8 Best Substitute For Unagi Sauce

Unagi Sauce Substitute

Unagi sauce, a staple in Japanese cuisine, is a rich, savory condiment known for its unique balance of sweetness and umami. This versatile sauce, traditionally used as a glaze for grilled eel (unagi), is now an essential component in various dishes like sushi, rice bowls, and marinades, imparting a distinct depth of flavor that enhances the overall culinary experience.

However, there are instances when this specialty sauce may not be readily accessible, due to geographical location, dietary restrictions, or personal preferences. In such situations, identifying the right substitute that can mirror or complement the complex flavor profile of Unagi sauce becomes crucial. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate these culinary crossroads, providing an array of substitutes that can save the day while offering a delightful gastronomic adventure.

What is Unagi Sauce?

Unagi sauce, also known as eel sauce or kabayaki sauce, is a traditional Japanese condiment typically served with grilled eel dishes. It is a thick, sweet, and slightly smoky sauce, comprising soy sauce, mirin (a type of sweet rice wine), sugar, and sake. The unique blend of these ingredients results in a flavor profile that is both complex and delightful, balancing savory, sweet, and umami elements in a way that enhances rather than overshadows the dishes it accompanies.

Quick Snapshot of Substitutes For Unagi Sauce

  • Teriyaki Sauce
  • Hoisin Sauce
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar
  • Homemade Unagi Sauce
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Soy Sauce and Maple Syrup
  • Tamarind Sauce

Each of these substitutes has its unique qualities and flavor profiles, which we will discuss in the following sections.

Best Substitutes For Unagi Sauce

Choosing a substitute for Unagi sauce depends largely on the specific flavor and texture you are trying to replicate. These alternatives may not perfectly imitate Unagi sauce, but they do share certain characteristics that make them good substitutes. Let’s explore each of them in detail.

Teriyaki Sauce

The first substitute on our list is Teriyaki sauce, a widely recognized and readily available Japanese sauce. Like Unagi sauce, Teriyaki also contains soy sauce and sugar, but it generally has a thinner consistency. It is sweet and tangy, with a savory undertone that makes it an excellent stand-in for Unagi sauce.

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Although Teriyaki sauce is generally less rich and complex compared to Unagi sauce, it can be made more similar by adding a bit of sake and mirin if available. This creates a flavor profile that is quite similar to Unagi, making it a suitable substitute, especially for dishes that involve grilling or baking.

Teriyaki sauce’s versatility is one of its strengths as a substitute. It can be used in various dishes, from stir-fries and marinades to glazes for grilled meats. It’s also easy to make at home, which is a bonus if you’re into DIY culinary projects.

Hoisin Sauce

Next up is Hoisin sauce, a thick, fragrant sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine. It is made from soybeans, fennel seeds, red chillies, and garlic, among other ingredients. This combination creates a sweet and spicy flavor that can be a delightful alternative to Unagi sauce.

While Hoisin sauce lacks the distinct smokiness of Unagi sauce, it compensates with its complex flavor profile that adds depth to any dish. The sweetness and spice of Hoisin sauce can bring a different but equally enticing layer of taste to your meals. It’s particularly useful in stir-fry recipes, as a glaze for meats, or even as a dipping sauce.

Remember, due to its robust flavor, Hoisin sauce should be used sparingly to avoid overpowering your dish. Also, its flavor profile leans more towards Chinese cuisine, so it may not be the perfect fit for all dishes that require Unagi sauce.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce, as the name suggests, is a thick, dark brown sauce made from oysters. It has a sweet, salty, and slightly earthy flavor that is unique yet versatile. This sauce is a staple in Chinese cuisine and can serve as an interesting substitute for Unagi sauce.

While Oyster sauce lacks the smokiness that characterizes Unagi sauce, it delivers a rich umami flavor that enhances the taste of various dishes. It can be used in stir-fries, marinades, or as a glaze for grilled dishes.

The main caveat when using Oyster sauce as a substitute is its strong seafood undertone, which may not be to everyone’s liking. For those allergic to shellfish, a different substitute would be a safer choice. However, for those who enjoy its distinct taste, Oyster sauce can offer an exciting twist to your recipes.

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Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar

Combining soy sauce and brown sugar can result in a quick and easy substitute for Unagi sauce. This combination gives you the sweet and salty balance that Unagi sauce is known for, although it lacks the complex depth and smokiness that come with the traditional Unagi sauce.

To create this substitute, you simply need to simmer soy sauce and brown sugar together until it achieves a syrupy consistency. Adjust the sweetness level according to your preference.

This homemade substitute is a convenient solution when you’re in a rush, as the ingredients are often readily available in most kitchens. It may not fully replicate the unique flavor of Unagi sauce, but it can serve as a decent alternative for a variety of dishes.

Barbecue Sauce

If you’re looking for a substitute that can mimic the smoky flavor of Unagi sauce, Barbecue (BBQ) sauce might be a good choice. It’s widely available and can add a tangy, sweet, and smoky flavor to your dishes.

However, BBQ sauce has a more robust and tangy profile compared to the milder and subtly sweet Unagi sauce. Therefore, it’s recommended to use it sparingly and adjust according to taste.

Despite these differences, BBQ sauce can still offer an appealing depth of flavor to your meals. It can be used as a marinade, a glaze, or a dipping sauce, making it a versatile alternative.

Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment that includes a variety of ingredients like vinegar, molasses, anchovies, garlic, and tamarind extract, among others. It’s tangy, slightly sweet, and full of umami, making it a suitable alternative for Unagi sauce.

Its complex flavor profile can bring a different, yet intriguing taste to your dishes. However, due to its potent flavor, it’s advisable to use it sparingly and possibly in combination with a sweeter component like brown sugar or honey.

One thing to note is that Worcestershire sauce is much thinner than Unagi sauce, so it might not provide the same texture or consistency. Despite this, it can still work well in marinades, stews, or in dishes that benefit from a touch of tangy flavor.

Soy Sauce and Maple Syrup

Pairing soy sauce and maple syrup can also create an interesting substitute for Unagi sauce. The salty flavor of the soy sauce balanced with the sweet, slightly smoky taste of maple syrup can mimic some of the qualities found in Unagi sauce.

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To create this alternative, mix equal parts of soy sauce and maple syrup, then heat the mixture until it thickens. The resulting sauce can be used in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries to grilled dishes, and can provide a sweet and salty flavor reminiscent of Unagi sauce.

Bear in mind that this substitute will have a distinct maple flavor, which might not suit every dish that requires Unagi sauce. However, for those who enjoy this unique taste, it can be an exciting variation to try.

Tamarind Sauce

Finally, Tamarind sauce is an exotic option that could serve as a substitute for Unagi sauce. It has a unique sweet and tangy flavor profile that can bring a different twist to your dishes.

While Tamarind sauce doesn’t have the smoky flavor characteristic of Unagi sauce, its tanginess and sweetness can somewhat mimic the sweet-savory balance of Unagi. It’s a popular ingredient in various Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, and can be used in stir-fries, as a glaze, or even as a dipping sauce.

Remember that Tamarind sauce has a strong and distinct flavor that can overpower a dish if used excessively. Therefore, it’s best to start with a small amount and adjust according to taste.

Substitutes for Unagi Sauce: Nutritional Profile

Each of these substitutes varies in their nutritional content. Here is a quick overview of their nutritional profiles per ¼ cup serving:

Teriyaki Sauce2900.3g70g0.5g2.2gYes
Hoisin Sauce2403g48g3g2gYes
Oyster Sauce802g14g1g1gYes
Soy & Brown Sugar1600g38g0g3gYes
BBQ Sauce1700.5g42g1g1gYes
Worcestershire Sauce500g12g0g0gYes
Soy & Maple Syrup1600g42g0g2gYes
Tamarind Sauce2800g70g2g2gNo

These values are approximate and can vary depending on the specific brand or homemade recipe used.

Final Thoughts

While Unagi sauce’s distinct flavor profile might be challenging to replicate perfectly, the substitutes listed above offer a range of alternatives that can bring new and exciting flavors to your dishes. Remember, the best substitute will depend on the specific taste, texture, and dietary needs you’re aiming for. Experiment with these options, and you may discover a new favorite that adds an intriguing twist to your meals.

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