Oyster sauce

Oyster sauce

Oyster sauce is a viscous dark brown sauce commonly used in Chinese, Filipino, Thai and Khmer cuisine. It is especially common in Cantonese cuisine.


Oyster sauce is prepared from oysters, brine, umami flavour enhancers such as MSG, and typically contains preservatives to increase its shelf life. The sauce was invented in 1888 by Mr. Lee Kam Sheung, in Nam Shui Village in Guangdong Province, China. His company, Lee Kum Kee, continues to produce oyster sauce to this day, along with a wide variety of Asian condiments.


A "true" oyster sauce of good quality should be made by condensing oyster extracts, the white broth produced by boiling oysters in water. This opaque broth is then reduced until a desired viscosity has been reached and the liquid has caramelized to a brown colour. 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 is 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.


Most of the oyster sauces available on the market contain added monosodium glutamate (MSG). Though in recent years MSG-free varieties can also be found. The taste of MSG and non-MSG variants is similar.


Oyster sauce is used to enhance the flavour of many savory foods. It is also often used as a topping for steamed vegetables, and in stir-fries.

Dishes for which oyster sauce is commonly used include:


In 2001 the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency found in tests of various oyster sauces and soy sauces that some 22% of samples contained a chemical called 3-MCPD (3-monochloropropane-1,3-diol) at levels considerably higher than those deemed safe by the European Union. About two-thirds of these samples also contained a second chemical called 1,3-DCP (1,3-dichloropropane-2-ol) which experts advise should not be present at any levels in food. Both chemicals have the potential to cause cancer and the Agency recommended that the affected products be withdrawn from shelves and avoided.


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