Sweet and Sour Sauce

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Make a homemade sweet and sour sauce to enhance the taste of any dish! This popular Asian dipping sauce combines a tomato base with tangy rice vinegar, honey, and pineapple juice. Ready in just 5 minutes!

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

Sweet and sour sauce is one of the most popular and versatile condiments for Asian cuisine. You can toss this tangy liquid into a stir-fry or serve it as a dipping sauce alongside appetizers like egg rolls or potstickers. Most Chinese takeout places are more than willing to grab you handfuls of sweet and sour sauce if you ask, but why not make it at home and control the ingredients?

The good news is that this sauce is incredibly easy to make and done in 5 minutes. Contrasting ingredients like tomato paste, rice vinegar, pineapple juice, and honey boosts the taste in seconds. 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.

ingredients pre-portioned in individual bowls

How do you make sweet and sour sauce?

  • Combine ingredients in a saucepan.
  • Whisk together a cornstarch slurry.
  • Bring tomato mixture to a low boil.
  • Pour in cornstarch slurry and whisk to combine.
  • Cook until sauce is thickened (coat the back of a spoon).

whisk mixing red sauce liquid in a pan

What is sweet and sour sauce made of?

To make a sweet and sour sauce that rivals those that you find restaurants, I did a little reverse engineering. It’s a tomato-based sauce, but instead of using ketchup, I start with tomato paste so I can control the sugar level. The sweet and savory flavors are concentrated, and you don’t need to add too much.

I like to use natural sweeteners like honey instead of brown sugar to add caramel notes. Pure maple syrup may be substituted if you’re making a Paleo version. Pineapple juice adds a fruity punch without diluting the flavor of the sauce. Rice vinegar adds the characteristic mouth pucker and balances the honey. Soy sauce provides a rich savory flavor, to tie in some Asian flavor. Dried garlic and onion powder add an earthy element to the sauce.

cornstarch slurry being poured into a pan with bubbling sauce liquid

How do you thicken the sauce?

What turns the liquid tomato base into a luscious sauce that effortlessly clings to foods is a thickening agent like cornstarch. You can experiment with different levels and see vastly different changes in viscosity. I’ve found for about a cup of liquid, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch adds enough swelling ability to make it pourable and adhere.

Arrowroot powder is a comparable substitute, but you’ll need a little bit more and it doesn’t reheat well. Add the slurry into the bubbly hot liquid, and stir until you see it swell. This magical change will happen in seconds, so don’t take your eyes off the pan!

Dishes to serve with this

Some of my favorite recipes to pair with sweet and sour sauce has to be egg rolls and crab rangoon. However, this is a versatile sauce that can be used for nearly all appetizers or entrees, and there’s no reason to limit its use just to Asian food either. If you’ve got a food that’s good for dipping like meatballs, then why not give this sauce a try.

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

More Chinese recipes

Use a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce

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. A combination of 1 part cornstarch mixed with 2 parts of water to help disperse it more readily into the hot liquid. The key is to continuously stir cornstarch as you’re adding it into a near-boiling liquid for near-instant thickening power. If there is no agitation, the sauce will become clumpy.

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Sweet and Sour Sauce

Homemade sweet and sour sauce perfect for dipping! Made with a tomato paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and pineapple juice.
Pin Print Review
4.22 from 14 votes
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time1 min
Total Time6 mins
Servings 16 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients

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

Instructions 

  • Whisk together rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, tomato paste, pineapple juice, garlic powder, onion powder in a medium-sized bowl.
  • Whisk together cornstarch and water in a small bowl.
  • Add tomato mixture to a small saucepan or skillet, heat over medium-high heat.
  • Once the sauce comes to a low boil, gradually add the cornstarch mixture. Whisk constantly until the sauce thickens, about 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Transfer sweet and sour sauce to a bowl.

Equipment

  • Skillet

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 1 cup (240ml) of sauce.
  • Serving Size: 1 tablespoon (15ml).
  • Tapioca starch/flour can be substituted for cornstarch. Use 2 tablespoons tapioca starch.
  • MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: Substitute gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos for soy sauce.
  • MAKE IT PALEO: Substitute 4 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder for 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Substitute pure maple syrup for honey. 

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Nutrition Facts
Sweet and Sour Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 40
% Daily Value*
Sodium 87mg4%
Potassium 41mg1%
Carbohydrates 10g3%
Sugar 9g10%
Vitamin A 45IU1%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 2mg0%
Iron 0.2mg1%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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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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