Char Siu Sauce: China’s Ultra-Flavorful Barbecue Sauce

Char siu sauce history

Char siu sauce is the glaze and marinade used on the char siu dish. Char siu (also pronounced cha siu) is one of the most famous Chinese dishes and can be found in restaurants all over the world. It is commonly described as Chinese barbecued pork that is glazed with the char siu sauce. It can easily be identified by its bright red color and sheen from the sauce.

Char siu is a type of siu mei, which is a general phrase used in Canton for all skewered and roasted meats. Sui mei is believed to have originated in China’s Guangdong Province. Char siu is the term for meats roasted on a fork. Cha means fork and siu means roasted. The original dish consisted of boneless pork strips roasted on long forks over a fire or inside an oven.

Char siu became a popular staple in Hong Kong in the mid 20th century. The dish continues to be a favorite among Hong Kong residents today. It is considered comfort food by many.

Char siu sauce flavor profile

Char sauce contains a long and varied list of ingredients. Chefs typically have their own recipes that they tend to keep secret. As a result, the flavor profile varies slightly from restaurant to restaurant. The standard ingredients include ginger, star anise, and maltose.

The maltose is responsible for the sweetness along with the characteristic shiny appearance. Ingredients like red bean paste can enhance the color and the umami flavor while others like toasted sesame oil can provide rich background notes. Homemade versions can include hoisin sauce and even ketchup. Generally, char siu sauces will be sweet and intensely savory with a mixture of anise and other aromatic spices.

Health benefits of char siu sauce

You won’t get any meaningful health benefits from char siu sauce. While ingredients like soybean paste and soy sauce found in the commercial versions do have small amounts of major nutrients, they aren’t present in a high enough concentration to provide any real value.

The fact that the quantity of char siu sauce in a typical serving is usually small is another reason why you won’t get significant amounts of any beneficial compounds.

Health concerns

Char siu sauce is particularly rich in sugar and salt, both of which can cause serious health problems when consumed in large quantities. The sugar it contains can contribute to type 2 diabetes and the salt can increase blood pressure and your risk of heart disease.

Common uses

Char siu sauce is best known for its use on pork. The pork cut used for char siu is usually pork belly but the sauce can also be used on pork butts and other cuts. Along with pork, char siu sauce gets used on duck and other poultry. The traditional way to consume meat that has been roasted with char siu sauce is with starch. So char siu is usually accompanied by rice or noodles or it is used in the meat filling for a bun (bao).

In places like Hong Kong, char siu is very rarely made at home due to the overwhelming complexity of char siu sauce as well as the time and equipment needed to make the dish properly. Instead, most people purchase it at restaurants and use it as an ingredient in other dishes made at home.

Char siu sauce can also be used on its own without accompanying meat. Use it as a condiment on rice or vegetables.