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Eel Sauce Substitute FAQ: What Can You Use Instead?

If you’re making Asian food and your recipe calls for eel sauce, but you just don’t have any and don’t want to go out special just for that, you can find a list of eel sauce substitute right here!

Eel sauce is used in cooking to give dishes a sweet, salty, and umami flavor. 

So is eel sauce made of eel or do you eat it with eel or neither?

Eel sauce, also called unagi or unagi no tare, is a thick, brown seasoned sauce or condiment used often in Japanese cooking (and other types of Asian dishes). 

While the historic Japanese recipe for eel sauce used to include brine from eel and eel by-products, store-bought eel sauce products nowadays don’t contain any eel (or any animal products) at all.

There are usually four basic ingredients that are cooked down to make a thick sauce: sugar, rice wine, mirin, and soy sauce.

You can buy it in the Asian foods aisle of major grocery stores, online, or you can make it yourself. 

Eel sauce can be eaten with eel sashimi, eel sushi, or eel anything else, but it has a broad base of flavors so it can be eaten on, with, alongside or mixed into many global cuisines.

It is a popular Asian condiment similar to soy or fish sauce. 

It adds umami flavors to many dishes and can be found in Asian grocers, where it’s sold as a dry powder or in a glass jar. 

It’s a staple in many dishes, but if you can’t find it at your local grocery store and want to make your favorite Japanese dishes, keep reading to find out the best eel sauce substitute recipes.

It’s similar to teriyaki glaze, with a sweet and savory taste from soy and mirin. 

The easiest way to make eel sauce is by combining soy sauce and mirin, then adding sake or dry sherry to it before simmering the ingredients together.

If you’re looking for an eel sauce substitute that can give you a similar taste without a lot of effort, try soy sauce, teriyaki glaze, or hoisin.

But wait!

Watch out for #9 because it just might surprise you.

Here are the best eel sauce substitutes.

What is the flavor of eel sauce?

Eel sauce contains a wide variety of flavors, the most prominent of which are sweet, salty, umami, and smoky. 

Eel sauce traditionally eaten today actually doesn’t taste “fishy” at all.

A large portion of eel sauce contains soy sauce, a common pantry seasoning, so if you go to have a taste, you might be surprised at how the first sensation is sweet, then salty.

How is eel sauce used in cooking?

Eel sauce is one of those ingredients you might not think you need in your kitchen, but once you start using it, it may be hard to go without.

Eel sauce is a dark, thick, sweet and salty condiment that can be used to add an umami-packed flavor to various dishes.

Try it mixed in with:

  • Shrimp or chicken stir fry
  • Tofu or vegetable fried rice
  • Asian salad dressing
  • Egg drop or wonton soup
  • Egg dishes, like quiche
  • A bowl of cheap ramen noodles
  • Peanut butter to make peanut dipping sauce

Try it alongside:

  • Heated frozen dumplings from Trader Joes
  • Homemade sushi or store-bought sushi
  • Sticky rice
  • As a dip for edamame

While some old-fashioned formulations did use pureed eel or brined eel bones, many ingredients for eel sauce don’t use eel at all.

Eel sauce has a rich flavor reminiscent of soy sauce or teriyaki sauce but with a more complex taste profile.

  • Eel sauce is sweeter and thicker than Worcestershire sauce and less vinegary.
  • Eel sauce is sweeter than steak sauce (like A-1) and less vinegary.
  • Eel sauce is about the same texture and flavor as oyster sauce.
  • Eel sauce is not as sweet as hoisin, but is the same thickness with fewer ingredients than hoisin.
  • Eel sauce is sweeter and thicker than soy sauce, but since eel sauce is almost half soy sauce, has a base flavor much like it.
  • Eel sauce is similar in taste to teriyaki glaze, but thicker than regular teriyaki sauce.
  • Eel sauce is much sweeter and thicker than Bragg’s Aminos, but about as salty.

It’s also commonly used in stir-fries and soups for added depth and richness.

And if you’re looking for an easy way to add some zing to your next batch of homemade ramen noodles but don’t have any eel sauce on hand…

…try one of these eel sauce substitutes below.

Substitutes for Eel Sauce

Teriyaki is a great accompaniment to many dishes, including steak and other meats. 

It’s great as a marinade base and keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can use it again if you don’t use the whole bottle at once.

If you do not have unagi (eel) sauce, you can substitute teriyaki sauce for it because the two sauces have comparable components, such as sugar and soy sauce.

How is it used?

This sauce is traditional in Japanese cuisine and is used to give food an irresistible gloss.

Remember that teriyaki sauce has other spices, such as ginger and garlic, and that honey is sometimes added as a sweetener. 

Teriyaki is a unique mixture of flavorful ingredients used in many Asian cooking practices. 

However, it has a slightly sweet taste, and with fish sauce or soy sauce, it can be packed with an excess amount of sodium content.

If you want to make Korean Galbi at home, we have just the thing. 

This sauce is the perfect substitute for eel sauce as they add flavor, color, and texture. 

Traditional Korean barbecue restaurants often use galbi to glaze or marinate meats like beef or pork. 

The flavor varies from brand to brand but typically begins with soy sauce and sugar, then incorporates other types of fruit essence, including pears and apples.

How is it used?

Even though galbi does not include any mirin and has a hint of fruitiness, it will work wonderfully as a stand-in for eel sauce. 

Spreading the sauce on meat or eel, or using it in stir-fry, is a fantastic way to enjoy it.

If you’re missing eel sauce, hoisin makes for a delicious substitute. 

This sauce is made from sweetened soybeans and can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store. 

Hoisin is an ingredient in several Asian dishes, but it also makes a great dipping sauce or glazes over meat, seafood, and even vegetables.

How is it used?

This is a traditional Chinese sauce that imparts flavors of heat, sweetness, and saltiness into the food you prepare. 

It works wonderfully as a glaze and is famous for giving Peking Duck its distinctive ruby-red and golden-crispy skin.

On the other hand, hoisin is excellent for dipping and has a more nuanced flavor profile than eel sauce. 

In its foundation are soybean paste, sugar, and vinegar, and it is seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices. 

If you don’t like it spicy, you should read the product’s label before buying it because some of them include spicy chilis.

You might like these hoisin sauce substitutes!

Soy sauce is a delicious, simple, versatile condiment in Asian cooking and beyond. 

It’s also the base for many other sauces that you can substitute. 

Additionally, several different varieties of soy sauce extend the range of possibilities beyond just salty flavoring. 

How is it used?

Try using regular soy sauce instead of a sweet marinade if you are attempting to reduce the amount of sugar you consume or do not want to use a sweet marinade. 

What’s more, soy sauce is a common condiment that can be found in kitchens and stores all around the world.

You may like to check out how soy sauce compares to tamari.

Ponzu works nicely as a substitute for eel sauce in many cuisines, such as sushi and other seafood dishes. 

Simply mix equal parts of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and citrus juice (usually lemon or lime) in a glass container and refrigerate. 

Use as needed on occasion, adding more to taste if required. 

It’s delicious! 

How is it used?

Ponzu is an excellent choice to consider using in your cooking if you like to incorporate a lot of tangy flavors.

It is a traditional Japanese condiment that, like unagi, is primarily composed of soy sauce and mirin as its foundational components. 

However, the main distinction lies in the additional citrus components, such as sudachi and yuzu, added to the recipe.

Shoyu is a Japanese-style soy sauce. 

Eel sauce has around one-third of its total volume with Shoyu, a Japanese variety of soy sauce.

How is it used?

Shoyu is made of fermented soybeans, but has no sugar added, so it’s lighter and less sweet than traditional soy sauces.

Nevertheless, shoyu can serve as a suitable substitute for eel sauce if it is not available.

In place of eel sauce, you can use honey or maple syrup. 

Both are great sweeteners that have different characteristics and flavors. 

If you decide to use honey, go with a lighter one. 

It has a more subtle sweetness than darker versions that can be overpowering.

The lighter honey is typically found at health food stores or farmer’s markets. 

They are very sweet and distinctly flavored and are often used in Asian cuisine. 

How is it used?

For example, you can use honey or maple syrup to coat grilled or fried fish, chicken, shrimp, and pork skewers. 

Mix into marinades, sauces, and dressings, or use a pastry brush to apply directly to proteins.

The bottom line

So, let’s recap:

  • Eel sauce is a rich, thick, and flavorful sauce used in Japanese and other Asian cooking to complement sashimi and sushi, as well as many other uses.
  • Eel sauce, most of which have no eel at all in the ingredients, are dark, flavorful sauces used often in Asian cuisines.
  • Eel sauce doesn’t taste fishy.
  • Eel sauce has lots of different names.
  • You can eat eel sauce with dishes that have eel in them, like sushi or sashimi, but you can use eel sauce in plant-based dishes, like in marinades and dips.
  • Eel sauce can be substituted for other sauces, such as soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ponzu, shoyu, teriyaki, or Korean galbi.

While you might have soy sauce as a pantry staple, eel sauce…maybe not so much.

Luckily, there are plenty of eel sauce substitutes that you can use instead!

The best part about using an eel sauce substitute? 

You get to experiment with new flavors and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you combined it yourself. 

If you’re looking for something spicy, try mixing in some sriracha, cholula, or Frank’s hot sauce. 

Or, if you’re looking for something purely sweet, add some honey or agave nectar. 

The possibilities are endless!