Hoisin and plum sauces are two of the most popular Chinese condiments, used to flavor vegetable dishes, marinate meat and accentuate egg rolls. Though hoisin and plum sauces are sometimes mistaken for one another, their flavor profiles are not interchangeable.
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Hoisin sauce is an intense combination of salty and sweet flavors. The unaccustomed palette may more readily receive the slightly sweeter, milder plum sauce.
Traditionally, hoisin sauce is made from sweet potatoes, but most recipes today use soybean paste, adding distilled vinegar, garlic, chili pepper and sugar. Optional ingredients include honey, peanuts and sesame oil.
Plum sauce, on the other hand, is built on a base of fruit preserves. Plums are most common, though peaches or apricots may be used as well. Sugar, ginger, vinegar and chili powder enhance its flavor.
Both sauces are brown, but hoisin sauce tends to be darker. They are both typically thick, though viscosity can vary with individual recipes.
Owing to its popularity, hoisin sauce is sometimes referred to as the Chinese version of the American staple, barbeque sauce. Hoisin, which translates to "seafood," is never prepared from fish.