If you ever had any type of Asian cuisines, you’ll notice that almost every single dish has some robust and intricate flavors. Most of these flavors come from the ingredients used in the dish, but also had some help from certain sauces and oils.
These sauces and oils are commonly found in any Asian supermarket. They come in all different forms and sizes and will enhance your dish like no other.
But if you were to actually go to any Asian supermarket, you’ll notice that there are hundreds if not thousands of different sauces and oils for you to choose from. How are you suppose to know what does what? How are you suppose to know which ones to buy?
That is where this page comes in handy.
Although we can’t list out every single sauce and oil bottles out there as that would be impossible, what we can do is list out the most common and popular types that most families would use in their day to day lives.
We’ll try our best to tell you exactly what these sauces and oils do as well as what they are normally used for.
So if you are ready, lets get started!
Full disclosure: In this glossary page, some of the posts will contain affiliate links, which means that if you do buy something as a result from following one of our links, you will be supporting our site “Cooking Sensei”. Prices are the same regardless if you use our link or not, so there is no harm!
Soy Sauce (酱油)
Soy Sauce is one of the most common sauces you’ll see used in Asian cuisines. And there are quite a few types. With some being the light kind, and some being the dark kind and more. So it is important to know which kind of soy sauce you are using when cooking any type of foods.
But typically the base of soy sauce is usually made up of a few simple ingredients – soy beans, yeast, wheat and water. The ingredients goes through a fermentation process that takes a few months or even years in some case to produce this deliciously dark sauce.
Light Soy Sauce (生抽)
When you see a bottle called “light soy sauce”, it can be quite deceiving to many people. “Light” in the title actually refers to how the consistency and color of the soy sauce is rather than the flavor. Light Soy Sauce actually tastes a bit more salty than the darker version and is one of the most commonly used type of soy sauce in most Asian dishes. You’ll notice that the texture closely resembles that of a watery liquid unlike the dark version of the soy sauce.
So if you are ever confused on what type you should buy, it is normally a good guess to just buy the “regular” version.
Dark Soy Sauce (老抽)
Dark Soy Sauce is just like the name describes, it is a thicker, darker, and less saltier version of the regular soy sauce. It is most often used for adding both flavor and color to most dishes. It has kind of a deep earthy flavor to it that pairs so well with most foods. Dark Soy Sauce is also commonly used in marinades and braised/red cooked dishes.
Low Sodium Soy Sauce
Low Sodium Soy Sauce is exactly how the name describes it. It is a soy sauce that has less sodium inside it. It is a newer type of soy sauce that’s been gaining popularity in recent years as more and more people are wanting to lower their sodium intake.
Sesame Oil (麻油)
Sesame Oil is a type of oil that provides a lot of flavor into any dish you use it in. The flavor is like a nutty peanut type of flavor that makes the dish taste so much better. Although when you are using this oil, you have to be very careful. Just a little drop is all you need as it can easily overpower any dish. It is a very versatile ingredient that can be used in a lot of things like being added to a dish to elevate its flavors or even be combined with other sauces to make a really tasty dipping sauce.
Chili Oil (辣椒油)
Chili oil is a very common thing you’ll find in many Asian restaurants and homes. It is a very popular condiment to use to add some heat to your foods. But besides being a condiment, it is also used in certain dishes as well to cook with. Although it is a spicy type of oil, the heat level isn’t as spicy as you might think. It is usually milder than hot sauce but that usually depends on how much you decide to use.
Now while it is really easy to make at home, it is also a pretty cheap thing to buy from a store. But most stores tend to only sell the variety where the bottle/jar only contains the oil and has no chili flakes inside. I would suggest if you are going to buy this at a store, to try to look for a container that actually has chili flakes in it as that would make the flavor a lot stronger.
Rice Wine (米酒)
Rice Wine or also called yellow wine, is a type of wine that is commonly used in certain marinades and sauce dishes in Asia. It is a clear colored wine that has a purer taste than the Shaoxing Wine we will be discussing about momentarily. Although it is called a wine, I would not recommend drinking it as the taste can be very off-putting.
Shaoxing Wine (绍兴酒)
Shaoxing Wine is another type of rice wine except that is it the more popular version most people use in Asian style cooking. It is made from fermenting and distilling rice, where the rice starch is converted to sugars. It has a deeper and more complex taste than the clear rice wine and is commonly used for Hong Shao or red-cooked dishes.
Mirin is a type of rice wine that is similar to sake but more on the sweeter side. It has a deep, aromatic, and slightly sweet flavor when used in cooking many Asian dishes. Although it is more commonly used in Japanese cuisines, there are some other dishes as well which calls for its use too.
Oyster Sauce (蚝油)
Oyster Sauce might not seem like the best tasting sauce out there, but you’ll be surprised. The sauce is made from boiling oysters which takes the oyster infused liquids and mixes it with soy sauce and seasoned to produce a savory and potent sauce. But even if its called oyster sauce, you can’t really taste the flavor of oysters at all which might be a good thing for some people. It is also a common ingredient to use especially with vegetables as it’ll make them taste so much better.
Fish Sauce (鱼露)
Fish Sauce is something that has many people wondering if they love it or hate it mainly because of the way it smells. Basically think of a fishy scented sauce, but it actually tastes good. This sauce is used in many types of Asian dishes all around Asia and is a fantastic thing to use to help elevate your dishes to the next level. It is quite salty so be sure not to add too much or else it’ll overpower your dish.
Shrimp Sauce/Paste (虾酱)
Another love it or hate it ingredient is one called a Shrimp Paste/Sauce. It is basically a pasty substance that is made from crushed or ground shrimp and salt that has been fermented for weeks or months. The taste of the sauce/paste is similar to that of fish sauce except that this is a lot more stronger and has a shrimpy flavor to it.
Rice Vinegar (米醋)
In Asian style cooking, there are 3 main types of vinegar’s used, White, Red and Black. White rice Vinegar is probably the one that is closest to what most Westerns are used to as it is somewhat similar in flavor to cider vinegar, except a bit milder.
Red Vinegar is more on the mild side with about half the acidity of your everyday white vinegar that is commonly found all throughout the USA. It is typically made from red rice yeast and other grains like sorghum and barley to help produce its unique flavor.
Black Vinegar is a vinegar that originated from Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province in China and has a slightly sweet, tarty flavor.
Maltose is basically similar to sugar and is usually made from fermented grains like wheat, barley or any other grains. It is commonly used in Asian style cooking for roasted meats as well as making certain animal skins more crispier.
Hoisin Sauce (海鮮醬)
Hoisin sauce is a thick, fragrant sauce commonly used in many Chinese cuisines as a glaze for meat, an addition to stir fries, or as dipping sauce. It is darkly-colored in appearance and has a sweet and salty taste. Although regional variants exist, hoisin sauce usually includes soybeans, fennel, red chili peppers, and garlic.
Tianmian sauce (甜面酱)
Tianmian sauce, also known as sweet bean sauce, sweet flour sauce or sweet wheat paste, is a thick, smooth, dark brown or black paste with either a mild, savory or sweet flavor. It is commonly used in Northern Chinese cuisine, Northeastern Chinese cuisine, as well as Korean-Chinese cuisine. It is usually made from wheat flour, sugar, salt, and fermented yellow soybeans.
Bean Paste/Doubanjiang (豆瓣酱)
Doubanjiang; or douban, toban-djan, broad bean chili sauce, fermented chili bean paste is a hot and savoury Chinese bean paste made from fermented broad beans, chili peppers, soybeans, salt and flour. Doubanjiang is characteristically used in Sichuan cuisine, and has been called “the soul of Sichuan cuisine.” It can come in many different varieties with some being spicy, non spicy, sweet or unsweet.
Ground Black Bean Sauce With Garlic (蒜蓉豆豉酱)
Ground Black Bean Sauce With Garlic is a simple sauce to use with any fermented black bean sauce dish. Black beans are simply grounded down and seasoned to make the sauce, which turns into a rich and thick consistency.
Wasabi is probably one of the most popular ingredients people tend to know as it is commonly paired up with sushi. However this ingredient is also used in many other dishes and sauces to help create some amazing flavors. Some people might not like it because when consumed in a large amount, it can get quite spicy. But in small amounts it is actually very tolerable and delicious.
Now there are real wasabi and fake wasabi’s out there with the real ones being more on the expensive side. The difference is that real wasabi is actually made from a stem that has been finely grated down into a nice paste/powder. If you can, try to always get the real versions.
Gochujang Sauce is a savory, sweet and spicy fermented condiment that is usually made from chili powder, glutinous rice, meju powder, barley malt powder, and salt. It is a bit sweet as the sweetness comes from the starch of cooked glutinous rice, cultured with saccharifying enzymes during the fermentation process. Now traditionally, this sauce is usually made at home and naturally fermented over years in large earthen pots in the backyard.
Sriracha Hot Sauce
Lets be honest, I think everybody here knows what Sriracha Hot Sauce is. It is one of the most popular and common condiments you can find all around in any Asian restaurant. It is a hot sauce that is usually made from a blend of garlic, distilled vinegar, salt, sugar and chilli peppers. It can be added to a wide variety of dishes like noodles, stir fry, soups, and basically an overall dipping sauce.
Fermented White Bean Curd (白腐乳)
Fermented White Bean Curd is a delicacy that many people enjoy. It is commonly also known as the “Chinese Cheese”, as it has a smooth and soft texture that is a bit salty. The cubes of preserved tofu are usually eaten in small portions along with congee or rice porridge as a typical breakfast item.
Fermented Red Bean Curd (红腐乳)
To be honest, fermented red bean curd is basically identical to fermented white bean curd except for one thing. And that thing is that red yeast rice is added to the brining liquid which helps bring out a red color and to add a much deeper flavor. It is also generally eaten during breakfast with things like porridge or mantous.