Everything you love about that takeout-style sweet and sour sauce, but without having to actually order takeout! Sweet and sour sauce is really easy to make at home, and is perfect on just about any Asian-inspired dish!
This is part of a series of recipes here on the site that I’m calling “Back to Basics“. In this series you’ll find recipes that are common building blocks for beginner cooks, as well as homemade versions of pantry/store-bought staples, such as cream of mushroom soup, pizza sauce, garlic bread, etc. With easy to follow instructions, detailed notes, and step by step photos, you’ll be on your way to being a master in your kitchen in no time!
We love classic Chinese takeout here in the chunky chef house, but my kids are stuck on one dish in particular. Sweet and sour chicken.
They won’t order anything else! And they definitely love that unbelievably red sauce.
I’ve been on the search for the perfect homemade version, and it’s finally here.
Perfectly sweet and tangy, and to get that ultra red color, you can add a few drops of red food coloring. Don’t worry, it’s totally optional, and doesn’t change the flavor at all. So it’s purely for the color, if you want it.
Soon I’ll be sharing the perfect sweet and sour chicken skillet, using a version of this very sauce!
How to make sweet and sour sauce?
This is just an overview; the full ingredients and directions are in the recipe card toward the bottom of this post.
- Bring to a boil. Add all the ingredients except water, cornstarch and food coloring.
- Make a slurry. A slurry is a mixture of cornstarch and cold liquid (water in this case), which thickens sauces.
- Thicken. Whisk the slurry into the sauce and cook a minute or two, until thickened. I like to cook mine until it will coat the back of a spoon.
- Add coloring. This is optional, but gives the sauce a classic takeout color.
- Cool. Let the sauce cool to room temperature.
The trick to making sweet and sour sauce that looks like the one from your local Chinese takeout place, is food coloring. I know that can be a hot button issue, but there are natural food coloring options out there. However, all the food coloring does is add color, the sauce tastes exactly the same both with and without the dye. So either way, you’ll have a tasty sauce!
Variations of this recipe
- Sugar – this recipe uses light brown sugar, but if you’d rather swap that out with granulated sugar, feel free to do so. Use an equal amount.
- Vinegar – I prefer the taste of this sauce with rice vinegar, but apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar will also work, if that’s what you have on hand.
- Spicy – for a little kick, try adding a pinch of red pepper flakes!
- Thicker – you can simmer the sauce longer after you’ve added the cornstarch slurry if you prefer a thicker sauce.
- Natural food dye – for these photos, I added 2 drops of red food coloring (the traditional kind), but there are plenty of natural food coloring options if you prefer to use those.
The most common way is to have it alongside some fried chicken, pork or shrimp. I also like to make a sweet and sour chicken skillet (I’ll be sharing that recipe soon), use the sauce as a dip for crab rangoons, or drizzle over some cooked veggies or white rice.
No, this is a recipe for the American Chinese takeout-style sweet and sour sauce.
You may be wondering why you’d go to the trouble of making sweet and sour sauce when there are bottled varieties available at the grocery store. I’m not knocking those sauces, but in my opinion, homemade tastes so much better. Plus you can add real sugar and ingredients you can pronounce, control the sugar/salt levels, and have a sauce with way less preservatives.
Making sweet and sour sauce ahead of time
Sweet and sour sauce is great to make head, since it keeps really well.
Just make as directed and cool completely. Once cooled, add to a storage container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Leftover sweet and sour sauce should be refrigerated in an airtight container and eaten within 3 weeks.
Sweet and sour can be frozen in airtight freezer-safe containers for up to 3 months.
Thaw in the refrigerator and use however you’d like.
Did you make this? Be sure to leave a review below and tag me @the_chunky_chef on Facebook and Instagram!
- 1 cup canned pineapple juice
- 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp cold water
- 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1-2 drops red food coloring (optional)
- To a small saucepan, add pineapple juice, brown sugar, rice vinegar, ketchup, and soy sauce. Whisk well, and bring to a boil over MED heat, stirring occasionally.
- In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water and stir until smooth. Stir into the saucepan and continue cooking another minute or two, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Stir in food coloring, if using.
- Let sauce cool completely, then use immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
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The Chunky Chef is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.