Oyster Sauce vs Oyster Flavored Sauce: What’s The Difference?

Oyster Sauce vs Oyster Flavored Sauce
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Oyster Sauce vs Oyster Flavored Sauce

Oyster Sauce is rich in flavor and used in multiple forms of cuisine from all around the world. Although it has its roots in China, it has become famous globally. They’re right when they say sauces make up more than half of the recipe.

After all, what is a meal that doesn’t taste right simply because its most complex ingredient is missing? Oyster sauce adds the right amount of color, flavor, and brightness to anything it’s added to and is a must-have for certain recipes.

We’ll be taking you through a comprehensive comparison of oyster sauce vs. oyster flavored sauce so that you know exactly how they line up against each other.

Oyster Sauce Vs. Oyster Flavored Sauce Comparison

  Oyster Sauce Oyster Flavored Sauce
Definition Slightly Fishy, Mildly Salty Condiment From China Made From Simmering Oysters Until Reduced To Thick Sticky Sauce Slightly Fishy, Mildly Salty Condiment Made To Resemble Chinese Oyster Sauce But Not Always Including Oysters And/Or Similar Density Of Oyster Extract
Origin Street Vendor Lee Kum Sheung – 1888, China China – Exact Origin Unknown
Recipe Oysters Boiled Slowly For Many Hours Then Blended With Sugar, Salt, Cornstarch And Sometimes MSG (Not Always Blended) Oyster Extract Or Soybean Extract Mixed With Sugar, Cornstarch, MSG, Preservatives & Various Other Additives Such As Caramel For Coloring
Flavor Akin To Umami Barbecue Sauce Crossed With Soy Sauce Infused With Light Fishiness Similar To Oyster Sauce But More Subdued/Not As Bold
Consistency Syrupy, Pourable, Rich Brown Sauce Syrupy, Pourable, Rich Brown Sauce That Can At-Times Be Goopy
Shelf Life Unopened – 1 Year Pantry & 2 Years Fridge | Opened & Refrigerated –  3-6 Months Unopened – 2-4 Years | Opened & Refrigerated – 2 Years
Best Uses Braised Chinese Dishes, Basting Sauce, Dipping Sauce, Flavor Enhancer Braised Chinese Dishes, Basting Sauce, Dipping Sauce, Flavor Enhancer – Much Easier To Cook With Than Oyster Sauce Due To Milder Flavor Notes
Affordability $8-$12/18-Ounce Bottle $6-$9/18-Ounce Bottle

Oyster Sauce Vs. Oyster Flavored Sauce

Stuck trying to decide between oyster sauce and oyster-flavored sauce? There’ll be no confusion left once you’ve been through our in-depth breakdown of both tasty must-have ingredients for stir-fries and more.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce
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Chinese-American dishes simply can’t go without oyster sauce, but this isn’t the only place this tasty condiment is used.

Here is a breakdown of what goes into the oyster sauce, what it tastes like, how it’s best used, and how real oyster sauce compares to oyster-flavored sauce.

What Is Oyster Sauce?

Oyster sauce is a fishy, slightly salty condiment with a lingering sweetness originating in China that’s made from simmering oysters until they form a sauce that’s then reduced down to a thickened, sticky state.


You’d be surprised to know that something as amazing as oyster sauce was discovered by chance. Yup, you read that right. Back in 1888, a street vendor named Lee Kum Sheung invented oyster sauce by happenstance.

Lee was a street food vendor in China who used to sell cooked fresh oysters daily. That was until one day he left the oysters cooking for too long, and voila! His accident gave birth to what we call oyster sauce today.

Initially, he didn’t know what to do with the thick paste he was left with, but after the public bought it and discovered its countless uses, the world quickly fell in love with Lee’s fantastic new sauce.


Traditionally, oyster sauce was made by leaving oysters to boil for countless hours. In the end, there would be a thick brown-colored paste that’s immensely rich in flavor and aroma.

The default recipe for high-quality oyster sauce in commercial production is still only made from similarly obtained oyster extracts, sugar, salt, and a cornstarch slurry.

At times MSG and soy sauce are added to darken the color and intensify the flavor without the manufacturer needing to resort to extensive, expensive cooking periods.


Many describe the flavor of oyster sauce as a blend of soy sauce and the complex sweetness of barbecue sauce. There’s a bolder umami flavor and less saltiness overall, with a prevailing mild fishy taste that lingers subtly in the background.


One can expect a thick, syrupy brown sauce that remains pourable, offering a consistency that’s thicker than dark soy sauce but not as thick as something like honey.

Oyster sauce in white bowl on wooden background
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Shelf Life

Unopened oyster sauce has a shelf life of up to a year in a pantry or two years in a fridge. However, once opened, oyster sauce only lasts between three to six months, depending on the quality of the sauce and general handling procedures.

Best Uses

Oyster sauce is excellent for basting and is preferred in countless forms of Chinese cuisine. It can also be used as a dipping sauce or as a flavor enhancer for soups, stews, soups, and anything baked, roasted, or fried.


group of sauce bottle condiment for cooking
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Given its slightly costly nature, very few people use organic oyster sauce. It is a time-consuming process that demands the very best oyster only. It takes countless oysters weighing kilograms in total to make a single bottle of oyster sauce.

This is one of the reasons why authentic, pure oyster sauce is hard to find, but it is well worth the hassle because there’s nothing like the bold flavor of freshly boiled oyster sauce free from artificial ingredients, darkeners like caramel, and other additives.

Expect to pay in the region of $9 to $12 for an 18-ounce bottle of organic, pure oyster sauce.


Assess the labeling of any prospect oyster sauce very carefully, as many brands will put across the image that their sauce is authentic oyster sauce when it’s actually an oyster-flavored sauce. Stay vigilant.

Oyster Flavored Sauce

oyster sauce vs oyster flavored sauce
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Are you wondering why you can’t find original oyster sauce anymore? All you get is an oyster-flavored sauce but does it even matter? Not really, but that depends on who you ask and how demanding your palette is.

What Is Oyster Flavored Sauce?

Oyster-flavored sauce is a condiment made to mimic the taste and texture of Chinese oyster sauce and, as a result, has a more subdued fishy, salty, sweet taste but at the same time becomes easier to cook with due to its milder overall flavor.


For as long as people have been making oyster sauce, they have been diluting and/or mimicking the final product and passing it off as oyster-flavored sauce. It’s not something that one can pin a particular place or date to in terms of origin.


Oyster-flavored sauce includes either oyster extract or soybean extract for sauces that imitate oyster (vegetarian friendly) and a combination of water, salt, sugar, MSG, cornstarch, and wheat flour, caramel coloring, and at times other preservatives.


Oyster-flavored sauce may not have the exact same flavor, but it’s just as rich in depth of flavor as oyster sauce.

The intensified flavor of oysters is not as strong, but the other ingredients are all specifically added to ramp up the boldness and overall taste. One can imagine the taste of oyster-flavored sauce as a more subtle oyster sauce that’s easier to cook with.


While thick and syrupy, oyster-flavored sauces have a less viscous consistency in general. Flavored sauces mimic the texture of oyster sauce well but are typically slightly thinner than their authentic counterparts.

At times, certain manufacturers thicken their sauces excessively and with questionable additives that leave some oyster-flavored sauces goopy and jelly-like to a degree instead of supremely pourable like they should be.

Oyster sauce in the bowl with shell
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Shelf Life

Oyster-flavored sauce has a longer shelf life duration as compared to fresh oyster sauce. Since oyster-flavored sauce has more preservatives, it has a vastly extended shelf life.

Depending on the company, you can use it for as long as two years after breaking the seal.

Best Uses

The nice subtle flavor of oyster sauce makes it easier to cook with than oyster sauce and slightly more versatile.

Simply add a splash equating to a teaspoon or two to the soup while cooking to fortify it with flavor, or add a similar quantity to any stew, sauce, or casserole.

However, with organic oyster sauce, even a small amount can turn out to be too strong if you’re not used to cooking with it.

Oyster-flavored sauce is an excellent alternative for vegetarians if you find a sauce that imitates the flavor of oysters and not one that includes an actual extract.

Various brands of asian cooking sauces
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Between organic oyster sauce and oyster-flavored sauce, oyster-flavored sauce is almost always the far cheaper option.

The only exception is certain high-end vegetarian-friend sauces which come close in price to authentic oyster sauce. Pricing for oyster-flavored sauce typically ranges between $6 and $9 per 18-ounce bottle when shopping online.


If you are allergic to fresh oysters, then certain brands of oyster-flavored sauce will still be available to you. Look for one that doesn’t include oyster extract at all, and you’re good to go without needing to resort to a substitute.

Even though sauces based on real oyster flavor are technically better, a synthetic sauce/mock oyster sauce will be your best option as someone with allergies.

Chinese kale fried in oyster sauce
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What Is The Difference Between Oyster Sauce And Oyster Flavored Sauce?

The main difference between oyster sauce and oyster flavored sauce is that oyster sauce is the original Chinese condiment made from a great number of oysters that are reduced over an extended period of time, whereas oyster flavored sauce either includes oyster extract, thickeners, and colorants or at times doesn’t include oyster at all. Oyster sauce is bolder and more complex in flavor.

Which Is Best, Oyster Sauce Vs. Oyster Flavored Sauce?

When it comes to choosing a winner between oyster sauce and oyster flavored sauce, organic oyster sauces always come out on top unless you’re a vegetarian looking for an alternative that delivers a similar umami kick to the ocean-based favorite.


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