Other than the fact that it is Cantonese and origin, little is known about where hoisin sauce got its start. The word poison comes from the Chinese word for seafood. Earlier formulations might have had a fishy ingredient to provide an extra layer of umami flavor. You may have seen hoisin sauce stalked on supermarket shelves, or in a recipe for your favorite Asian dishes.
What, then, does hoisin sauce taste like?
Hoisin sauce has a salty, and slightly sweet flavor. Because there is fermented soybean paste in it, you will find it has a slight tang of fermentation. Garlic gives it an aromatic kick.
What Does Hoisin Sauce Taste Like?
Hoisin sauce is a popular condiment. It is based on fermented soybean paste, and is mixed with other ingredients such as garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, chili’s, and sweeteners. It adds a rich flavor to dishes, combining umami with a sweet, tangy undertone. Because it is not made with any animal products, it is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
This sauce is darkly colored in appearance, and usually has a thick texture. There are regional variants, meaning that hoisin sauce may taste different depending on where, exactly, you’re getting it.
The general taste of hoisin sauce is sweet and salty. There are rich layers of umami, and a light earthiness to it. Because of the fermented soybeans, you will get a slight acidic kick, helped by the addition of vinegar. Chili peppers add spice, and garlic adds essential aromatics. Some recipes will include five spice powder, while others include sugar as well. Hoisin sauce is fragrant and savory in taste.
Some have compared hoisin sauce to being loosely similar to American barbecue sauce. This is a very vague comparison, but can give a rough ballpark to those who are unfamiliar with these flavor profiles. Unlike American barbecue sauce, however, hoisin is saltier, less sweet, and much richer. It has a flavor all its own.
As a condiment, hoisin sauce is thick and slightly viscous. It comes in a bottle and will be slightly thicker than a soy sauce.
Dishes cooked with hoisin sauce usually only use a bit at a time. This is because the unique taste can be overpowering in some cases. Hoisin sauce will usually thicken and color a stir fry or noodle dish.
You may find it in recipes such as stir fry, spare ribs, or chicken wings. In Cantonese cuisine, it is a marinade for meat and a dipping sauce. It is also usually one of the ingredients used in making char siu. Also in Cantonese cuisine, it is a popular dipping sauce for steamed or pan-fried chángfēn, or rice noodle rolls.
Some American dishes also utilize hoisin sauce. Peking duck, for example, uses hoisin sauce to add a savory, salty taste to the duck skin. Mu Shu pork will typically use hoisin sauce as one of the ingredients in its dipping component.
The Vietnamese variant of hoisin sauce is called tương đen. It is a popular component of pho. When eating pho, the sauce is sometimes added directly to the bowl, or left on the table to allow individuals to decide how much or how little they would like to use. In pho, hoisin sauce is usually a sidekick to Sriracha sauce.
Hoisin sauce has a salty, fragrant flavor. The fermented soybeans add a needed cake of acidity, and chili peppers and five spice powder will make for a spicier sauce.
It is used often in Cantonese and Vietnamese cooking. Some Chinese American dishes use it as well, both as a marinade and as a dipping sauce.