How To

The incredible story behind the invention of Oyster sauce

Test how much you know about this Asian pantry staple.

Oyster sauce is the star ingredient in many stir-fries, full of umami flavour and used in dishes around the world. Straight from the bottle, it adds a flavour punch to any dish. When tossed with Chinese broccoli (such as in our delicious gai lan recipe) or mixed into a marinade, it lends salty-sweet flavour.

But how much do you really know about this popular Asian sauce? Here we trace back the origins of oyster sauce to discover its distinct flavour profile and variety of usages. Lift your cooking game with a deeper appreciation and understanding of your favourite Chinese pantry staple.

Stir-fried beef steak and three greens with oyster sauce

A chance creation

Rather than cooked up in a test kitchen, oyster sauce was believed to be an accidental invention. In 1888, Chinese restauranteur Lee Kum Sheung fortuitously left a pot of oyster soup boiling for so long that it eventually simmered down into a thick brown mixture. When Lee Kum Sheung tasted his caramelised concoction, he discovered a rich, delicious flavour: the now-iconic oyster sauce.

After successfully using the sauce as a seasoning in his dishes, Sheung bottled his creation to sell and established the Lee Kum Kee brand — which grew into a world-renowned Asian sauce empire. Now in the hands of fifth-generation family members, Lee Kum Kee’s sauce recipes combine Lee Kum Sheung’s time-honoured techniques with modern technology to achieve their delicious taste and never compromised quality.

Gai lan with oyster sauce

Secrets of the sauce

Oyster sauce is as versatile as its flavour is strong. With umami taste, the sauce is both sweet and salty — due to the brininess of oyster extract and the rich taste with a caramel note. Following the traditional recipe, the milky-white oyster soup is simmered for several hours before transforming into the familiar, reddish-brown oyster extract.

On supermarket shelves there are a range of oyster sauces to choose from, and the quality greatly affects the flavour. Premium versions have a high percentage of oyster extract, while lower quality sauces use artificial oyster flavouring.

Lee Kum Kee Premium Oyster Sauce is created with fresh oysters grown over two to three years at their self-managed oyster farms. The harvested oysters are then selected according to their size, freshness, texture, mouthfeel, and succulence, to deliver the highest quality sauce. A popular variety for marinating or stir-frying is the Lee Kum Kee Panda Brand Oyster Sauce.

Green dumplings with soy chilli dipping sauce

Natural soy sauce

Adding Asian sauces into your cooking is a great way to experience Chinese flavours at home, whether that’s through oyster, hoisin or soy sauce. Just like oyster sauce, the versatility of soy sauce means it can be used as a dressing, meat marinade or as a dipping sauce to enhance any dish.

The best way to make this condiment is with minimal ingredients: wheat, soybeans, water, salt, and sugar for balanced flavour. This “naturally brewed” process takes months to produce a rich, complex and mellow flavour, and is a healthier alternative to artificial formulas. Lee Kum Kee Premium Soy Sauce is made in this traditional way, containing no additives, preservatives, or MSG.

From inventing oyster sauce to creating a natural soy sauce, Lee Kum Kee is the key to bringing traditional flavour to your favourite Asian-inspired recipes.

Brought to you by Lee Kum Kee, Australia’s number one Asian ready-made sauce brand with over 200 sauces and condiments sold in more than 100 countries around the world. Available in Coles and Woolworths and at local Asian grocery stores.

Related stories

Fruit flies on an apple
How To

How to get rid of fruit flies

Fruit flies taken up residence in your fruit bowl? We talked to our Test Kitchen team of experts, for their chemical-free solutions for not getting bugged by bugs this summer.