I remember someone telling me that I didn’t need to worry about dishes made with Oyster sauce as it’s vegetarian. Recently I found out that this is not strictly true!

Definition: A rich sauce made from boiled oysters and seasonings, oyster sauce does not have a fishy taste at all (boiling the oysters takes care of that). This rich sauce with a savory flavor is used in meat and vegetable dishes, and is an important ingredient in Cantonese cooking. Oyster sauce brands have a wide price range; steer clear of the cheaper brands if possible, as they usually contain MSG.

Although the Buddhist vegetarian diet does permit the eating of oysters, vegetarian brands that use mushrooms as a substitute are available. Oyster sauce is normally sold in bottles, but is sometimes sold in cans. Be sure to refrigerate bottled oyster sauce after opening. For canned oyster sauce, transfer to a closed jar and refrigerate.

Written by Rhonda Parkinson

Production
A “true” oyster sauce of good quality should be made by condensing oyster extracts, which is made by cooking oysters in water until a white broth is produced. The opaque broth is then cooked until a desired viscosity has been reached and the liquid has caramelized to a brown colour.[1] No other additives, not even salt, should be added to the sauce, since the oysters should provide all the savory flavour. Many oyster sauces are actually diluted solutions thickened with starch, colored with caramel coloring (E150), with oyster extracts and synthetic preservatives. In some countries, including the UK, the oyster content in some sauces is lower than its Asian counterparts of the same brand due to laws regulating the import of seafood.

Vegetarian oyster sauce
Vegetarian oyster sauce prepared from mushrooms, often oyster mushrooms, is also popular and generally lower in price. It may contain more taste enhancers if less mushroom extract is used to reduce costs.

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Categories: DietInformation

10 Comments

Ferny · February 13, 2009 at 5:25 am

Just wondering how/why eating oysters would be allowable in a buddhist vegetarian diet? Any info would be appreciated.

    Heena Modi · February 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    No idea! I’ll try and find out though 🙂

Mark · February 22, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Ferny,

I was surprised a few years ago to find out that all Buddhists are not vegetarian.

Sorry not much use in answering your question.

Sagar Shah · February 27, 2009 at 12:21 am

This message is in response to Heena’s enquiry into why eating Oysters would be allowed in a Buddhist diet…

I think the question is not dissimilar to: if Jains are supposed to take ahimsa seriously, why is it that consumption of milk and milk products is allowed in a Jain diet?

The way in which people act is often different to what is prescribed by religious doctrines, and popular consensus of these doctrines may change are a result of the way in which people act. E.g. Doing Puja or many other rituals such as reciting the Navkar Mantra are considered to be part of what Jains in the modern day do, but I would be very surprised if Mahavir or any Tirtankaras recited the Navkar Mantra or conducted puja on themselves…and we are supposed to be following their paths…. religious practice evolves socially and culturally..

Any way – I have read that the Buddha was a vegetarian and strongly advocated a vegetarian lifestyle, but did not explicitly state that his followers must be vegetarian.

I have also read that the buddha suggested meat could be accepted if it met certain conditions: Meat may be eaten by one who does (1) not see, (2) hear of, (3) or doubt about the animal having been killed purposely for him to eat, (4) but is certain that it either died naturally, (5) or that its flesh had been abandoned by birds of prey.

It is understandable that this lead to lay people understanding that meat is ok (in a similar way that animal welfare groups may actually increase meat consumption by suggesting that meat under specific welfare standards is acceptable)…..

Buddhism also spread out to places in the Himalayan Plateu such as tibet – where I believe it is quite difficult to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle due to the lack of crops suited to the climatic conditions there, and reliance on livestock (particularly yaks) may have been considered necessary to survive there. In order to convert people, religious leaders (as religion is often intertwined with power and conquering of other lands) may have changed rules to ensure that people living there could become buddhist….

I know this doesn’t directly relate to Oyster Sauce… but Oysters may not necessarily have even been considered animals by people following buddhism, or acceptance of hte consumption of oysters may hace come from a path detailed as above…

It would be interesteing to see other peoples views on this….

    Heena Modi · February 27, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Yeah makes sense!
    Thanks Sagar 🙂

Raju · March 4, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Interesting Aside….

Vegetarian Oyster Sauce is from Oyster Mushrooms.

(This is not to be confused with Oyster Sauce made from Oysters)

Raju

    Heena Modi · March 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks Raju
    Good point 🙂

Ajay · July 14, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Thanks for the perspective about where oysters fit into buddhism. I hadn’t really considered that.

Ennis · April 25, 2010 at 9:57 pm

The Dalai Lama himself eats meat, as do many Tibetan Buddhist monks. There’s also this argument — http://www.slate.com/id/2248998/ — that most desi vegetarians I know would reject that oysters are almost vegan, since they lack a CNS and are somewhat like plants.

    Heena Modi · April 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Hmm.
    It’s a shame.

    I cut this text from the link in your comment “Moreover, since oysters don’t have a central nervous system, they’re unlikely to experience pain in a way resembling ours—unlike a pig or a herring or even a lobster”
    I feel that pain is pain and doesn’t need to be like a pig/herring/lobster for it to NOT be OK

    For yrs they said that I fish couldn’t feel pain and we didn’t really need science to prove they can. Did we?

    People say that cats don’t feel anything when they are declawed but really?

    They say the same about tying a string around a dog’s tail to stop the blood circulation so it falls off.

    The common thread here is it’s unnecessary. Everything we do has an affect on something else even if we try and justify it as being pain free, damage free etc.

    As you can read, I’m passionate about this but no offence intended : )

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