What Is Plum Sauce?

What is plum sauce? Well, it’s tricky. You see, there are a lot of different kinds of Chinese food. Afterall, China is a huge country with a long history and many regionally specific cuisines. And then there’s a whole other world of Chinese food outside of China. Just in the United States, where Americanized Chinese food reigns, the term “plum sauce” can mean different things in different places. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give you an answer to the question, what plum sauce? Let’s pluck this plum and get some answers.

What is plum sauce?

Plum sauce is a sweet and sour condiment served with Chinese cuisine, primarily Cantonese style. Plum sauce is usually made with plums. However, and this is kind of a surprise, it’s not always made with plums. Sometimes plum sauce can contain other types of fruit such as peach, pineapple or apricot. Plum sauce is usually used as a sweet and sour dip, especially with fried dishes. Folks use plum sauce with spring rolls, noodles, and duck. 

The definition can get a little confusing because plum sauce is sometimes used interchangeably with duck sauce and sweet and sour sauce. Sweet and sour sauce is its own thing. It is a deeper shade of red and may have some sort of tomato in it. Of course, then there’s Detroit style plum sauce which is actually pretty close to straight up sweet and sour. Try to keep up.

Is plum sauce the same as duck sauce?

For the most part, yes, plum sauce and duck sauce are basically the same thing. In Cantonese style cuisine, duck is usually served with a thick sweet and savory sauce like hoisin. But when Cantonese folks came to the U.S., hoisin sauce’s ingredients may not have been readily available, so a sweet, tangy, and sour sauce was invented using the ingredients at hand. This sauce became known as duck sauce, since it was served with duck. One of the most popular ways to make duck sauce was with plums. This morphed into plum sauce. However, duck sauce can also be made with apricots, pineapple, or peaches. So it may not always be technically a “plum sauce.”

Are hoisin and plum sauce the same?

This question is much easier to answer. No, hoisin sauce and plum sauce are not the same. While plum sauce is lighter in color and has a sweet and sour taste, hoisin is dark brown and much more savory. Hoisin is closer to a Chinese style barbecue sauce than a sweet and sour sauce.

How do you make plum sauce?

If you want to make some plum sauce on your own, the first thing you’re going to need is some plums. Chop those plums up good and combine them with sugar, vinegar, salt, ginger, anise, and soy sauce. Need a bit more guidance? Here’s a recipe for plum sauce from Serious Eats. Now all you need to do is cook a duck!

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!

Your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *