Easy Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce

$0.79 recipe / $0.20 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
3.75 from 8 votes
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One of my biggest pet peeves is having a million half-used condiments in my fridge. So if I can quickly whip up a homemade sauce with pantry staples, I’m going to do that before buying another bottle! This Simple Sweet and Sour Sauce is the perfect example. At its most basic, a sweet and sour sauce is just sugar and vinegar, flavored with a splash of soy sauce and ketchup. But there are also plenty of ways you can jazz it up and make it your own, so I’ll also include those below!

A dumpling being dipped into a bowl of Simple Sweet and Sour Sauce on a colorful plate.

Small Batch For The Win

I like to make my homemade sauces in small batches so there are no leftovers because having a million half-used homemade sauces in your fridge is just as annoying as having a million half-used bottled sauces in your fridge. The recipe below makes about 1/2 cup of sauce, but can easily be doubled or tripled if needed. Simply adjust the number of servings in the servings box in the recipe card and all of the ingredient quantities will adjust for you. There will be no change to the cooking method.

How to Use Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and sour sauce is amazing as a dip, glaze for meat, or sauce for stir fry. I show it being used as a dipping sauce for gyoza above, but it’s also great for dipping egg rolls, fried wontons, shrimp, or chicken nuggets. The sweet and tangy flavor pairs perfectly with pork and can be used on pork chops (See Sweet and Sour Pork Chops with Vegetables), as a glaze for ham, or a sauce for meatballs. It also makes a quick pour-on sauce for any stir fry.

Customize Your Sweet and Sour Sauce

The recipe listed below is a very basic, simple sweet and sour sauce. If you want to change up your sauce and do something a little more interesting, here are a few options:

  • Zingy – Add 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • Spicy – Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, or a small squirt of sriracha
  • Pineapple – Replace the water with pineapple juice and reduce the brown sugar by 1 Tbsp

What Makes Sweet and Sour Sauce Red?

In most fast food take out restaurants, the red color of the sweet and sour sauce is nothing more than red food coloring. In the recipe below, I use a little ketchup, which not only makes the sauce red, but adds even more sweet and sour flavor (ketchup has both sugar and vinegar). Two birds with one stone!

Can I Use Different Vinegar?

IMHO, rice vinegar is worth the purchase. It’s usually very inexpensive, and it has a much more delicate flavor than other types of vinegar. If you decide to substitute either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar for the rice vinegar in this recipe, you will likely throw the flavor balance off a bit. You may be able to remedy this by adding more sugar, but it will depend entirely on your own taste buds.

If you’re unsure of how you’ll use the rest of your rice vinegar, it’s great in all sorts of Asian-inspired recipes. Try it in this Thai Cucumber Salad, Homemade Sushi Bowls, or Easy Sesame Chicken.

How Long Does it Keep?

This sauce is best when used the same day, but since it doesn’t have any “fresh” ingredients in it, it will keep for quite a while in your fridge. You can keep the homemade sweet and sour sauce in an air-tight container in your refrigerator for about a week, but it may begin to seep water if kept much longer. 

A bowl of Simple Sweet and Sour Sauce on a colorful plate with dumplings, chopsticks on the side.
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Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe

3.75 from 8 votes
This Simple Sweet and Sour Sauce can be whipped up in minutes with only a few pantry staples, so you don't have to keep another condiment in your fridge! 
Close up of a dumpling being dipped into a bowl of Simple Sweet and Sour Sauce
Servings 4 2 Tbsp each
Prep 5 minutes
Cook 5 minutes
Total 10 minutes

Ingredients

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Instructions 

  • Combine all the ingredients in a small pot and whisk until the sugar and cornstarch have dissolved. The sauce will have a slightly milky brown appearance.
  • Heat the sauce over medium, while whisking, until it begins to simmer. Once it begins to simmer the cornstarch will thicken the sauce and it will turn from cloudy to shiny in appearance. Serve immediately.
  • Serve the sweet and sour sauce immediately or refrigerate for up to one week.

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Nutrition

Serving: 2TbspCalories: 58.68kcalCarbohydrates: 14.83gProtein: 0.1gFat: 0gSodium: 148.25mgFiber: 0g
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What is your favorite food to eat with sweet and sour sauce? Let me know in the comments below!

Close up of a dumpling being dipped into a bowl of Simple Sweet and Sour Sauce

How to Make Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce – Step by Step Photos

Whisk Sweet and Sour Sauce Ingredients in a pot

Combine 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 2 Tbsp ketchup, 1 tsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp water, and 1 tsp cornstarch in a small pot. Whisk the ingredients together until the sugar and cornstarch dissolve.

Shiny cooked sweet and sour sauce in the pot, being scooped with a spoon.

Heat the sauce over medium, whisking continuously, until it begins to simmer. Once it reaches a simmer the cornstarch will thicken the sauce and it will go from looking cloudy to more of a glossy glaze.

A dumpling sitting in a bowl of sweet and sour sauce, on a plate full of dumplings.

Serve the sauce immediately, or refrigerate up to one week. If kept longer than that, water may begin to seep out and separate from the sauce.

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    1. I highly suggest you go with rice vinegar here because of the mild flavor and acidity. Using other vinegars will change the flavor and acidity balance, so you’d probably need to adjust the other ingredients to compensate.