Plum sauce and hoisin sauce are two sweet, sticky sauces that have many applications in classic Chinese dishes. If you plan to cook a lot of traditional Chinese food, you should keep both of them in your refrigerator. If you are trying to decide between plum sauce and hoisin sauce, have a look at the SPICEography Showdown below.
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How does plum sauce differ from hoisin sauce?
Plum sauce and hoisin sauce share many of the same ingredients including spices like chili pepper and garlic as well as sugar and garlic. The big difference between their ingredients is the inclusion of the plums in plum sauce. Hoisin sauce focuses more on spices and contains soybean paste.
The different ingredients in plum sauce and hoisin sauce results in the two sauces having notable differences in their flavor profiles. The fact that plum sauce contains plums gives it a strong fruity flavor with an assertive acidic kick from the fruit.
Hoisin sauce doesn’t contain any fruits, so it won’t have a fruity flavor. Its flavor profile revolves more around sweet spices like star anise and cinnamon. Hoisin sauce is also less sweet than plum sauce and has a stronger salty and umami aspect to its flavor that comes from the soybean paste.
The two sauces tend to have different appearances. Plum sauce can have a purplish color if it is made with purple plums from the West, but the more traditional versions will be somewhere between yellow and orange.
The consistency may also vary from brand to brand, but many will have a glossy look and syrupy consistency similar to ketchup. Hoisin sauce is almost always dark brown with some versions having a reddish shade. It is often thicker and denser than plum sauce, but the consistency can vary from brand to brand.
Can you use plum sauce as a substitute for hoisin sauce and vice versa?
Plum sauce is just as good a dip for fried foods as hoisin sauce. Its texture is similar enough that it will coat the surfaces of the foods in the same way as hoisin sauce. The sweetness and tartness will complete the dishes similarly.
Even though both sauces have some flavor notes in common, don’t expect them to be perfect substitutes for each other. Plum sauce won’t have the same salty, umami quality that you would get from hoisin sauce, so the difference will be immediately noticeable in many dishes.
Hoisin sauce will work well as a marinade, baste and table condiment for many dishes that require plum sauce; however, it won’t provide the same kind of fruity sweetness that you would get from plum sauce.
When should you use plum sauce, and when should you use hoisin sauce?
Use plum sauce as a condiment for deep-fried Chinese items like spring rolls, wonton strips and fried noodles. It is also a good basting sauce and dip for duck dishes like Peking duck. It can form the basis of a stir-fry sauce for chicken.
You can use hoisin sauce on its own as a dipping sauce for the same kinds of fried foods that you would serve with plum sauce. It goes well with spring rolls and is a good sauce for duck as well. You can also use it to make a quick and easy version of char siu sauce. Along with its Chinese applications, hoisin sauce is sometimes used as an accompaniment for Vietnamese pho.