Hot and Sour Soup

4.92 from 23 votes
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This easy hot and sour soup recipe is a quick and hearty appetizer in just 30 minutes! Each spoonful is packed with shiitake mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, and chicken.

Hot and sour soup with chicken and tofu in a white bowl.

Hot and sour soup is a classic Chinese appetizer you can easily make at home. The authentic flavors deliver just the right proportion of spice and tanginess. It’s refreshing to the taste buds when done right. You’ll be surprised that the soup isn’t spicy from chilis; the white pepper gives it the characteristic heat.

The key is to balance the savory, spicy, and vinegar notes. I use chicken thighs and shiitake mushrooms to enhance the chicken stock base. Simple thickening agents like cornstarch and egg ribbons enhance the texture. If you enjoy making this, you’ll want to try my wonton soup recipe next.

Ingredients for hot and sour soup pre-portioned into little bowls.

What is hot and sour soup?

This soup is a popular appetizer found at Chinese restaurants adored for its pungency and spiciness. White pepper and black rice vinegar add the characteristic taste. The base contains garlic, ginger, sesame oil, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and meat like pork or chicken.

A beaten egg is slowly poured in to give a similar texture as egg drop soup. It’s usually presented in a small bowl with sliced green onions, black pepper, and cilantro leaves for a pop of color and freshness.

Use chicken thighs

Traditional recipes use pork to flavor the stock, but my version uses chicken thighs because it’s more flavorful due to the dark meat and fat. I also find that it doesn’t dry out as quickly when simmered. Use thinly sliced tenderloin, chops, or ground meat if you want pork.

Pouring chicken stock into a pot with pieces of chicken.

Mushroom selection

Mushrooms add a deep umami flavor that infuses into the soup. I use thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms. However, dried can be rehydrated in warm water and added to the chicken stock.

Dried shiitake mushrooms are incredibly concentrated in flavor and will add a robust, savory taste. Wood ear mushrooms are also traditionally used. They have a chewy and almost seaweed-like texture.

Use black vinegar

Chinese black vinegar creates a unique fermented and intense flavor. Depending on the brand, it may contain onions, sugar, tomato paste, carrot juice, and spices. It’s similar to Worcestershire sauce but with a more intense vinegar taste. You can find it at most Asian grocery stores.

Yellow egg mixture being slowly poured into a pot of soup.

White pepper adds spiciness

White pepper is the one ingredient you shouldn’t substitute with something else. It has a unique sharp peppery bite and slightly smoky taste. It’s added at the end of cooking by stirring it in the soup because the taste can become bitter if overheated.

I like to serve spicy chili oil on the side so everyone can customize the heat level.

Thickening the soup

A cornstarch slurry is added at the end of cooking to thicken the soup. I use a ratio of 2-parts water to 1-part cornstarch and a simple circular motion to mix it. This ensures that the starches are appropriately dispersed in the water to prevent them from clumping together when it hits the hot chicken stock.

Hot and sour soup recipe made in a large blue pot.

Make the soup vegetarian

You can swap out a few things. Omit the chicken and add different types of mushrooms like wood ear or oyster for the savory flavor. Or you can add 12 ounces of firm tofu, which won’t break down as it simmers. Use vegetable stock or broth instead of chicken stock. Disregard the eggs for a vegan version.

Serve this with

FAQ

Is Chinese hot and sour soup healthy?

Yes, a serving of soup is a healthy appetizer. My version has tofu, chicken, and eggs for extra protein. The soup is thickened with a cornstarch slurry for a lower-calorie way to add viscosity to the chicken stock base.

What are the black things in the soup?

Umami-rich mushrooms are added to the hot and sour soup. This can be fresh or dried shiitake or wood ear (also called black fungus or cloud ears). They can be found at Asian grocery stores. The sliced pieces of dried mushrooms will give a dark brown to black appearance to the mushrooms in the soup. Don’t worry, it’s delicious!

Does hot and sour soup have meat?

Some versions add meat, like chicken, to the soup. If you prefer a vegetarian option, omit the poultry. You can increase the amount of tofu in the soup.

Spoon serving hot and sour soup out of a large pot.

Can you substitute Chinese black vinegar?

Black vinegar gives the best flavor and most balanced tanginess, but other types of vinegar can be used. I recommend distilled white vinegar or red wine vinegar. Start with 1 teaspoon to gauge the taste, then gradually add more. Soy sauce can help balance the intense flavor with savory notes if needed. Worcestershire is another option: simply add 1 teaspoon at a time and adjust to taste.

Hot and Sour Soup

Easy Chinese hot and sour soup recipe in just 30 minutes! Each hearty spoonful is loaded with robust flavor and a bit of heat.
4.92 from 23 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Soup
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 4 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs, ⅛-inch thick slices
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, ⅛-inch thick slices
  • ¼ cup bamboo shoots, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces firm tofu, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 large egg, lightly whisked
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • hot chili oil, optional

Instructions 

  • Cook the Aromatics – In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute for 30-seconds.
  • Saute the Chicken – Add the sliced chicken, and saute until cooked through, about 2 minutes.
  • Simmer the Soup – Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, and salt, and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add tofu and cook for 1 minute.
  • Thicken the Consistency – In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Gradually add to the soup, constantly stirring until the consistency is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add the Egg – Turn off the heat and drizzle in the whisked egg. Use a spoon to stir the soup using figure-eight motion until you see strands of cooked egg appear.
  • Add White Pepper – Stir in the white pepper. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste.
  • To Serve – Portion out the soup and garnish with green onions, cilantro, and chili oil if using.

Recipe Video

Equipment

Notes

  • MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: Substitute gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos for soy sauce. Use red wine vinegar or distilled vinegar if your Chinese black vinegar is not gluten-free.
  • Make it VEGETARIAN: Add more mushrooms or tofu to replace the chicken. Use vegetable stock or broth. Omit the egg for a vegan version.
  • Black Vinegar Substitutes: Use distilled white vinegar or red wine vinegar. Add 1 teaspoon at a time, taste, and gradually add more as desired. Additional soy sauce can be used to balance the taste. Worcestershire sauce can be used, 1 teaspoon at a time to taste.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 205kcal (10%)Carbohydrates 10g (3%)Protein 17g (34%)Fat 11g (17%)Saturated Fat 4g (20%)Cholesterol 79mg (26%)Sodium 787mg (33%)Potassium 335mg (10%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 105IU (2%)Vitamin C 0.6mg (1%)Calcium 91mg (9%)Iron 1.7mg (9%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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13 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. JJ says

    Jess, I’d like to give this a try, but the Chinese black vinegar is a issue. Google:
    “In America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for Hot and Sour Soup they call for 5 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar plus 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. So a 50/50 mix of both vinegars for more than twice the amount of Chinkiang vinegar.”
    Taking this apart, it sounds like 1 T. balsamic vinegar & 1 T. red wine vinegar = 5 T. Chinese black vinegar.
    If this is correct, how much of this 50-50 mix of vinegars substitute the 2 T. needed for this soup recipe?

  2. Christine says

    It was a perfect cold day to try this recipe and it was so tasty! I didn’t have the black vinegar but used the distilled vinegar and it was still very good. My soup was whiter in color and was wondering if its the black vinegar that gives it a darker color. I’ll have to try it and maybe some chili oil!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Christine- Yes, the black vinegar gives the soup a more brown color. Next time you could add a little bit of balsamic vinegar if you want it darker or a little more soy sauce.

  3. John kenyon says

    My wife liked this dish. I didn’t have the Chinese Black vinegar, so I was going to use the red wine vinegar. However, what I had on hand was Red cooking wine, would that have worked? I was used apple cider vinegar instead. It worked out well, just had a really bad smell! Hahaha.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thanks for your feedback John! No, the red cooking wine is just alcohol so that wouldn’t have provided the aditity. Yes, apple cider vinegar is stronger in odor, maybe rice vinegar if you have it next time? Thanks for making the recipe!

  4. Darlene says

    Hi Jessica. Just want you to know I love this recipe. Substituted distilled white vinegar for Chinese black vinegar. So deliciously warming on a chilly winter evening. It was excellent! Thank you so much!

  5. RuthAnne says

    Hi Jessica, we love this recipe! Waited for our Amazon order to arrive so we had the black vinegar which is a very distinctive seasoning. It’s lovely to be able to make hot and sour soup at home, so thank you for sharing it!

    • Lynn says

      Dear RuthAnne,

      I had always thought I could not duplicate the flavor of our favorite takeout soup and that it would be too difficult to make but thanks to Jessica (and a recipe I have from the Washington Post), as well as the pandemic (one of its few benefits–I have already booked my trip to see our “grands” back east), I made it for the first time late last March. It was SO good!

      First, I think you were wise waiting for the black vinegar–the subs are alright, but the real deal even better! One other tip, the Post article also calls for 1½ teaspoons of Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine). You can substitute dry Sherry; it also helps to capture that authentic, truly “hot&sour” quality of the soup.

      Jessica, thanks so much for your recipe, and even more for helping dispel the mystique of those of us who love Hot & Sour soup…

      • Jessica Gavin says

        Hi Lynn- I’m happy that I could help you recreate a dish that you enjoy. Thanks for sharing your substitutions, I’m sure others will find it helpful. Have fun visiting the grandkids!

  6. Rose Kottakis says

    I expected pork in a hot and sour soup recipe. Asking why you used chicken? I will try this recipe and I have black vinegar! YAY! I also remember eating lilly buds and black fungus mushrooms in some take out. Love to hear your thoughts.

  7. caren J barnes says

    Hello we made this Friday night very good. We went back and added more bamboo shoots and even bean sprouts. The next day my husband wanted to have a couple of scoops of rice on top. We fixed egg rolls it was a very satisficing meal.