Plum Sauce Substitutes

Sweet, Sour, and Surprising: Plum Sauce Substitutes You’ll Love

Plum sauce, often called duck sauce in some western countries, has its roots deeply embedded in the rich culinary landscape of China. Historically, it is believed that plum sauce originated from the culinary innovations of ancient Chinese chefs who were looking for the perfect blend of sweet, sour, and slightly spicy flavors. Made primarily from sweet ripe plums, alongside sugar, salt, vinegar, and sometimes chilies or ginger, this sauce has found its way into the hearts (and kitchens) of many around the world.

List of Plum Sauce Substitutes

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a fragrant, pungent sauce frequently used in Chinese cooking. Dark reddish-brown in color, its name translates to “seafood,” though paradoxically, it contains no seafood ingredients. Instead, hoisin sauce typically includes:

  • Soybeans
  • Fennel seeds
  • Red chilies
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar
  • Chinese five spice
  • Sugar or sweet potatoes

The resulting blend gives hoisin sauce its signature sweet, salty, and slightly spicy profile.

How to Use as a Substitute

While hoisin sauce and plum sauce have distinct flavor profiles, their overlapping sweet and tangy notes make hoisin an effective substitute for plum sauce in many dishes. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Dipping Sauce: Use hoisin sauce as a direct substitute for plum sauce. Consider thinning it with a bit of warm water if you find its consistency too thick.
  2. Marinade: While hoisin is more robust and salty, it can be diluted with a splash of water or fruit juice to replicate the lighter sweetness of plum sauce.
  3. Stir-fries: Directly incorporate hoisin sauce into your stir-fries. Its robust flavors can complement a variety of vegetables and proteins.

Flavor Profile Comparison with Plum Sauce

  • Sweetness: Both sauces offer a prominent sweet note, but hoisin sauce typically brings a deeper, molasses-like sweetness compared to the fruity sweetness of plum sauce.
  • Saltiness: Hoisin is saltier due to its soybean base, which is something to be aware of when substituting.
  • Spiciness: Some hoisin sauces can have a mild kick from the red chilies, while traditional plum sauce tends to be milder.
  • Texture: Hoisin sauce is usually thicker and stickier, while plum sauce can be a bit more fluid and has bits of plum pulp.

Recipes to Consider

  • Hoisin-glazed Ribs: Use hoisin sauce as a glaze for oven-baked or grilled ribs, allowing the deep flavors to enhance the meat.
  • Asian-style Meatballs: Incorporate hoisin sauce into your meatball mixture for a sweet and savory profile that pairs well with rice or noodles.
  • Hoisin-based Salad Dressing: Blend hoisin sauce with sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a touch of honey for a delightful dressing over fresh salads.

Apricot Preserves/Jam

Apricot preserves or jam is a delicious, sweet spread made from ripe apricots, sugar, and often a touch of citric acid or lemon juice. It has a bright, fruity taste and a smooth texture interspersed with bits of apricot fruit. Apricots, being stone fruits like plums, share a similar sweet-tart flavor profile, making them an apt substitute for plum sauce in certain culinary applications.

Flavor Profile

  • Sweetness: Apricot jam is primarily sweet, with a brightness that’s somewhat more pronounced than the deeper sweetness of plums.
  • Tartness: Apricots have a natural tartness, which, when amplified with rice vinegar, can approximate the tangy notes of plum sauce.
  • Spiciness: While pure apricot jam lacks the spiciness of some plum sauces, this can be rectified by adding chili elements to your modified sauce.

Combining with Other Ingredients for a Close Match

While apricot preserves are sweet, they might need some tweaking to match the sweet, sour, and spicy profile of plum sauce. Here’s a basic recipe to modify apricot jam into a plum sauce substitute:


  • 1 cup apricot preserves
  • 1-2 tbsp rice vinegar (adjust based on tartness preference)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (for saltiness and depth)
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or a dash of chili sauce (optional, for heat)
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger


  1. In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients.
  2. Heat the mixture over low-medium heat, stirring until all ingredients are well-blended.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
  4. Allow it to cool before storing or using in your desired dish.

Duck Sauce

Often synonymous with plum sauce in some Western contexts, duck sauce is a sweet and sour condiment widely used in Chinese-American and Chinese-Canadian cuisines. Its name is somewhat misleading, as it doesn’t contain duck; instead, it’s often served with duck dishes.

The primary ingredients in traditional duck sauce include:

  • Plums, apricots, or peaches
  • Sugar or honey
  • Vinegar
  • Ginger
  • Chili
  • Garlic

Preparation typically involves cooking the fruits with the other ingredients until they break down into a smooth, jam-like consistency. The result is a tangy, slightly spicy, and sweet sauce.

How It Compares to Plum Sauce

  • Flavor: Both duck sauce and plum sauce offer a balance of sweet and sour notes. While plum sauce derives its sweetness from plums, duck sauce can source its sweetness from a blend of fruits, including but not limited to plums.
  • Texture: Duck sauce’s texture can vary, but it is generally smooth with occasional fruit bits, similar to plum sauce.
  • Ingredients: The composition of duck sauce can be more varied than plum sauce. While plum sauce traditionally centers on plums, duck sauce can include a mix of fruits like apricots and peaches.
  • Use: Both sauces are versatile and can be used interchangeably in recipes as dips, glazes, or ingredients in larger dishes.

Suitable Dishes to Use It In

Given the similarity between duck sauce and plum sauce, you can use duck sauce as a direct substitute in most recipes that call for plum sauce. Some dishes to consider:

  • Peking Duck Wraps: Slather duck sauce on thin pancakes before wrapping them around slices of Peking duck and scallions.
  • Spring Rolls and Dumplings: Use it as a dipping sauce, pairing the fruity tang with the savory fillings.
  • Stir-fry: Add duck sauce to your stir-fry sauce mix to introduce a sweet and tangy dimension.
  • Glazed Meats: Brush meats like pork chops or chicken wings with duck sauce before grilling or roasting for a caramelized, fruity crust.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and sour sauce, a staple in Chinese cuisine, especially in its Western iterations, is a bright and tangy sauce that, as the name suggests, balances sweet and sour flavor profiles. It is commonly served with dishes like sweet and sour chicken, pork, or fish.

Ingredients often found in sweet and sour sauce include:

  • Sugar or honey
  • Vinegar (typically rice or white vinegar)
  • Ketchup or tomato paste (for color and added sweetness)
  • Soy sauce (for saltiness and depth)
  • Pineapple juice (optional, for added sweetness and flavor)
  • Cornstarch (for thickening)

Flavor Similarities and Differences with Plum Sauce

  • Sweetness: Both sauces have a pronounced sweetness, but while plum sauce derives its sweetness from plums, sweet and sour sauce typically uses sugar or honey combined with other sweet ingredients like ketchup or pineapple juice.
  • Tartness: Vinegar gives sweet and sour sauce its sharp tang, similar to the tangy undertones in plum sauce.
  • Complexity: Plum sauce often has a deeper, fruitier flavor, sometimes with spicy notes. Sweet and sour sauce, on the other hand, is more straightforward in its sweet-tart balance but can have a more pronounced umami flavor from the soy sauce.
  • Texture: Both sauces are generally thick and glossy, especially when cornstarch is used as a thickening agent in sweet and sour sauce.

Preparing Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce as a Substitute

Here’s a simple recipe to make sweet and sour sauce, which can be used in place of plum sauce:


  • 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • 1/4 cup white or rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp cornstarch (dissolved in 2 tbsp water)
  • Optional: 2 tbsp pineapple juice for added sweetness and flavor


  1. In a saucepan, combine sugar (or honey), vinegar, water, ketchup, soy sauce, and pineapple juice (if using).
  2. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Once the mixture is hot, slowly stir in the cornstarch slurry (cornstarch dissolved in water) while continuing to stir. This will thicken the sauce.
  4. Simmer for a few minutes until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. It will continue to thicken slightly upon cooling.
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Let it cool before storing in a container.

Tamarind Paste

Tamarind is a tropical fruit known for its sour and slightly sweet taste. Originating from Africa but widely used in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines, tamarind paste is made by boiling the pulpy interior of the fruit and then straining out the seeds and fibers.

Creating a Plum Sauce Alternative with Tamarind

To replicate the consistency and flavor profile of plum sauce using tamarind, a blend of ingredients is required. Here’s a simple recipe:


  • 1/4 cup tamarind paste
  • 3 tbsp honey or brown sugar (adjust to sweetness preference)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes or chili sauce (optional, for heat)
  • Water, as needed to adjust consistency


  1. In a saucepan, mix tamarind paste, honey or brown sugar, soy sauce, and ginger.
  2. Heat gently while stirring until ingredients are well-blended and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, to achieve a consistency similar to plum sauce.
  4. Mix in red pepper flakes or chili sauce if desired, and taste to adjust seasoning.
  5. Remove from heat and let it cool. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Why Tamarind Works as a Substitute

  • Tartness: Tamarind’s primary flavor is sour, which mirrors the tangy notes found in plum sauce.
  • Sweetness: By adding honey or brown sugar, the sourness of tamarind is balanced out, creating a sweet-tart profile similar to plum sauce.
  • Consistency: Tamarind paste’s thick and sticky nature is reminiscent of plum sauce, especially when diluted slightly.
  • Culinary Adaptability: Just like plum sauce, tamarind-based sauce pairs well with a variety of dishes, from stir-fries to grilled meats and appetizers.

Applications in Dishes

  • Tamarind Stir-fry: Add this tamarind sauce to wok-fried vegetables and proteins for a tangy twist.
  • Dipping Sauce: Serve alongside spring rolls, samosas, or tempura for a sweet and tangy dip.
  • Marinade: Use as a marinade for meats like chicken or pork before grilling to introduce a unique, tart flavor profile.
  • Dressings: Blend with some oil and other seasonings for a fresh and tangy salad dressing.

Cherry Preserve

Cherries, particularly when cooked down into preserves or jams, bear a notable resemblance to plums in terms of flavor and texture. Both fruits belong to the stone fruit family, characterized by a hard pit in the center. Their flavors share sweet and tart notes, with cherries generally being a bit more tart and less earthy compared to plums.

Cherry preserves maintain much of the fruit’s natural sweetness, texture, and tangy undertones, making them an appealing substitute for plum sauce, especially when one is crafting a sauce that leans more on the fruity side rather than spicy.

Steps to Modify for a Closer Resemblance to Plum Sauce

To bring cherry preserve closer to the flavor profile of plum sauce, some modifications are necessary. Here’s how:


  • 1 cup cherry preserve
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes or a dash of chili sauce (optional, for heat)
  • Salt to taste, if needed


  1. In a saucepan, combine cherry preserve, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.
  2. Heat the mixture over low to medium heat, stirring continuously until all ingredients meld together and the mixture becomes slightly more liquid.
  3. Add red pepper flakes or chili sauce if desired, and taste to adjust seasoning.
  4. Once the sauce has warmed through and flavors have melded, remove from heat and allow to cool. If the mixture is too thick, a splash of water can be added to adjust consistency.

Comparing Flavors and Textures


  • Cherry Preserve: Naturally sweet with a notable tang, especially if it’s a preserve made from tart cherries. It lacks the depth and slight earthiness of plums but compensates with its vibrant fruity notes.
  • Plum Sauce: A complex blend of sweet, tart, and sometimes spicy. The fruitiness of the plums is complemented by the spices and seasonings typical in plum sauce.


  • Cherry Preserve: Generally smooth with occasional chunks of cherry, depending on the brand or how it was homemade. It’s sticky and thick, akin to most fruit preserves.
  • Plum Sauce: More consistent in its smoothness, also sticky and glossy. While some versions might have bits of plum, many are completely pureed.

Raspberry Jam (with modifications)

Raspberry jam, a favorite spread in many breakfast tables, is made primarily from raspberries and sugar. It’s characterized by its bright, tangy flavor and deep red hue. Raspberries, while tart and sweet, don’t naturally have the depth and richness of plums. However, with the right modifications, raspberry jam can serve as a surprising yet delightful base for a plum sauce substitute.

Ingredients to Add for a Closer Match to Plum Sauce

Turning raspberry jam into a sauce that mirrors the flavor and complexity of plum sauce requires the addition of some savory and spicy elements. Here’s what you can mix in:


  • 1 cup raspberry jam
  • 1-2 tbsp rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A pinch of five-spice powder or star anise (for depth)
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes or a dash of chili sauce (optional, for heat)
  • Salt to taste, if needed


  1. In a saucepan, combine raspberry jam, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, five-spice powder or star anise, and red pepper flakes or chili sauce.
  2. Gently heat the mixture over low to medium heat, stirring continuously to ensure all ingredients are well-integrated.
  3. Once warmed and flavors melded, taste and adjust seasonings as required.
  4. If the mixture is too thick, add a splash of water to reach your desired consistency. Conversely, if too thin, allow it to simmer a bit longer until it thickens up.

Flavor Comparison

  • Sweetness: Raspberry jam is typically sweeter than traditional plum sauce. This sweetness can be balanced out by the savory notes of soy sauce and the kick from chili and spices.
  • Tartness: Raspberries have a distinctive tartness, more pronounced than plums. The addition of vinegar amplifies this tang but also makes it a closer match to the tangy undertones of plum sauce.
  • Depth: Ginger, garlic, and five-spice powder or star anise bring a depth of flavor to the jam, introducing a complexity that’s typical of plum sauce. These additions help mask the overly fruity dominance of the raspberry and steer the flavor towards a more savory profile.
  • Texture: Raspberry jam, especially if it contains seeds, might have a different texture compared to the smoothness of traditional plum sauce. If a smoother texture is desired, the modified sauce can be passed through a sieve or blended.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce, with its deep red hue and uniquely tangy flavor, is often a staple in Western holiday feasts. Made primarily from cranberries, sugar, and water, it occasionally features additional spices or citrus elements. The resulting sauce is a blend of tart, sweet, and slightly bitter notes.

Converting Cranberry Sauce into a Plum Sauce Alternative

While cranberry sauce alone has a different flavor profile from plum sauce, a few tweaks can bring it closer. Here’s how to modify cranberry sauce into a more suitable substitute for plum sauce:


  • 1 cup cranberry sauce (canned or homemade)
  • 2 tbsp honey or brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes or a dash of chili sauce (optional, for a touch of heat)


  1. If using canned cranberry sauce, opt for the whole berry version for added texture.
  2. In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients.
  3. Heat over low to medium heat, continuously stirring until the mixture is homogenous and slightly thickened.
  4. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more sweetness or spice as needed.
  5. Allow the mixture to cool before transferring to a container for storage.

Why Consider Cranberry Sauce?

  • Tart Backbone: Both cranberry and plum sauces possess a tangy foundation, which makes cranberry sauce a plausible stand-in.
  • Texture: Depending on the type (jellied or whole berry), cranberry sauce can offer a texture similar to plum sauce, especially when further modified.
  • Versatility: The modified cranberry sauce can be used in various dishes, from appetizers to main courses, similar to plum sauce.

Incorporating into Dishes

  • Dipping Delight: Serve the modified cranberry sauce alongside fried appetizers or roasted meats for a delightful dip.
  • Marinade Magic: Slather it onto meats like chicken, pork, or turkey before roasting or grilling.
  • Stir-fry Twist: Introduce a Western-meets-Eastern fusion by adding the sauce to your next vegetable or protein stir-fry.
  • Dessert Drizzle: For a creative touch, drizzle over desserts like vanilla ice cream or cheesecake for a tangy contrast.

Tamarind Chutney

Tamarind, a tropical pod-like fruit, has a long history of culinary use in various parts of the world, particularly in Indian, Southeast Asian, and Latin American cuisines. Its pulp, which is extracted from the pod, is inherently sour with a hint of sweetness, possessing a complex and tangy flavor profile. This depth of flavor makes it a primary ingredient in many sauces and chutneys.

Tamarind’s taste can be described as:

  • Sour: Being its most pronounced flavor, it has a tang that’s unique and more rounded than citrus or vinegar.
  • Slightly sweet: A natural underlying sweetness that balances its sourness.
  • Earthy: A deep, almost smoky undertone that makes it distinct.

How to Prepare and Use as a Plum Sauce Alternative

Tamarind chutney, often used in Indian cuisine, can serve as an alternative to plum sauce due to its sweet-tangy flavor. Here’s how you can prepare it:


  • 1/2 cup tamarind pulp
  • 1 to 1.5 cups water (adjust based on desired consistency)
  • 1/2 cup jaggery or brown sugar (adjust to sweetness preference)
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (optional, for heat)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • Salt to taste


  1. Soak tamarind in water for about 30 minutes. Once softened, mash it to extract the pulp and strain to remove seeds and fibers.
  2. In a saucepan, add the strained tamarind pulp, jaggery or brown sugar, and water. Heat over medium flame.
  3. Stir continuously until the jaggery or brown sugar dissolves.
  4. Add roasted cumin powder, red chili powder, ginger powder, and salt. Mix well.
  5. Simmer until the chutney thickens to your preferred consistency.
  6. Once cooled, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

This chutney can be thinned out with a bit of water if you want a consistency more akin to a sauce. Adjust the spices and sweetness based on your preference.

Homemade Plum Sauce

There’s something inherently satisfying about creating your own condiments from scratch, and plum sauce is no exception. If you have access to fresh plums, making your own plum sauce provides the opportunity to tailor the flavors exactly to your liking while harnessing the natural sweetness and tartness of the fruit.


  • 1 lb fresh plums (around 8-10 medium-sized plums), pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar or honey (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes or 1 small red chili, finely chopped (optional, for heat)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. In a large saucepan, combine the chopped plums, brown sugar or honey, vinegar, water, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and five-spice powder.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until the plums are completely softened.
  3. Use a hand blender or a regular blender to puree the mixture into a smooth sauce. If using a regular blender, ensure the mixture has cooled a bit before blending and return to the saucepan after.
  4. Add the red chili flakes or chopped chili to the saucepan and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more sugar or honey for sweetness, more vinegar for tang, or more chili for heat.
  6. Once the sauce reaches your desired consistency and flavor, remove from heat. Let it cool before transferring to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Adjusting Flavors to Taste

One of the perks of making your own plum sauce is the ability to adjust its flavor profile. Here are a few pointers:

  • Sweetness: If your plums are naturally very sweet, you might need less sugar or honey. Always start with a smaller amount and adjust according to your preference.
  • Tartness: The tartness of your sauce will largely depend on the type of plums you use. If you find the sauce too tart, balance it out with a bit more sugar or honey.
  • Heat: The inclusion of chili is optional, but it gives the sauce a pleasant kick. If you’re unsure about the heat level, start with a small amount and adjust as needed.
  • Depth: The five-spice powder introduces a lovely depth and warmth to the sauce. If you’re a fan of its complex flavor, feel free to add a bit more.

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