Homemade “Chinese” Sweet-and-Sour Sauce Recipe

Stir FryGiven the recent flurry of activity on my Basic Chinese Sauces page, I thought I’d also post my recipe for Chinese restaurant-style sweet and sour sauce. Again, I’m sure any self-respecting Chinese cook would scoff at this, but it is similar to the kind of sauce you find at American Chinese restaurants. Only not quite so eye-popplingly red. 🙂

Chinese Sweet-and-Sour Sauce

  • 1 small can pineapple chunks or tidbits, including the juice
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/4 to 1/3 c. vinegar
  • 1 Tbl. ketchup*
  • 1 Tbl. cornstarch
  • You may want a little more sugar or honey, or less vinegar, depending on the sweetness of your pineapple juice and your personal preference

1) Cook any meat first. Remove it from the pan.
2) Stir-fry your veggies. If you like, drain the pineapple juice into a measuring cup and throw the fruit into the stir-fry now.
3) Mix up all the sauce ingredients in a measuring cup.
4) Add a few pieces of hot veggies to the measuring cup to pre-heat the cornstarch.
5) Dump all the sauce into the pan with the veggies (and add the meat back, if using) and bring to a boil.
6) Simmer for a minute or two until the sauce is clear and thickened.

I made this with a young adult cooking class, and one amazed young man exclaimed, “Hey! This tastes like sweet and sour sauce!” When I asked why that was such a surprise, he said, “I dunno…I just thought with all that weird stuff in it, it would taste, y’know, gross.”

* Before you get all weirded out about this, think about what ketchup is: Tomato paste, sugar, water, and vinegar. You could use tomato paste instead, but you need so little – just for some color – it’s much easier just to give it a squirt of ketchup.



  1. fragiletearz said,

    March 8, 2008 at 11:48 am

    this looks really good, I’m going to be trying it! Thanks for sharing!

  2. TeacherPatti said,

    March 8, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    That sounds a lot like the recipe that I have, only mine has you add brown sugar and mustard seed (which prompted me to buy mustard seed for the first time ever). I started making my own after I began to wonder what exactly was in the stuff in the first place!!

  3. Anonymous said,

    November 22, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    what type of vinegar do you suggest

    • Emily said,

      November 23, 2009 at 9:55 am

      Any kind works, really. I usually use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar, as that’s what I have on hand. Rice wine vinegar might be a little more mellow.

  4. Ed Schenk said,

    January 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    I do a sweet and sour sauce with tamarind pulp (sour), brown sugar (sweet) and water. Cook till it thickens and strain it. Outstanding!

  5. Michelle said,

    February 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Hello, I just came upon your blog searching for sweet and sour recipes. I have started a blog on local eating as well. I am trying to show how I try to be an educated and good member of our industrial food chain. Won’t you please stop by? I am currently having a poll about local eating.
    PS – I am totally making this recipe tonight to go with our rice. Thanks 🙂

  6. julia said,

    February 25, 2011 at 11:40 am

    does anyone have recipe for the sauce they put on the clams/mussels and the baked salmon??

  7. Robin said,

    July 11, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    My husband was looking for a sweet and sour recipe when he came to your site. So he told me about it as he said this lady thinks the same way that you do. He is right!

    I teach classes on how to take the food you are eating and make them healthier,

    I love your student’s comment “Hey! This tastes like sweet and sour sauce!” When I asked why that was such a surprise, he said, “I dunno…I just thought with all that weird stuff in it, it would taste, y’know, gross.”

    Just like what my students would say. And something that I can certainly understand as some people are so far from their food that it is sad.

    Keep up the great work.

    Robin of bluerosehealth.com

  8. November 21, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    does anyone have a recipe for the sweet and sour sauce that they give you to dip fried wontons and such in. It’s that really sweet, bright re sauce, not what they put in dishes. I’ve only been able to find it made by one brand in the stores, by SUN Luck, but one bottle is $4. And for something whose ingredients are high fructose corn syrup, sugar, water, white vinegar, tomato paste, corn starch, soy sauce, and spices of some sort, according to the ingredients list, I know I can make it for much less. Also I’ve only found it at one store. Any suggestions would be a huge help, ive been looking for this for months.

    • Emily said,

      November 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Try 1/3 cup EACH of water, sugar, and white vinegar. Add 1 Tbl cornstarch a big squeeze of ketchup. Boil until syrupy.

      • Emily said,

        November 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm

        Adding some pineapple juice is good, too!

  9. Elizabeth said,

    December 1, 2011 at 10:30 am

    If you change the pineapple for oranges, that tastes really good too. For this, you’d need two big oranges. 🙂

  10. Patrick Haggood said,

    December 23, 2011 at 1:54 am

    I just picked up a cast-iron wok in Chicago last weekend – cooked awesome pork and shrimp dishes. Will be availing myself of your your sauce recipes.

  11. Pat said,

    April 5, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Another good sauce to try. Now the hard part ….portion control ( something I really have problems with!)

  12. Eternity said,

    October 14, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Best GOURMET Sweet n Sour Sauce is 1 part Ketchup to 1 part Jelly (i really like it with blueberry jam). Just get the stuff with as little fruit chunks and seeds, and nobody will ever know your secret. I ran out of Jelly once and only had the kind with blueberries in it. Made it anyway, and my roommates BEGGED me to make it weekly – especially with the hot blueberries. Makes sense, I mean – we eat oranges and meat, why not blueberries and meat?!

    • Darryl said,

      April 2, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      Blue berrys with wild game is the best.Venice , duck, pheasant, wild pork, goose. Put berrys in stuffing and make thick sauce with orange juice from fruit bloody beauty cheers.

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