Homemade sweet and sour sauce is so much better than store bought because you get to make it as sweet or as sour as you want. Plus, it only takes 7 minutes to make from start to finish!

homemade sweet and sour sauce

What is Sweet and Sour Sauce?

The original sweet and sour sauce comes from the Chinese province of Henan. It was used as a condiment for fish, meats, and vegetables, and was made of a mixture of light vinegar and sugar.

What’s interesting is that the Henan version of sweet and sour sauce is only used there. The rest of mainland China has a different version of sweet and sour sauce, which is traditionally made with a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, cloves, and other spices. Sometimes tomato paste is added, however it’s not very common.

In China, sweet and sour sauce is used more often as a dipping sauce than as a cooking sauce, like it is here in the U.S.

The Western version of sweet and sour sauce is Cantonese and comes from Hong Kong. It was originally created for sweet and sour pork (咕嚕肉).

Here in the U.S, the sauce is used in stir fries (like this sweet and sour tofu recipe) and as a dipping sauce. The main difference between the sauce you taste here and the one in Hong Kong is in the level of sweetness – it tends to be on the sweeter side here while the Hong Kong version is more complex, savory, and tangy.

Since I’m based in the U.S, this recipe is going to be closer to the American version than the Chinese version. But I will show you how to tweak it so it can be exactly the way you like it!

ingredients for sweet and sour sauce

Ingredients for Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • Sugar: Brown sugar is what I like to use but you can use granulated sugar as well. 1/3 cup is enough to give the sauce the perfect balance between sweet and sour.
  • Salt: Salt is necessary to balance the flavors and bring out the sauce’s tanginess.
  • Ketchup: You can use ketchup or Worcestershire sauce. If you use Worcestershire sauce, start with 1 tablespoon and do a taste test. Add more if needed.
  • Soy sauce: Soy sauce adds depth of flavor to the sauce by adding umami and a savory note.
  • Vinegar: You can use plain rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
  • Water: Use cold or room temperature water to dissolve the cornstarch. If you start the recipe with hot water, the cornstarch will turn gloopy.
  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch is necessary to thicken the sauce and give it its gooey texture.

Kitchen Tools Needed

  • Small pot
  • Whisk
  • Glass jar or other storage container
how to make sweet and sour sauce

How to Make Sweet and Sour Sauce

  1. Gather all of your ingredients for this recipe.
  2. Put all the ingredients in a small pot and whisk to dissolve the cornstarch.
  3. Turn the heat to medium high and keep whisking until the sauce thickens and bubbles.
  4. Turn off heat and transfer the sauce to a glass jar or other storage container.
  5. Use immediately or let it cool to room temperature before refrigerating it.
how to make sweet and sour sauce

How to Tweak this Sauce to Make it Perfect for You

Make it more sweet

To make the sauce sweeter, add sugar in increments of 1 teaspoon at a time. Do a taste test every time you add sugar so the sauce doesn’t end up too sweet.

Make it less sweet

Start with 1/4 cup of sugar and do a taste test. Add more if needed. You can also swap the ketchup for Worcestershire sauce. Since Worcestershire sauce is quite strong, start with 1 tablespoon and work your way up from there.

Make it more tangy

Add an additional tablespoon of vinegar and/or use Worcestershire sauce instead of ketchup.

Make it less tangy

Replace 1 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar with water.

Make it the traditional Chinese way

Use this combination of ingredients and follow the recipe the same way:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon shaoxing wine
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar or black vinegar
  • 150ml water
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
sweet and sour sauce

How to Use Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and sour sauce can be used in many different ways which makes it a lot of fun to cook with. Here are my favorite uses for it:

  • In stir fries for dishes like sweet and sour chicken or pork. Make the stir fry first and add a couple of spoonfuls of sweet and sour sauce in the end, right before turning off the heat. Or go vegetarian with this delicious sweet and sour tofu recipe.
  • As a dipping sauce to a vegetable plate. I love to add crisp iceberg lettuce leaves like to my vegetable plate as they pair so well with this sauce.
  • As a dipping sauce for spring rolls, dumplings, and fried wontons. It’s a classic, you can’t go wrong here.

Other Easy Homemade Sauces

Here are other easy homemade sauces you can make in just a few minutes!

sweet and sour sauce recipe

How to Store it in the Fridge and the Freezer

In the fridge:

Store the sauce in a jar or storage container and refrigerate up to 3 weeks.

In the freezer: The sauce will have a much longer shelf life when frozen so the best way to save it, if you made a lot more than you needed, is to portion it out so you only take out from the freezer what you need. You can use food storage plastic bags or airtight storage containers.

To thaw, place the sauce in the microwave and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. Or you can put the frozen sauce in a small pot and thaw it over medium heat.

sweet and sour sauce in a jar

Did you like this Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!

Print

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Homemade sweet and sour sauce is so much better than store bought because you get to make it as sweet or as sour as you want. Plus, it only takes 7 minutes to make from start to finish!

  • Author: Caroline Phelps
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 7 minutes
  • Yield: about 1 1/2 cup 1x
  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Stove top
  • Cuisine: Chinese
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Ingredients

Scale
  1. ⅓ cup brown sugar
  2. ½ teaspoon salt
  3. 2 tablespoons ketchup or 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  4. 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  5. 5 ½ tablespoons plain rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  6. ⅔ cup water
  7. 1 ½ tablespoon cornstarch

Instructions

  1. In a small pot over low heat, add all the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce.
  2. Stir and turn the heat up to medium.
  3. Keep stirring until the sauce bubbles and thickens.
  4. Turn the heat off and transfer to a jar or other storage container. 
  5. Let the sauce cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Notes

In the fridge: Store the sauce in a jar or storage container and refrigerate up to 3 weeks.

In the freezer: Portion out the sauce into serving sizes in food storage plastic bags, or airtight storage containers so you only take out from the freezer what you need.

To thaw, place the sauce in the microwave and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. Or you can put the frozen sauce in a small pot and thaw it over medium heat.

Keywords: condiment, stir fry sauce

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