Sweet and Sour Sauce

4.84 from 24 votes
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Make a homemade sweet and sour sauce to dip or add flavor to your favorite Asian foods. It’s easy and ready to serve in just 10 minutes!

dipping fried wonton into a small bowl of sweet and sour sauce

Sweet and sour sauce is a versatile tangy condiment in Asian cuisine. You can toss it into a stir-fry or serve it as a dipping sauce alongside appetizers like egg rolls or potstickers. Most Chinese takeout restaurants are willing to give you handfuls of packets if you ask, but I’ll show you how to make a more flavorful version at home.

This sauce is effortless to make, and the ingredients are not hard to find at the store. Using a cornstarch slurry is a simple way to instantly thicken the liquids while creating a glossy and luscious sauce to dip or drizzle over any dish. Simply whisk and simmer, then it’s ready to use.

ingredients to make a sauce and their labels

What is sweet and sour sauce?

A popular Chinese-style tangy sauce with sweet, aromatic, and savory ingredients. Tomato paste is used for color and flavor, a sweetener like sugar or honey for sweetness, and rice vinegar for zest. There’s also soy sauce for a savory taste, pineapple juice for fruitiness, and a cornstarch slurry for thickening.

Sometimes a few drops of red food coloring are added instead of tomato paste as a more affordable coloring agent.

Tomato selection

The recipe is tomato-based, and most often, restaurants use ketchup as a quick ingredient already sweetened and seasoned. However, I like to control the amount of ingredients added for a better, more repeatable flavor. 

I use canned tomato paste since it’s concentrated to remove most moisture. The paste is naturally a sweetened product with savory glutamates that will enhance the umami taste of the sauce. It’s very thick, so you don’t need too much.

How to sweeten the taste

I use honey to add sweetness and a syrupy-like consistency. It also provides a pleasant floral taste to the sauce. You can use other types of sweeteners like granulated sugar for a pure, clean taste. Brown sugar or pure maple syrup will give more of a lingering molasses note. 

Maple is excellent if you’re looking for a Paleo version. I also use pineapple juice to add natural fructose for a bump in sweetness. The citric and malic acids contained in the fruit also help enhance the sauce’s flavor.

Vinegar makes it sour

This sauce is famous because of the slight mouth pucker to complement the sweetness. I use a generous amount of unseasoned rice vinegar to add zing. The product has been fermented from rice grains, so it has a more mild taste than distilled white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is also a good substitute for a fruity flavor.

whisk mixing red liquid sauce in a pan

Add savory notes

To balance the sweet and tangy notes, add soy sauce. The intense savory, fermented flavors add dimension. Dried garlic and onion powder provide a strong cooked allium flavor to the mixture without tasting raw and sulfurous.

Use a thicken agent

A cornstarch slurry is a common thickening agent used in Asian cuisine. It’s prized for its glossy, translucent, sheen, and quick gelling. Dilute in water first before adding to a hot liquid, so it disperses quickly and doesn’t clump. For about 1 cup of liquid, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch adds enough swelling ability to make it pourable and adhere to foods.

How to make sweet and sour sauce

The process is straightforward for turning the liquid tomato base into a sticky sauce that clings to foods. All flavoring ingredients like tomato paste, pineapple juice, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, and seasoning are mixed. 

Grab a small skillet to simmer the sauce. The heat will quickly cook the starches when added. Pour the cornstarch slurry into the bubbly hot liquid and whisk until it swells and thickens. This magical change will happen in seconds, so don’t take your eyes off the pan! The sauce should coat the back of the spoon.

cornstarch slurry being poured into a pan with bubbling liquid

Serve this with

FAQ

Is sweet and sour sauce made of ketchup?

Some recipes use ketchup because tomato paste is in the sauce. However, I prefer adding individual ingredients to control the level of seasoning.

Can I make the sauce grain-free?

Yes! Arrowroot powder is a comparable substitute for cornstarch. It’s mild in flavor and cooks up translucent and shiny. You’ll need a bit more for similar thickening, 4 ½ teaspoons diluted in 3 tablespoons of water.

What is the difference between sweet and sour and duck sauce?

Duck sauce has a fruity flavor from plums or apricots, but both contain vinegar and savory seasonings. Duck sauce is often served with Peking Duck.

spoon lifting a scoop of sweet and sour sauce out of a pan

Recipe Science

Use a cornstarch slurry for thickening

In every Chinese kitchen, you’ll find cornstarch. It’s a powerful thickening agent that can turn runny liquids into sauces with body and shine. Mixing 1 part cornstarch with 2 parts of water will help disperse it more readily into the hot liquid. The key is to stir as you add it into a near-boiling liquid. If there’s no agitation, the sauce will clump.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Homemade sweet and sour sauce perfect for dipping! Made with tomato paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and pineapple juice.
4.84 from 24 votes
Prep Time9 minutes
Cook Time1 minute
Total Time10 minutes
Servings 16 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients 
 

  • ½ cup honey
  • cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water

Instructions 

  • Mix the Sauce – In a medium bowl, whisk together honey, rice vinegar, tomato paste, pineapple juice, soy sauce, onion powder, and garlic powder.
  • Cornstarch Slurry – In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water.
  • Simmer – In a small skillet or saucepan, add the sauce. Heat over medium-high heat until it begins to simmer and bubble, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Thicken the Consistency – Give the cornstarch slurry a mix, then gradually add it to the pan, constantly stirring to combine. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.
  • Serve – Transfer to a dipping bowl or toss with desired meat or vegetables.

Equipment

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 1 cup (240ml)
  • Serving Size: 1 tablespoon (15ml)
  • Substituting Cornstarch: Use 4 ½ teaspoons of arrowroot powder mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. Alternatively, 2 tablespoons tapioca starch with 4 tablespoons of water.
  • Make it Paleo, Gluten-Free, and Vegan: Use pure maple syrup instead of honey. Arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch. Coconut aminos or Braggs Liquid Aminos instead of soy sauce.
  • Storing: Cool completely, then store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Reheating: Reheat on the stovetop over medium-low heat, occasionally stirring until hot. The sauce may not be as thick.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 16 servings
Calories 40kcal (2%)Carbohydrates 10g (3%)Sodium 87mg (4%)Potassium 41mg (1%)Sugar 9g (10%)Vitamin A 45IU (1%)Vitamin C 1mg (1%)Calcium 2mgIron 0.2mg (1%)

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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5 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      If you could find some allulose or yacon syrup to replace the honey that would be something to try for a low carb option. Let me know if you give it a try!