of, but the Malaysian sauce kicap manis is an excellent alternative to oyster sauce. A sweeter version of traditional soy sauce thanks to molasses, kicap manis has the same flavour profile as oyster sauce and is naturally vegan to boot.

5. Homemade Vegan Oyster Sauce

If you have the time, why not make your own? There are plenty of recipes online to make your own homemade vegan oyster sauce using common household ingredients. 

How to Use Vegan Oyster Sauce

You can use any vegan oyster sauce alternative the same way you would use oyster sauce. Mix it with water, cornstarch and sugar for a quick and easy stir fry sauce. Use as a base for a flavourful dipping sauce or add it to wonton fillings. 

Just remember to adjust your seasoning depending on which alternative you use. Use more sugar if you are using soy sauce and less if using Kicap Manis. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, everything you need to know about oyster sauce and more. 

Remember, nobody is 100% vegan. We are all trying to do our best. If, for some reason, you have eaten oyster sauce thinking it is vegan, do not beat yourself up about it. It is up to you as an individual where you draw the line in your veganism. Nobody is perfect. 

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