This easy recipe for homemade sweet and sour sauce is the best DIY Chinese takeout! It’s perfect for chicken or for meatballs.
Sweet And Sour Sauce
I’ve been craving all the different restaurant meals lately. I’m definitely looking forward to life getting back to normal – and simple things like visiting a Chinese buffet with my family or getting Asian takeout from Panda Express at the mall sounds pretty amazing these days.
Whenever I get Chinese food, I always order something that comes with sweet and sour sauce. It’s just one of those classic flavors that I love, you know?
I’ve realized that it’s mostly the Chinese sauces I’m missing these days, so I’ve been making lots of them at home. This sauce takes only a few minutes, uses pantry friendly ingredients, and lets me feel like I’m enjoying a real restaurant meal – so I call that a win-win!
You could buy some at the store, but this is one of those times where homemade really tastes so much better than store bought. Since it only takes a few minutes, I definitely think it’s worth the effort.
How To Make Sweet And Sour Sauce
This recipe is simple, quick, and easy. Add the pineapple juice, sugar, ketchup, vinegar, Tamari (or soy sauce if you’re not gluten free), and sambal oelek (Asian chili sauce) to a medium saucepan. Mix together the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl before adding it to the sauce pan. Stir and bring everything to a light boil, and cook until it’s just thickened.
How To Make It Without Pineapple
If you don’t have pineapple juice, you can replace it with 1/3 cup orange and 2 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice or lime juice.
Which Vinegar Should You Use?
It really depends on your taste preference and what you have on hand. I prefer white vinegar, so that’s how the recipe is written. You could also use apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar.
If you prefer a sauce that has a stronger vinegar flavor, then I’d recommend using the sweet and sour sauce from my Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe. You could also just add more vinegar to this sauce if you think it’s too sweet.
Which Sugar Should You Use?
White sugar is my sugar of choice for this recipe, but some people prefer to use brown sugar. It’s totally up to you! If you’d rather use a natural sweetener, you could even use honey, maple syrup, or agave.
Is It Spicy?
It totally depends on whether or not you use the optional sambal oelek (Asian chili sauce). I don’t typically add it, so my sauce isn’t spicy. If you don’t have sambal oelek on hand, you can substitute it with 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.
How To Make It Without Ketchup
You can just omit it! The ketchup is there a little bit for sweetness and flavor, but it’s mostly for color.
If you don’t like tomato flavors and think you won’t like 1/4 cup ketchup in the sauce, I’d recommend either halving the amount or completely omitting it.
If you think the sauce is a little too thick, add a little more pineapple juice or water. If you think it’s too thin, add a little more corn starch.
How To Thicken It
Cornstarch is the best thickener for this recipe. Potato starch and arrowroot powder would also work.
It’s important to mix the starch with cold water before adding it to the sauce (this is to prevent lumps). If you do end up with some lumps, you can always strain it through a fine mesh strainer.
I’ve written this recipe to use 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch, and I think that’s the perfect consistency for a pourable sauce that coats breaded chicken perfectly. If you’re going to use this as a dipping sauce and like a thicker consistency, I’d recommend using 1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch (or even up to 2 Tablespoons if you like a really thick dipping sauce).
Can I use flour instead of cornstarch in sweet and sour sauce? You can, but there’s a good chance you’ll need to use more flour. That’s because flour doesn’t thicken as well as cornstarch.
How To Use It
- As A Dip: A very popular way to enjoy this sauce is as a dip. Try using it as your dipping sauce for chicken balls, ribs, crab rangoon, wontons, spring rolls, egg rolls, lumpia, dumplings, or chicken nuggets.
- As A Marinade: Did you know you can use sweet and sour sauce as a marinade? Seriously SO good and kind of unexpected. You’ll need to thin it out with either water or additional pineapple juice and add a tiny bit of a neutral tasting oil. Then you can marinade any quick cooking meat (think things like fish, shrimp, or thinly cut chicken breast) before grilling it on the bbq.
- In A Stir Fry: One of the most classic ways to enjoy this sauce is in a stir fry, like my Sweet and Sour Chicken. It’s the perfect addition to any breaded meat, bell pepper, and onion combination.
- In The Slow Cooker: If you haven’t tried sweet and sour meatballs yet, you’re in for a treat. Place the (not frozen) pork meatballs in the bottom of your crock pot and pour the sauce over top. Cook on high for 1-2 hours or on low for 3-4 hours.
What Makes It Red?
This recipe is naturally a pretty red-orange color without any added food dye, so I don’t add any. If you want a really deep bold red color, you can add 2 – 3 drops of red food coloring after you finish cooking the sauce.
Is It Gluten Free?
This recipe is written using Tamari instead of soy sauce. Since Tamari is gluten free, it’s gluten free as it’s written.
Is It Vegan?
Yes! This recipe is vegan as it’s written. It would taste amazing tossed with breaded and fried crispy tofu.
How To Make It Soy-Free
You can easily swap the Tamari for coconut aminos to make this recipe soy-free.
Keep In Touch
I’d love to hear what you thought of this recipe in the comments or on Instagram! @KeyToMyLime #KeyToMyLime
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- 1/2 cup pineapple juice (from a can or carton - fresh won’t work)
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 3 Tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons Tamari (or soy sauce if you're not gluten free)
- 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (optional, only if you like it spicy - or 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes)
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 Tablespoons cold water
- 2-3 drops red food coloring (optional)
- Heat a medium sized skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the pineapple juice, sugar, ketchup, vinegar, Tamari, and sambal oelek. Whisk to combine, then bring to a simmer.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and cold water to make a slurry.
- Slowly add the slurry to the saucepan and stir to combine.
- Bring to a light boil, and boil for approximately 1 minute (or until the sauce has just thickened).
- Turn off the heat, and stir in the food coloring (if you're using it).
The sambal oelek is very much optional, and I would only recommend adding it if you specifically want a spicy element in your sauce. I don't typically add it.
This is the consistency I like if I’m going to toss breaded chicken in the sauce. If you’re going to use it as a dipping sauce, I’d recommend using 1 1/2 Tablespoons of cornstarch.
I like two variations of sweet and sour sauce. This is the sweeter of the two, but if you prefer a stronger vinegar flavor, the sauce in my sweet and sour chicken recipe is what I'd recommend using.
It's important that you use canned or carton pineapple juice for this recipe. Fresh pineapple juice has enzymes that will stop the cornstarch from thickening the sauce properly.
The food coloring isn't necessary in this recipe. I didn't use any in the batch that I photographed. It wasn't a deep bold red, but it was still a lovely orange-red color.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 73Total Fat: 0gCarbohydrates: 18gNet Carbohydrates: 17.9gFiber: 0.1gSugar: 15.3gProtein: 0.8g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Skip the Wendy’s or McDonald’s takeout, and make this easy sweet and sour sauce recipe at home!