What Is Duck Sauce and Why Is It Called That?

When I was a kid, I was a rather picky eater. When my family went to a Chinese restaurant, I mostly ate chicken and rice. If I was feeling particularly brave, I might chow down on part of an egg roll or a nibble of a beef skewer. But broccoli, greens, pork, shrimp, and other such “oddities” were too flavorful and exotic for my taste. This diet of mostly fried Chinese options means I also slathered everything in soy sauce and duck sauce. But what is duck sauce, that delicious concoction that even the most stubbornly childish American palates find acceptable? Let’s find out! 

What is duck sauce?

Duck sauce is a popular condiment most associated and used with Americanized Chinese cooking. It is often offered in a little packet alongside the soy sauce and spicy mustard. It often has an orangey brown color. It’s much sweeter than soy sauce or spicy mustard, but with a noticeable tang. 

What is duck sauce made of?

No, there are no waterfowl of any kind to be found in duck sauce. Rather, duck sauce is made of plums and apricots (and perhaps other fruit), along with sugar, vinegar, chili, and ginger. 

Of course, commercially manufactured duck sauce is noticeably different and contains a few more additives. If you look at the ingredients list on a packet of duck sauce, you’ll see something like this: water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sucralose, corn starch modified, apricots (sulfited), salt, vinegar, citric acid, caramel color, 1/10  of 1% sodium benzoate, FD&C yellow #5, #6, FD&C red #40. 

How is duck sauce made?

If you want to make your own homemade duck sauce, there are a plethora of options online. Allrecipes has one recipe for duck sauce that looks pretty delicious. You simply combine apples, plums, pears, apple juice, brown sugar, apricot preserves, and a little soy sauce, garlic powder, and dried mustard. From there, you essentially just let the ingredients simmer until the fruits are soft, and then blend the whole thing together to make it smooth,

What does duck sauce taste like?

Duck sauce is quite sweet, but with overtones of tartness (in other words, sweet and sour, but don’t confuse it with the sauce of that name). There is a definite fruitiness to the blend that keeps it from tasting too sugary, but the overwhelming note is sweet. 

Why is it called duck sauce?

Despite the noted absence of ducks in its ingredients list, this sauce still has this avian name. Why? The answer is simple enough: Duck sauce is often served alongside duck. In fact, it’s thought that Chinese immigrants used this name because the sauce’s progenitor, tianmian sauce, was served with Peking duck. 

Is duck sauce sweet and sour sauce?

While Wikipedia and other sources are quick to note the flavor profile of duck sauce is “sweet and sour,” this does not exactly make it the typical sweet and sour sauce you find at a Chinese restaurant. The red sweet and sour sauce that you might get as part of a Chinese takeout meal is often made with ketchup or tomato sauce, which is noticeably absent from duck sauce. (If you want to know more, check out our article that answers the question, what is sweet and sour sauce?)

Is duck sauce gluten free?

Typically speaking, duck sauce should be gluten free, because it doesn’t contain wheat or wheat products of any kind. However, it is possible that some duck sauces, especially those made in-house at a restaurant, could contain some cross-contamination from other gluten-filled products in the kitchen. So, if gluten is strictly forbidden in your diet, be sure to practice some caution before tucking in to the duck sauce. 

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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