Can you make a stir-fry without oyster sauce? Probably. But why would you?
Oyster sauce is a delicious, dark-colored sauce that is made from oysters. It tastes less fishy than fish sauce and not as salty as soy sauce.
However, most oyster sauces contain added sugars, salt, and even cornstarch to thicken it up and give it a sweet taste. These ingredients aren’t low-carb and keto-friendly.
This article describes what oyster sauce is, how to use it, and healthy and low-carb replacements that don’t contain added sugars.
What Is Oyster Sauce?
Oyster sauce is a sauce that is obtained by cooking oysters. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine to flavor stir-fries, noodles, and meat-based dishes.
You can make oyster sauce by boiling oysters in water and obtaining the liquids that caramelize from it. These “juices” will turn into a dark, thick sauce with intense flavor. From here, many manufacturers add sugar, salt, and cornstarch or other thickening agents to the sauce to enhance the flavor and make it more shelf-stable.
Research shows that oyster sauce contains many volatile compounds, which are organic chemicals that are omitted from certain foods and liquids as gases. They vaporize in the air and dissolve in water (1, 2).
These compounds are what give oyster sauce its distinct smell and taste. The most predominant volatile compounds in oyster sauce are alcohols, aldehydes, furans, and pyrazines. Glutamic is the primary free amino acid.
Oyster sauce also contains sweet amino acids such as threonine, serine, glycine, and alanine. These contribute to the sauce’s sweet taste, while salty compounds, such as phosphate and potassium, contribute to the salty flavor.
A one-tablespoon serving of generic, ready-made oyster sauce contains the following (3):
- 9.2 calories
- 0.04 grams of fat
- 2 grams of carbohydrates
- 0.2 gram of protein
As you can see, oyster sauce does not provide many calories. However, the majority of them come from carbs. Even a small, one-tablespoon serving provides more carbohydrates than you’d like to see in a keto or low-carb meal.
Health Benefits of Eating Oyster
There are plenty of reasons to eat oysters. They are low in calories, high in omega 3 fatty acids, and contain over 20 different vitamins and minerals.
Pacific oysters provide 0.69 grams of EPA and DHA per 100 gram serving (4). This is higher than other sources of shellfish, including clam, scallops, crabs, lobsters, and mussels.
Research shows that EPA and DHA are essential for retina function and normal development. It also helps regulate nerve transmission, blood pressure and clotting, body temperatures, hypersensitivity reactions, inflammation, immune responses and allergies. Finally, EPA and DHA assist with fluid balance and normal kidney function (5).
A 100-gram serving of raw, wild oysters provides the following (6):
- 39.3 mg of zinc
- 8.75 µg of vitamin B12
- 2.858 mg of copper
- 19.7 µg of selenium
- And many more vitamins and minerals!
Research shows that oysters also contain a unique antioxidant called 3,5-dihydroxy-4-methoxybenzyl alcohol (DHMBA) that has been shown to reduce obesity and insulin resistance in animal studies. It was also shown to support liver health (7, 8).
The Problem with Store-bought Oyster Sauce
Eating oyster sauce is not the same as eating raw, wild oysters. You’ll likely get some of the nutrients from the water that you boil your oysters in. But the sauce will not contain nearly as many health benefits as eating the real thing, if any.
Additionally, many oyster sauces are unhealthy because they contain added sugars, preservatives, such as MSG, thickening agents, and even added coloring. If you want the above-mentioned health benefits of eating oysters, then you’ll want to focus on eating them in whole form and bypass on the sugary sauce.
Is Oyster Sauce Keto-Friendly?
Oyster sauce is not a keto-friendly food because it contains too many ingredients that are not keto-approved, including added sugars, preservatives (like MSG), thickening agents (such as cornstarch), and even artificial coloring.
For example, the following is a list of ingredients found in a commonly sold oyster sauce in the United States: oyster extractives, water, wheat flour, sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, modified cornstarch, and caramel coloring.
These ingredients increase the overall carb content of the sauce. In the end, even a small serving of one tablespoon of generic oyster sauce contains too many carbs, sugar, and empty calories for your diet.
A list of Oyster Sauce Alternatives
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to flavor your food without using a sugary sauce. Check out our list of low-carb oyster sauce alternatives. We’ve also made a list of oyster sauce replacements for people who are not on a keto or low-carb diet.
Disclaimer: The following alternatives are just to give you ideas of other sauces you can use in the place of oyster sauce. However, they are not one-to-one ratio and some of the suggestions might not work for certain meals and recipes.
Here are our top picks for keto-friendly oyster sauce substitutes:
Coconut aminos have a syrup-like consistency similar to oyster sauce. However, they are made from coconut sap. You can read about the health benefits of coconut aminos here.
Coconut Secret is a brand of coconut aminos that is common in the United States. It contains organic coconut sap with sun-dried salt. A one-teaspoon serving contains 5 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbs and 1 gram of protein.
Fish sauce is similar to oyster sauce. It’s derived from fish, but it often contains sugar and other additives that also aren’t keto-friendly.
You can use fish sauce as a keto-alternative to oyster sauce as long as you can find one that does not contain added sugars.
Red Boat makes a brand of fish sauce derived from anchovies that contains 0 grams of carbs per serving.
If your goal is to enhance the flavor of your food without added calories or carbs, then consider using a blend of your favorite spices.
Garlic, ginger, parsley, sea salt, pepper, basil and oregano go great on just about any dish. You can also add lemon juice, lime juice, and other natural flavorings to your food to improve the taste.
Oil and vinegar
You can use vinegar in place of oyster oil in your stir-fries. Choose from apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or white vinegar.
Pair your vinegar with the healthy oil of your choice for a winning flavor combination, such as olive oil, sesame oil, or avocado oil.
Nut and seed butters
Nut and seed butters add flavor, nutrition, fat, and a creamy consistency to your food.
However, nut butters are much thicker than oyster sauce. They also provide a much different flavor.
Be sure to accommodate for these changes if you use nut or seed butters in place of oyster sauce in your stir-fries.
Here are some with a relatively mild flavor that you can try:
- Almond butter
- Cashew butter
- Macadamia butter
- Sun butter (pumpkin seed butter)
Caesar or ranch dressing
Hear us out on this one. Have you ever heard anyone complain when you served them a dish with Caesar or ranch dressing? We didn’t think so.
These dressings contain fewer carbs than oyster sauce. They also go great with vegetables and meat dishes alike. We recommend making your own dressing or buying a brand without added sugars or vegetable oils.
If the objective of your oyster sauce swap is to add flavor to your dish, then consider adding cheese instead.
You can use hot sauce in small amounts if you’re looking for a low-calorie and low-carb way to flavor your favorite dishes. Add some to eggs, vegetables, cheese, and meats.
Marinara is a low-carb sauce made from tomatoes, oil, and spices. It’s commonly used on spaghetti and pasta sauces. However, you can use it in place of oyster sauce if you need something flavorful to go in your stir-fry.
As with all sauces, look for a brand of marinara that uses organic ingredients, olive oil (not vegetable oil), and contains no added sugars.
Bone broth can be enjoyed as is or added to foods. You can also get creative with it and use it as a marinade or in place of oyster sauce in your stir-fry dishes.
Read more about the health benefits of bone broth here.
If you’re on a low-carb diet or not a strict keto, then you can use these options:
Soy isn’t a strict keto-friendly food. However, soy contains fewer carbohydrates than many other sources of beans or legumes.
A one-tablespoon serving of soy sauce contains 8.5 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0.7 gram of carbs, and 1.3 grams of protein (11). It contains approximately 6.8 fewer grams of carbs than traditional oyster sauce.
Note: many brands of soy sauce contain soy and wheat. If you are allergic to either, then try one of the other suggestions on our list.
If you are allergic to wheat, then you can try tamari sauce. This is a wheat-free soy sauce that is derived from soybeans. Again, this might not work if you’re doing strict-keto.
Other non-keto alternatives worth knowing, just in case you’re curious:
Worchester sauce packs a potent flavor punch that instantly enhances stir-fries, marinades, and meat-based dishes.
Cheaper versions of Worchester sauce contain molasses, corn syrup solids, and added sugars, which is why this product is not usually recommended on the keto diet.
However, Worchester sauce can be used on keto in moderation. A one-tablespoon serving contains 3.3 grams of carbs (12). Therefore, you can use this on the keto diet in moderation.
Hoisin sauce is commonly used in many barbeque dishes. It can also be used in marinades and stir-fries. It’s made from fermented soybean paste and other flavors.
However, hoisin sauce usually contains added sugars, which is off-limits on the keto diet. If you’re not watching your carb intake, then hoisin sauce makes an excellent substitute for oyster sauce!
Gravy is usually made with the juice that runs off the meat that you are cooking. This “meat juice” is often enhanced with wheat flour, corn starch, and sugar until a thick consistency is obtained.
It is usually served with potatoes and meat dishes at Thanksgiving, but you can use gravy in place of oyster sauce if you need a flavorful liquid or thickening agent and you’re not on a low-carb diet.
BBQ sauce comes in a wide range of flavors, such as sweet and smoky. It usually contains peppers or a similar spicy ingredient and is often applied to meat before it’s grilled.
You can use BBQ sauce on stir-fries in place of oyster sauce if you’re looking for something with a tangy, spicy flavor.
Steak sauce is a great alternative to oyster sauce if you’re using it on meat. But it can also work well in a stir-fry if you use small amounts as it tends to have a bold flavor.
Plum sauce has a light, pleasant flavor and is usually served as a dip for deep-fried foods in Chinese cuisine, such as egg rolls.
You can use it in place of oyster sauce if you’re allergic or want a fruity flavor for your favorite dishes.
How To Use Oyster Sauce Substitutes in Your Recipes
Sauces are a great way to add flavor to your food or soup, change the consistency or texture of a dish, and create tasty dips and marinades.
You can add them to stir-fries while your food is cooking or use them as a baste to keep meat moist while it’s cooking in the oven.
Here are some creative recipes to use some of the oyster sauce substitute suggestions in this article:
Oyster sauce is made by boiling oysters and using the carmelized liquid as a sauce. It is commonly used in stir-fries and other meat-based dishes.
However, most generic oyster sauces contain added sugars, preservatives, artificial colorings, and thickening agents that are not keto-friendly.
We recommend using fish sauce or coconut aminos in the place of oyster sauce if you’re on a strict keto diet. You can also use bone broth or one of our many other suggestions if your goal is to flavor your food without packing on the carbs!
If you’re not on the keto diet, then try using hoisin, soy sauce or BBQ sauce in place of oyster sauce. Always be sure to make your own sauces at home or look for store-bought brands that do not contain added sugars and vegetable oils.
Enjoy this post? Save for later!
*photo credit: AndreySt&lisovskaya/depositphotos.com