Few places have gifted us with as many varieties of sauces as East Asia. Every sauce is full of flavour and often has specialised pairings that distinguish each sauce from the next. With so many delicious sauces, it can be hard to wrap your head around the unique characteristics that they carry into your dish.
Some East Asian sauces are well known, such as hoisin sauce, while those who have not grown up around Asian cuisine tend to steer away from the less famous sauces, such as plum sauce. But are the two sauces that different from one another?
Plum sauce and hoisin sauce are both two thick, sweet sauces from China. However, while the sweetness of the plum sauce is accompanied by a natural tartness, hoisin sauce is more savoury.
What is Plum Sauce?
The star ingredient of plum sauce is pretty evident from its name alone – plums! Evidence suggests that China was the first country to cultivate the native stone fruit, eventually leading to the development of plum sauce.
In some parts of the world, plum sauce is better known as duck sauce, as it is most commonly paired with duck.
However, it has versatility beyond duck dishes. It is a thick, smooth sauce which makes it the perfect consistency for a meat or seafood glaze. Likewise, it is also ideal as a dipping sauce, working great with simple side dishes such as egg rolls.
Plum sauce makes full use of the natural sweetness of plums and extracts the contrasting tartness also found in plums to create a deep, complex flavour palate. Ginger and chilli peppers help to give the sauce a bit of a spicy kick, while vinegar and sugar are used to elevate the natural flavours.
You can make your own plum sauce at home by using any variety of fresh plums. But it is also common in Chinese cuisine for plum sauce to be made with the closely related apricot when plums are not in season.
What is Hoisin Sauce?
A quick search online for hoisin sauce may leave those new to Chinese cooking confused, as hoisin means seafood in Chinese.
However, hoisin sauce does not include any seafood and is mainly paired with meat dishes rather than seafood dishes. Popular uses include a glaze for chicken or pulled pork and a dipping condiment for dumplings and wontons.
Like most traditional Chinese sauces, hoisin sauce has had many interpretations through the years with each family having their own secret recipe. So long as the final result is a distinctly salty and noticeably tangy thick sauce, the ingredients added to make hoisin sauce can vary.
Such a flavour profile is why hoisin sauce is often compared to barbecue sauce. Typically, the saltiness comes from fermented soybean paste or soy sauce and the tanginess comes from adding garlic, sugar, a Chinese 5 spice mix, and possibly fennel.
Traditional hoisin sauce is not spicy despite the inclusion of Chinese 5 spice. However, many modern recipes include red chilli to add a heated kick to the sauce.
Similarities Between Plum Sauce and Hoisin Sauce
Many western interpretations of Chinese recipes try to use plum sauce and hoisin sauce interchangeably. But do they have enough similarities to work in such a way? Here are a few key similarities between the two:
- Sauce Thickness – How thick or thin a sauce is what dictates what the sauce is used for. In the case of plum sauce and hoisin sauce, they are made very thick so they can cling to meat and better incorporate their flavour into your dish. Their thickness is also why they are often used similarly in recipes.
- Intended Uses – Though plum sauce and hoisin sauce cannot really be used interchangeably, they have practically identical uses. Many stir-fry recipes or Chinese marinades will call for plum sauce or hoisin sauce to inject flavour into your dish with little effort. Both are mostly intended to be paired with meat, specifically duck, pork, or chicken. However, they are also the perfect thickness to be used as a dipping sauce for side dishes with less overwhelming flavours.
- Chinese Origin – Plum sauce and hoisin sauce are speedy and easy ways to make any stir-fry or meat dish have a more authentic Chinese taste. This is because they are two sauces that helped to build the fundamentals of traditional and modern Chinese cuisine. The sauces were invented using ingredients native to China.
Differences Between Plum Sauce and Hoisin Sauce
However, anyone with any real knowledge of Chinese foods and different Chinese recipes will know that plum sauce and hoisin sauce have some very noticeably differences that are hard to ignore. Such as:
- Tangy Vs Tart – In sweetness, plum sauce and hoisin sauce are very comparable. The real separation in flavour comes from that sweetness’s balancing taste. Plum sauce uses the natural tartness of the plums to stop the sauce from being overly sweet. Hoisin sauce relies on a more umami-based tanginess to offset the sweetness giving it a more savoury taste than plum sauce.
- Core Ingredients – Of course, the flavour differences between plum sauce and hoisin sauce are entirely due to their main core ingredients. Fermented soybeans combined with Chinese 5 spices could not be more different from the taste of plums.
- Natural Or Sugary Sweetness – Because plumb sauce draws its delicious sweetness from a natural source (plums), not only is plum sauce a healthier sauce overall compared to hoisin sauce, but it also tastes less processed–at least if you make the sauce yourself at home or buy a brand that uses a less processed method. On the other hand, hoisin sauce uses sugars to sweeten its blend. This can often make the sauce taste less natural or overly sweet.
Plum Sauce vs Hoisin Sauce: Which Wins?
If you had to pick, which would you vote for? Click below to vote in our plum sauce vs hoisin sauce poll and to discover which comes out on top:
Do You Prefer Hoisin Sauce or Plum Sauce?
Plum Sauce and Hoisin Sauce FAQs
Do you find yourself with more questions about these two popular Chinese sauces? Then have a look at these FAQs:
Although you can use these sauces in the same way, they have a drastically different flavours. If you substitute one, you will change the flavour quite clearly.
Acacia may be a freelance writer by day, but they are a food fanatic by night. They are always trying out new recipes or finding different ways to elevate classical dishes. But their biggest culinary aim is to educate others on the basics of the kitchen so that they too can enjoy delicious food.