Chinese sweet and sour sauce is a restaurant classic that tastes even better homemade! Full of — you guessed it — sweet and sour flavors, pair it with chicken or use it as a dip for egg rolls, dumplings, or fried wonton strips!
As much as I love eating at my local Chinese restaurant, I’ve been getting super into recreating restaurant-quality dishes at home. It gives me the chance to experiment in my kitchen — which is, as you know, one of my favorite things to do! So far, I’ve made Chinese BBQ pork, scallion pancakes, Chinese five spice ribs, and even homemade chili oil.
As far as Asian-inspired condiments go, I’ve got plenty to choose from. This sweet chili sauce is so versatile — it’s wonderful with beef, poultry, or seafood. I also adore this gochujang sauce as a dipping sauce for chicken or beef, and it also tastes great on veggies and rice! And I can’t forget about my famous Vietnamese nuoc chom fish sauce. It can be used in a myriad of ways!
Today I wanted to share a recipe for another condiment: sweet and sour sauce. If you’ve eaten in a Chinese restaurant, you’ve likely already tried it! It boasts (as you can imagine!) complex sweet and sour flavors. Made with sweet sugar, sour vinegar, soy sauce, and a few other key pantry ingredients, it’s so easy to make. No pineapple juice or ketchup needed here!
You can use it to make sweet and sour chicken, or you can whip up a batch to have on hand for dipping. It pairs wonderfully with my crispy Chinese egg rolls, dumplings, and those super addictive fried wonton strips that you all know and love.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Cold Water - Start with cold water — you’ll need it to “activate” the cornstarch. The combination results in a thickening agent called a slurry.
- Cornstarch - Again, to be used to thicken your sauce! You need it in order to create the proper consistency.
- Vegetable Oil - This ingredient also helps give this condiment the right consistency and texture.
- Tomato Paste - A key ingredient for this condiment, tomato paste adds color and flavor.
- Sugar - Here’s where all of that yummy sweet flavor comes from! Opt to use white granulated sugar.
- White Vinegar - The sour component of your sweet and sour sauce is thanks to the white vinegar.
- Soy Sauce - Most good Chinese sauce recipes feature a bit of soy sauce. It will add a savory umami flavor to the mix.
HOW TO MAKE SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE
- Make the Cornstarch Slurry. Add the cornstarch and water to a small bowl and mix, then set it aside.
- Cook the Tomato Paste. Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Once it’s hot, whisk in the tomato paste. Cook the mixture on low for 3-4 minutes.
- Incorporate the Other Ingredients. Add the sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce to the saucepan. Whisk to combine and allow it to cook for another 3 minutes.
- Combine With the Cornstarch. Stir the cornstarch slurry a bit, then slowly whisk it into the saucepan. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and the sauce has thickened.
- Adjust the Consistency. If you notice that the oil separates or there are any lumps, blitz the sauce with an immersion blender a few times for a smoother consistency. You can also add a tablespoon of water at a time if you prefer a thinner sauce.
- Season to Taste. Depending on your preferences, you can add more vinegar for a tarter sauce, or a tablespoon of sugar for a sweeter one. Serve as desired!
What is Chinese Sweet and Sour Sauce Made Of?
All sweet and sour sauce recipes differ slightly, but the key ingredients are typically the same: sugar or honey for sweetness, vinegar for the sour component, soy sauce, tomato paste, or ketchup, and some include spices like ginger. I like to keep mine simple, but feel free to play around and adjust the ingredients as you see fit!
How Do You Make Sweet and Sour Sauce Thicker?
Don’t underestimate the power of that cornstarch slurry! Cornstarch is an excellent thickening agent as it’s flavorless. You could also use all-purpose flour instead, if you’d like.
Can I Use Apple Juice Instead of Pineapple Juice in Sweet and Sour Sauce?
My recipe for sweet and sour sauce is juice-free. That said, many other recipes rely on pineapple juice to add even more sweetness. You can either follow my recipe and leave it out completely or use apple juice instead of pineapple. It’s all about preference — and what you have on hand at home!
Chinese Sweet and Sour Sauce
- ½ cup cold water
- 4 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- In a small bowl mix together the cornstarch and water. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan heat the oil over medium heat and whisk in the tomato paste. Cook on low for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Whisk to combine and cook another 3 minutes.
- Stir the cornstarch slurry and slowly whisk into the saucepan. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and sauce has thickened (See Note 1). Add a tablespoon of water if a thinner sauce is preferred. Season to taste with more or less vinegar for a tarter flavored sauce or add a tablespoon of sugar for a sweeter.
- If any oil separates or if there are any lumps due to cornstarch, blitz using an immersion blender to smooth consistency.
- Nutrition based on ¼ cup serving, this makes 2 cups total.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.