Duck Sauce: A Fruity Chinese-American Condiment

Duck sauce history

Duck sauce comes in two forms: Chinese-American and French. The Chinese-American version is the best-known of the two and is still served in many Chinese restaurants on the U.S. east coast. The French version may be harder to find.

Duck sauce does not come from China. It was invented in the United States and was originally used as a condiment for deep-fried duck. It was also sometimes served with Peking duck instead of the hoisin sauce that was the traditional accompaniment in China. These days, you are most likely to see it served in packets along with other popular condiments like soy sauce and hot mustard.

Contrary to what the name might cause you to believe, duck sauce contains no duck. According to some researchers, the first version was really just plum sauce or what Americans in the early and mid-20th century called plum sauce.

In some places, plum sauce is still referred to as duck sauce. While the two sauces have similar flavor profiles, they are not the same. Duck sauce was likely an attempt by early Chinese cooks to simulate the plum sauce flavor with Western ingredients like apricots and pears. It is not a true Chinese condiment, but plum sauce is widely used in Chinese cooking.

Duck sauce flavor profile

The Chinese American version is sweet and has a fruity flavor that comes from a mix of fruits that can include apples, plums, and apricots. It is a lot like sweet and sour sauce but with the fruit flavor that is not identifiable as coming from a single fruit. The classic European version has a strong orange flavor as it is typically made with bitter Seville oranges.

Duck sauce health benefits

It probably wouldn’t make most people’s lists of highly nutritious foods, but it does contain some extra important nutrients such as:

  • Vitamins: It can be a good source of vitamin A and several B vitamins. Some brands claim to contain vitamin C as well.
  • Minerals: The sauce contains small amounts of important minerals like iron, calcium and potassium.

The nutrients that duck sauce adds to your diet may help to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Osteoporosis: A condition characterized by the loss of bone density, osteoporosis can be mitigated with minerals that compensate for the loss of bone mass. Some of those minerals are in this sauce.
  • High blood pressure: The potassium here may help to lower blood pressure, which can improve health for people who suffer from high blood pressure.

Health concerns

Duck sauce contains a significant amount of sugar, which means that it may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Common uses

Along with its role in certain duck dishes, duck sauce is commonly used as an accompaniment for deep-fried dishes like fried wontons, wonton strips, and spring rolls. You will also see it served with spareribs and chicken.

In France, duck sauce may refer to the sauce that comes with classic dishes like duck à l’orange also called duck à la bigarade. The blend of duck and plums is not limited to Chinese-American food as the French sometimes serve duck confit with a plum sauce. French plum sauce has a somewhat different list of ingredients than the kind you get from a Chinese restaurant, but it has the same main ingredient and many of the same flavor notes.