What Is XO Sauce?

There are a lot of existential food questions that can keep you up at night. Is a hot dog a sandwich? IIs chocolate candy or not? When does a sauce stop being a sauce and turn into soup? We here at Sporked pride ourselves on being able to answer the tough questions. So today, we’ll be unwrapping the mystery that is XO sauce. What is XO sauce? What’s in XO sauce? Read on to find out. 

What is XO sauce?

XO sauce is a relatively new creation, coming onto the scene in 1980s Hong Kong, this Cantonese sauce has since become popular throughout Southern China. It’s rich with umami flavor—lots of it. It has a super intense flavor that will amp up any dish. XO sauce bears similarities to doubanjiang, one of the core sauces in Szechuan cuisine that originated further west in China. 

And XO sauce really pushes the envelope when it comes to the definition of a “sauce.” When I think of sauce, I think BBQ sauce or Hollandaise—viscous semi-liquids that you can pour. XO sauce is much closer in consistency to a pickle relish or the aforementioned, paste-like doubanjiang. 

What is in XO sauce?

The base of XO sauce is dried seafood: scallops, shrimp, and some fish. These finely chopped ingredients are cooked with chili peppers, onions, garlic, and a special kind of dry, cured ham. This mixture leads to a strong umami, spicy flavor. And speaking of spicy…

How spicy is XO sauce?

Chili crisp sauce is truly having its moment right now in America. Depending on the brand, it’s often pretty mild. If you have had chili crisp sauce and needed to call the fire department, you probably will want to avoid XO sauce.

While its most dominant flavor is the umami and fish, XO sauce does pack a bit more punch than your standard chili crisp. Start off small to see if you can handle it.

How do you use XO sauce?

XO sauce can be used as a table condiment; a dollop on a plate of white rice will provide a pleasant kick. But XO sauce is most often used as a stir fry ingredient, elevating a standard dish into something flavorful and complex. XO sauce is also quite good on eggs. For fans of huevos rancheros or even just a splash of hot sauce on your scrambled eggs, consider giving XO sauce a shot. You’ll XOXO it.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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