What Is Ponzu Sauce? And How Is It Different from Soy Sauce?

If you’ve ever tried something you thought was soy sauce but it tasted…different. More citrusy. It was probably ponzu. What is ponzu sauce and what is in ponzu sauce? Is ponzu sauce gluten free? Is ponzu sauce vegan? Read on and find out so you can tell your friends more than what ponzu sauce tastes like!

What is ponzu sauce? 

Ponzu sauce is a citrus based condiment used in Japanese cuisine. Ponzu can be used as a dipping sauce for dumplings, noodles, shabu-shabu, and many other delicious treats. It’s also used like a vinaigrette, as straight sauce, or a marinade. Ponzu is thought to have originated around the 17th century. Japan was a trade partner with the Netherlands at that time and the Dutch called their alcohol and citrus punch “pons.” The character for “zu” in ponzu describes the vinegary or sour flavor. So, it’s a citrusy, vinegary sauce. 

What does ponzu sauce taste like? 

Ponzu sauce tastes like a subtle umami wave with zingy and tangy crests. Its salty citrus notes shine through, but it also has a savory undertone and just a touch of malty sweetness. 

So, what is in ponzu sauce? 

Well, recipes vary. But a base recipe contains mirin, rice vinegar, katsuobushi flakes (also known as bonito—small, fermented tuna flakes), and kombu (a type of seaweed). Then some sort of citrus is added—a lemon or Japanese citrus like yuzu, sudachi, daidai, or kabosu. Now that is just straight up ponzu. Most of the ponzu sauce that is sold in stores or used in restaurants is also mixed with soy sauce. That’s called ponzu shoyu, but it’s also just called ponzu sauce, as well. Confused? Just assume that all the ponzu sauce has some soy sauce in it unless it specifies it doesn’t.

Is ponzu sauce vegan? 

If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a thousand times: You need to read the label. Traditionally, ponzu sauce is not vegan because it contains fish. If you see anything in the ingredients like katsuobushi flakes, bonito, or okaka, those are all fermented fish flakes. But there are some ponzu sauce brands that make a vegan version, which omits the fish flakes.

Is ponzu sauce gluten free? 

While classic ponzu can be gluten free, most ponzu sauce out there is mixed with soy sauce, which is not gluten free. So, if the label says “soy” or “wheat” then avoid it if you’re gluten averse. But there are gluten free ponzu sauce brands and versions out there. My favorite is whatever ponzu sauce I’m currently drinking. I go through about four bottles a day. 

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.

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