Is Oyster sauce vegetarian?

by Heena Modi on June 18, 2008

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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