6 Best Substitute For Eel Sauce

Eel Sauce Substitute

Eel sauce, also known as Unagi no Tare or Kabayaki sauce, is a popular condiment in Japanese cuisine, well-loved for its rich, sweet, and umami flavor. This sauce, typically prepared by simmering eel bones with soy sauce, mirin, and sugar, is a cornerstone of many dishes, particularly Unagi sushi or grilled eel. Its complex flavor profile and thick, syrupy consistency provide an unmistakable gloss and depth of flavor to a multitude of dishes, making it a staple in any sushi lover’s pantry.

However, eel sauce is not always readily available, and dietary restrictions or personal preferences may necessitate an alternative. This article provides a comprehensive guide to the best substitutes for eel sauce, each carrying unique flavors and culinary applications, offering a myriad of options to keep your dishes tantalizingly flavorful. These alternatives were selected for their ability to mimic the sweet, savory, and umami characteristics of eel sauce, ensuring your dishes remain authentic and delicious. Whether you’re a professional chef or a home cook, these substitutes will serve as handy tools in your culinary arsenal.

What is Eel Sauce?

Eel sauce, often known as “unagi sauce” or “nitsume,” is a reduced sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine. The primary ingredients are soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and sake, simmered together until a syrupy consistency is achieved. Traditionally, eel bones were simmered in this mix, enhancing its flavor and lending it the name. But in most modern iterations, the eel component is absent. This sweet and umami-rich sauce, with its glossy finish, is predominantly used to glaze broiled eel dishes and sushi.

Your Quick Glance at Eel Sauce Substitutes

  • Teriyaki Sauce
  • Hoisin Sauce
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar Mix
  • Vegan Barbecue Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Sweet Soy Sauce
  • Ponzu Sauce
  • Tamari and Maple Syrup Mix

Best Substitutes For Eel Sauce

Let’s dive into a detailed exploration of these substitutes, discussing their flavor profiles, applications, and ways to concoct them at home.

Teriyaki Sauce

A popular condiment in Japanese cuisine, teriyaki sauce makes an excellent substitute for eel sauce. Like its counterpart, it possesses a similar sweet and savory profile, primarily due to its ingredients – soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake.

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Teriyaki sauce’s versatility lies in its simplicity. It pairs well with a variety of ingredients, from meat and seafood to vegetables and tofu, mirroring the applications of eel sauce. Home cooks often drizzle it over grilled dishes, use it as a marinade, or incorporate it in stir-fries.

Making your teriyaki sauce can offer you control over its sweetness and saltiness. By adjusting the sugar and soy sauce quantities, you can tailor it to your preference, bringing it closer to the taste of eel sauce. Add a tablespoon of cornstarch diluted in water towards the end of the cooking process to give it that characteristic thick, glaze-like consistency.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce, hailing from Chinese cuisine, is a thick, pungent sauce made from fermented soybeans, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and various spices. Its robust flavor – sweet, salty, and a bit tangy – makes it a reasonable alternative to eel sauce.

Given its intensity, hoisin sauce works wonders in marinades, glazes, and dipping sauces. It stands up well to cooking and can significantly enhance the flavor of meats, tofu, and vegetables. You can also drizzle it on stir-fries or use it in wraps and rolls for an added flavor kick.

Although readily available in stores, homemade hoisin sauce can be a healthier option, allowing you to regulate the sugar and sodium content. Mix soy sauce, peanut butter, honey, vinegar, garlic, and a blend of spices, adjusting the quantities to get closer to an eel sauce flavor. A touch of sesame oil could give it the glossy finish typically associated with eel sauce.

Oyster Sauce

Another commendable substitute for eel sauce is oyster sauce. Its primary ingredient is oyster juices, cooked down with salt and sugar until a thick, caramel-like sauce is formed. The result is a rich, savory sauce with a hint of sweetness.

Oyster sauce enhances the taste of stir-fries, noodles, and vegetable dishes, and it can even be used as a marinade. It doesn’t overshadow the primary ingredients but adds a layer of depth to the overall flavor.

For a homemade version, simmer oyster juices with some sugar and salt. For vegetarians, a mixture of mushrooms, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar can replicate the taste quite effectively. Remember to thicken the sauce to achieve a consistency similar to eel sauce.

Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar Mix

If you’re in a pinch and need an easy substitute for eel sauce, a combination of soy sauce and brown sugar might just do the trick. Soy sauce offers the salty, umami flavor, while the brown sugar imparts the required sweetness.

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This concoction can serve as a quick stir-fry sauce, marinade, or glaze. You can even use it as a dipping sauce for sushi or dumplings. It might lack the complexity of eel sauce, but it’s a convenient alternative when time or resources are limited.

To make it, combine soy sauce and brown sugar in a saucepan, adjusting the sweetness to your preference. Simmer it until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens. Adding a dash of mirin or sake can lend a bit more depth to the flavor.

Vegan Barbecue Sauce

For those following a vegan or vegetarian diet, a great option to replace eel sauce is vegan barbecue sauce. While it might seem like an unlikely substitute, its sweet and tangy flavor profile and thick consistency closely mimic those of eel sauce.

Vegan barbecue sauce can be used in a similar way as eel sauce in most dishes. Use it as a marinade, a glaze, or a dipping sauce to elevate the flavors of your vegan meals.

A basic vegan barbecue sauce recipe includes tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, and a blend of spices. Cook all the ingredients together until the sauce thickens. Adjust the sweetness or tanginess to better emulate the flavor of eel sauce.

Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce is an English condiment with a complex flavor profile – it’s tangy, sweet, and slightly spicy, making it an intriguing alternative to eel sauce. It is traditionally made from a base of vinegar, supplemented with ingredients like molasses, sugar, salt, onions, anchovies, tamarind extract, and a mix of seasonings.

Though it may not fully capture the flavor of eel sauce, Worcestershire sauce’s multi-dimensional taste can add an interesting spin to your dishes. It’s versatile enough to be used in marinades, dressings, soups, and as a table condiment.

While making Worcestershire sauce at home can be quite intricate due to its multitude of ingredients, it allows for customization. Adjust the sugar to amplify its sweetness, and thicken it to match the viscosity of eel sauce.

Sweet Soy Sauce

Sweet soy sauce, or kecap manis, is a syrupy, dark sauce widely used in Indonesian cuisine. It is made by simmering soy sauce and palm sugar, often with the addition of star anise and galangal.

The pronounced sweetness of this sauce, coupled with its thick consistency, makes it a fine substitute for eel sauce. It works well as a marinade, a glaze, or a component in stir-fries and noodle dishes.

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Homemade sweet soy sauce can be prepared by combining equal parts of soy sauce and brown sugar (or palm sugar, if available), simmering the mixture until it attains a syrupy consistency. To mimic eel sauce better, reduce the sweetness by adding a bit more soy sauce.

Ponzu Sauce

Ponzu sauce, another Japanese condiment, offers a more citrus-forward alternative to eel sauce. Made with a base of soy sauce and citrus juice (typically yuzu), it brings a fresh, tangy twist to the umami-rich soy flavor.

Its unique flavor profile makes it a delightful dipping sauce, particularly for sushi and sashimi. It can also be used in dressings, marinades, and as a finishing sauce in various dishes.

To prepare homemade ponzu sauce, mix soy sauce with citrus juice (yuzu, lemon, or lime), mirin, and a dash of rice vinegar. While it might not match the sweetness of eel sauce, its refreshing flavor can add a different dimension to your meals.

Tamari and Maple Syrup Mix

For a gluten-free alternative to eel sauce, consider a blend of tamari and maple syrup. Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce made predominantly from soybeans, with little to no wheat, giving it a richer, smoother flavor compared to regular soy sauce. When combined with maple syrup, it creates a sweet and savory sauce that approximates the taste of eel sauce.

Use this mixture as a glaze for tofu or vegetables, in stir-fries, or as a dipping sauce for sushi. Since tamari is less salty than typical soy sauce, you might want to adjust the quantity of maple syrup to strike a balance between sweetness and saltiness.

Substitutes for Eel Sauce: Nutritional Profile

SubstituteGlutenCaloriesFat (g)Carbs (g)Fiber (g)Protein (g)
Teriyaki SauceYes5001201
Hoisin SauceYes10012411
Oyster SauceYes90200
Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar MixYes300701
Vegan Barbecue SauceNo4501200
Worcestershire SauceYes150300
Sweet Soy SauceYes6001501
Ponzu SauceYes100201
Tamari and Maple Syrup MixNo4001001

(Nutritional values per ¼ cup)

Final Thoughts

Each eel sauce substitute outlined above carries its unique flavor profile and culinary application, offering a plethora of options for you to experiment with. Whether it’s teriyaki’s familiar sweetness, hoisin’s robustness, ponzu’s citrusy tang, or the pure simplicity of a soy sauce and brown sugar mix, these alternatives can help you maintain the soul of your dishes while bringing new and exciting flavors to the table. So the next time you find your pantry lacking eel sauce, fear not. With these substitutes, your culinary creativity is only just beginning to unfold.

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