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What Is Eel Sauce? The Best FAQ + Homemade Recipe

What Is Eel Sauce? The Best FAQ + Homemade Recipe

Eel sauce is a popular condiment, but what is eel sauce exactly?

Here’s an FAQ guide to learn more about this popular Japanese ingredient, from how it is prepared to which best dishes to pair it with.

Thick, sticky, and bursting with umami, eel sauce is one of Japanese cuisine’s secret weapons.

In traditional Japanese dishes such as eel rice bowls and eel sushi, eel sauce shines with its sweet, savory, and smoky flavor.

We know what you’re thinking: if fish sauce is made with fish, then is eel sauce made with eels?

You may be surprised, but most types of eel sauce are eel-free.

While eel sauce does not have any eel, it does make a lip-smacking partner for the mild-flavored fish.

Although it is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, eel sauce is relatively new to Western tables.

It’s about time to give this eel-ectric sauce a shot.

The good news is that eel sauce goes wonderfully with various dishes–not just eel.

If you’re a beginner in the kitchen, eel sauce might be the edge you need to wow your guests.

Later, we will go through how you can use it in the kitchen.

Eel sauce goes wonderfully with many ingredients and recipes, not just fish dishes.

In this FAQ guide, we’ve covered everything you need to know about this underrated condiment, from how it is prepared and stored to which best dishes to pair it with.

Eel sauce, or unagi tare, is a Japanese staple that adds a burst of umami flavor to dishes.

It was popularized in the United States by AFC to diversify the sushi-eating experience and to introduce more Japanese products to the American market. 

It has a dark brown color akin to soy sauce but with a thick and sticky texture.

You can adjust the sauce’s texture when making it at home, but a thick consistency works beautifully for most dishes, especially grilled vegetables, chicken, steak marinade, grilled fish, and sushi. 

You can also find eel sauce in the condiment section of Japanese or Asian grocery stores.

What does eel sauce taste like?

Eel sauce became a staple in Japan because of its bold taste held together by a delicate balance of flavors.

It’s sweet, nice salty, umami, and smoky all at the same time.

The boldness of eel sauce is the reason it pairs well with the laid-back flavors of ingredients like ee. 

Savory and meaty notes take the helm in the sauce’s taste profile, with a hint of sweet notes playing a more supportive role.

The sauce must have the right amount of sweetness to balance out the other strong personalities in the mix. 

You can think of eel sauce as a kind of barbecue sauce with a more pronounced flavor.

What is eel sauce made of?

Eel sauce is a simple reduction of mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and sake, a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice.

Sugar adds sweetness and gives the sauce a sticky texture.

Mirin also has a sweet undertone, but its primary purpose is to provide a touch of acidity to the sauce. 

Soy sauce is full of umami and gives the eel sauce its distinct meatiness.

Lastly, sake provides fruitiness and slight bitterness to round it all out.

Most store-bought eel sauces are fish-free, but some variations may contain fish stock or eel eggs, giving them a powerful punch of flavor.

You can also mix your eel sauce at home.

One of the perks of making eel sauce from scratch is that you can adjust its consistency.

Store-bought eel sauces tend to be thick, even gelatinous, compared to thinner homemade ones.

Is eel sauce and teriyaki the same?

Teriyaki and eel sauce are often confused with one another because they are almost identical in appearance.

Once both sauces are served and tasted, the difference is clear.

Eel sauce is generally thicker than teriyaki sauce, especially when using a store-bought kind. 

Teriyaki sauce has a more complex sweetness, which can be attributed to molasses-rich brown sugar. 

The use of sugar in eel sauce makes it noticeably sweeter than teriyaki.

Teriyaki provides a peppery and spicy kick to dishes since it contains ginger and garlic. 

Is eel sauce vegan?

Eel sauce is commonly paired with meat or fish, but it is usually vegan.

As previously mentioned, some recipes contain fish products to add even more depth of flavor.

Kikkoman, a famous Japanese condiment brand, has a vegan-friendly eel sauce that you can spot on grocery shelves.

You can also check the ingredient label of any eel sauce brand to be extra sure.   

How to store eel sauce

Eel sauce is a must-have ingredient in the pantry, especially for seasoned home cooks looking to spice things up.

Proper storage is vital to minimize waste and enjoy eel sauce for the longest time possible.

Kikkoman recommends refrigerating their sauce products, specially unagi tare, after opening and advises to use it within a month for the best quality. 

It’s also worth noting that homemade eel sauce has shorter shelf life than those store-bought eel sauces. 

Most homemade eel sauce is stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. 

Tools needed:

  • Homemade eel sauce
  • Airtight container
  • Refrigerator

Instructions for storing homemade eel sauce in the fridge:

  1. Transfer your homemade sauce to an airtight container.
  2. Cover the container tightly and slide it into your refrigerator.
  3. Store for up to two weeks.

Ways to use eel sauce

Eel sauce is one of the most versatile condiments around.

You can use its sweet and umami punch to flavor soups, barbeque, grilled vegetables, seafood, chicken, and other ingredients.

When you think of eel sauce as an instant flavor booster to dishes, the possibilities become endless.

Here are some delicious recipes to help you get started with eel sauce. 

Eel sauce and eel are a match made in flavor heaven.

The umami-rich eel sauce highlights the subtly sweet and savory taste of the grilled eel.

Baking the unagi fillets is a life hack to avoid the stress of firing a grill.

You’ll still get that grilled taste from the glaze since eel sauce has hints of smoke. 

Perfectly steamed white rice is the ideal partner for the glazed eel.

The mild flavor of the rice mellows out the bold taste of the sauce, making for a well-balanced dish.

Enjoy a Japanese restaurant treat at home with this recipe.

This dish uses cooked unagi, so you’ll enjoy it if the usual raw fish in sushi isn’t your thing. 

The nori seaweed sheet ensures that the roll is nice and snug.

It also provides a blanket of sweet and savory flavors that go well with the rice.

The cucumber’s crunch offers a pleasant textural contrast to the softness of the eel and rice.

The thick and syrupy eel sauce drizzled over the rolls turns every piece into a mouthwatering flavor explosion.

This recipe proves that eel sauce works with other proteins, too.

Chicken breast strips are lightly stir-fried over medium-high heat.

Lean chicken breast’s subtle meaty flavor benefits from the savory taste of the eel sauce.

You can serve this dish with a simple green salad or other sides for chicken.

You can’t have too many air fryer recipes in your back pocket.

The tofu slices get lightly crisp on the outside and soft inside.

Eel sauce is brushed on the tofu while it cooks in the air fryer, making the sauce stick nicely to the tofu.

Brushing the tofu with sauce also helps it absorb its flavor better.

The sweet flavor of eel sauce plays well with the smoky note of the bonito flakes.

Japanese-style mayonnaise has a tangy and sweet taste that balances the sauce’s saltiness.

Looking for a new recipe for meatless Mondays? 

We’ve got you covered.

Grilling the eggplant allows it to develop a nice char that looks precisely like a grilled eel.

The grilling process also infuses the eggplant with a roasted and smoky flavor. 

The strong taste of the eel sauce goes wonderfully with the light sweetness of the eggplant.

Grilled eggplant with unagi sauce makes a fantastic side dish, but it can be a satisfying meal when paired with rice.

How long does eel sauce last?

If this question is still stuck in your head, the short answer is: Eel sauce can’t last forever, even if we use all the best storage techniques.

There’s a simple rule of thumb on how long eel sauce lasts.

Homemade eel sauce can last up to two weeks when refrigerated in an airtight container.

Store-bought eel sauce lasts longer than homemade, but you should still refrigerate it right after opening it. 

Kikkoman recommends using their eel sauce for the best possible quality within a month after opening.

You can also freeze eel sauce if you’re not planning on using it every often to increase its shelf life.

Here’s a tip: Make eel sauce ice cubes using a regular ice cube tray to have individual servings ready.

How to tell if eel sauce is bad

Store-bought eel sauce can last several months, which is good news for people who love to enjoy the sauce in their recipes. 

For homemade eel sauce, you need to consume it within 2 weeks for maximum flavor. 

If you happen to have eel sauce that has been sitting in your pantry or fridge for quite a while now, it may be time to look for signs of spoilage.

Here’s how to tell if eel sauce is bad:

Smell And Taste

Fresh eel sauce should have no funny smell and feature a combination of complex flavors, typically sweet, salty, umami, and smoky.

Spoiled eel sauce will have a noticeable foul odor and sour taste compared to when you first bought or made it.


Another way to tell if your eel sauce has gone bad is by checking its appearance. 

Mold or yeast on the sauce or bottle surface also indicates that your sauce has gone bad.

The bottom line

Eel sauce is a grilled eel and sushi staple in Japanese cuisine, but it can also be a trusty weapon in your kitchen once you get to know it.

It’s an all-around condiment that can blend sweet, salty, and savory flavors into many dishes.

The complexity of the flavor eel sauce brings to the table makes it a worthy addition to your home-cooked specialties.

You can brush it on meat for a quick glaze or use it as a dipping sauce for that extra burst of umami.

There is a world of flavor to be unlocked by learning all about eel sauce and using it in your recipes. 

More About Eel Sauce

Eel Sauce Recipe

Eel Sauce Recipe

Yield: 6
Prep Time: 1 minute
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 2 minutes

Smoky, sweet, and laden with umami, this homemade sauce recipe will elevate your favorite grilled fish, chicken, and sushi!


  • 1/2 c soy sauce
  • 1/2 c white sugar
  • 3/4 c mirin
  • 3 T water


  1. Combine soy sauce, white sugar, and mirin in a small saucepan. 
  2. Place it over medium heat and cook for five minutes while stirring.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, stir, and let it simmer for five more minutes until it thickens. 

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