This sweet and sour sauce is a homemade version of the classic Asian sauce that takes just minutes to make and uses common pantry ingredients. Use sweet and sour sauce as a dip, to season a stir fry or to brush onto grilled meat or seafood.
My family loves Asian food, especially shrimp fried rice, honey chicken, and anything that involves sweet and sour sauce. I can whip up a batch of this sweet and savory condiment in no time, and we use it in so many different ways.
When I eat at my local Chinese restaurant, I always have to order at least one dish that contains sweet and sour sauce. Whether it’s chicken, pork, shrimp, or simply crispy wontons to dip into this delightful sauce, it’s always a hit with both the kids and adults. I now make my own sweet and sour at home, and it’s actually quite simple to put together.
Sweet and sour sauce ingredients
- Sugar: The base of this recipe is granulated sugar, a pantry staple.
- Ketchup: This sauce typically contains ketchup, which adds to the sweet flavor and also adds some red color.
- Vinegar: The sour part of this recipe comes from apple cider vinegar.
- Soy Sauce: Add a splash of soy sauce for some savory counterpart to the sweetness of the sugar.
- Corn Starch: This is the thickening agent to make the sauce smooth and glossy.
- Seasonings: A pinch of garlic and onion powders help round out the flavors in the sauce.
- Food Coloring: Most restaurant style sweet and sour sauce is bright red, hence the use of the red food coloring. That being said, it’s an optional addition and does not affect the flavor of the sauce.
How do you make sweet and sour sauce?
Place the sauce ingredients which include sugar, cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic powder, onion powder and ketchup in a pot over medium heat. Mix together corn starch with a little cold water to create a slurry. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Add the cornstarch slurry, then cook for 2-3 minutes or until sauce has just thickened and is shiny. Use the sauce when it’s hot, or let it cool and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Tips for the perfect sauce
- Slowly whisk the corn starch mixture into the sauce so that you don’t get any lumps. If you happen to get a few lumps, you can simply strain the sauce through a sieve to make it smooth.
- Sweet and sour sauce stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze this sauce for 2 months. Let the sauce thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then warm it up on the stove before use.
- Feel free to change up some of the ingredients to customize the sauce flavor to your tastes. For example, you can use brown sugar instead of white sugar. Try adding a little minced fresh ginger for a fresh flavor. Or add a splash of pineapple juice for a tropical note!
I use corn starch to thicken this sauce, which is readily available in all grocery stores, typically located in the baking aisle. There are substitutes for corn starch such as arrow root, quick cooking tapioca, or potato starch. For a simple sauce such as this one, corn starch really is the best choice as a thickener, as it works quickly and gives the sauce nice body and a glossy sheen.
Many restaurants use red food coloring to get that distinctive color of their sauce. I’ve included food coloring here, but it’s optional if you prefer to skip it. Omitting the food coloring does not change the flavor in any way.
The primary ingredients of sweet and sour sauce are sugar and vinegar. Sugar should be used sparingly in a healthy diet. That being said, this sauce is typically consumed in small amounts so the actual intake of sugar tends to be on the lower side per person.
How to use sweet and sour sauce
There are so many different ways to use this versatile and delicious sauce! Here are some of my favorite options.
- Dip: Use your sauce as a dip for Asian appetizer delicacies such as dumplings, egg rolls, fried wontons, crispy shrimp or crab rangoon.
- Marinade: Mix this sauce with a little water or pineapple juice to thin it out, then add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and use as a marinade for quick cooking meats such as shrimp or thinly sliced chicken breast.
- Stir Fry: Use this sauce to coat deep fried chicken or pork pieces with sauteed peppers and pineapple to make a traditional sweet and sour dish. Or simply saute your protein and veggies of choice, then add the sauce and toss to combine.
- Slow Cooker: Place frozen meatballs in a slow cooker along with one recipe worth of sweet and sour sauce. Add diced bell peppers and pineapple if desired. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or until vegetables are tender, then serve over rice.
This sauce brings the flavors of your favorite Chinese food to the comfort of your own home. It’s a must make condiment!
More Asian recipes you’ll enjoy
Sweet and Sour Sauce Video
Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 2-3 drops red food coloring
- Place the sugar, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic powder, onion powder and ketchup in a small pan over medium high heat. Stir to combine, then bring to a simmer.
- In a small bowl, mix together the corn starch and cold water.
- Slowly whisk the corn starch mixture into the sauce, then bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute or until sauce has just thickened.
- Stir in the red food coloring. Cool slightly and use right away, or refrigerate for later use.
- The red food coloring is for visual purposes only and does not change the flavor of the sauce, so it’s fine to omit it if you don’t have any on hand.
- The finished sauce will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.