This sweet and sour sauce is an easy to make recipe that tastes like your favorite Chinese restaurant version. It is delicious as a dip, in stir-fry, or drizzled on chicken, pork, vegetables, noodles, or rice.
If you’ve ever eaten at your favorite Chinese restaurant, tasted their sweet and sour sauce, and thought to yourself, “I wish I knew how to make this”, then you’re in luck! This article will teach you step-by-step how to create your own sweet and sour sauce that tastes better than store bought bottles and Chinese takeout.
When I was younger, I loved going out for dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I often ordered the sweet and sour chicken with an egg roll and rice.
Now that I live in an area without a lot of authentic Chinese-American restaurants, I have worked on recreating some of my favorite dishes, so they can be made at home using healthier ingredients and less artificial ingredients. One of the first things I mastered was a good sweet and sour sauce recipe.
I have tried many sweet and sour sauce recipes over the years looking for the right flavor combination that matched our favorite restaurant’s version. Most recipes I explored involved some sort of vinegar, tomato, and pineapple combination. As I experimented with recipe after recipe, I kept thinking that something was missing.
Eventually, I realized that many of our local restaurants include cherries and chunks of pineapples in their sweet and sour sauce. They usually use those bright red maraschino cherries.
It dawned on me that cherry was the missing flavor. Not only do cherries add a fruity essence to the sauce, but they also tint the sauce bright red without using red food coloring.
Cherries are only available for a limited time during the year. When they reach my local grocery store, I like to capture the flavor and preserve them into a freezer-friendly, sweet and sour cherry sauce that we can enjoy all year.
We love to use this yummy sauce in stir-fried sweet and sour chicken, sweet and sour meatballs, and drizzled on chicken, pork, vegetables, noodles, or rice. It makes a great dipping sauce for air-fried egg rolls, wontons, fried shrimp, crab rangoon, and chicken fingers.
But you can use this sauce for more than just Chinese food. We also like it tossed with roasted vegetables, drizzled over a leafy green salad, as a glaze for grilled chicken or pork, and a dip for fish sticks and chicken nuggets.
Ingredients for Cherry Sweet and Sour Sauce
There are many recipes out there for this simple yet delicious sauce, but this one uses fresh cherries for an extra fruity flavor. Here’s more about the main ingredients used in this recipe, plus some easy substitutions if you don’t have ingredients on hand:
This recipe uses canned pineapple juice, but you can also use canned pineapple chunks, and even fresh pineapple too. If you are using canned pineapple chunks, strain and use the juice to make the sauce, and save the pineapples to add to the finished sauce or dish.
To use a fresh pineapple, extract the juice by combining peeled, cored, and chopped pineapple with about 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan. Heat and simmer slowly over low heat until the fruit is soft, and the juices are released.
Crush the fruit with a potato masher and continue simmering over low heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Strain the fruit through a damp jelly bag or double layers of cheesecloth. Discard the solids, and measure out 3 cups of juice. Add more water if needed, and proceed with the recipe.
Cornstarch loses thickening strength when combined with the acidity of fresh pineapple (canned is ok). Use arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch if you are using fresh pineapple.
I get a lot of comments on this one claiming that ketchup is not authentic. Many of the Chinese-American foods we know today were created in the early 20th century. They were adapted to use easy to find ingredients, and tailored to American preferences of sugary tomato-based sauces like ketchup.
Early versions of sweet and sour sauce from Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York were made from canned pineapple, vinegar, and soy sauce, ketchup, sugar, plus other ingredients. Ketchup adds a savory sweet flavor to the sauce, and gives it the signature red color.
The sour flavor comes mostly from the vinegar. Feel free to experiment with white, apple cider, or rice vinegar. Different vinegars will give you versatility in flavor and color. White vinegar or rice vinegar will make a vibrant red colored sauce, while apple cider vinegar will darken the sauce a bit, but the mellow apple flavor combines well with the rest of the ingredients.
Both sweet and tart cherries can be used for this recipe. If using tart cherries, you may need to increase the amount of sugar to balance the sweet and sour.
You only need about 7 or 8 cherries. If fresh cherries are not available, you can substitute canned cherries, or bottled cherry juice. In a pinch, I found even cherry jelly works to add a little fruitiness to the sauce.
Along with the fruit, sugar gives the sweetness to the sauce and balances tartness of the vinegar. Plain white cane sugar will add plenty of sweetness and keep the bright red color, while brown sugar adds a bit of richness to the sauce and will deepen the color to a burgundy.
How to Make Sweet and Sour Sauce
Homemade sweet and sour sauce is pretty easy to make, and it comes together in less than 15 minutes! Scroll down for the full printable recipe and instructions, but here are the steps for making homemade sweet and sour sauce:
Step 1: Make a Cornstarch Slurry
Whisk the pineapple juice and cornstarch together in a small bowl. Set this aside for now. This will be used to thicken the sauce later.
Step 2: Extract the Cherry Juice
Wash the cherries under clean running water. Pull off the stems, cut the cherries in half, and remove the pits. Place them in a small saucepan. Add about 3 to 4 tablespoons of water, and bring the pot to a simmer over low heat. Once the fruit softens, mash it to release the juice. Go ahead and add more water if needed, but you should have about 1/8 cup of cherry juice.
Step 3: Make the Sweet and Sour Sauce
Pour the cherry juice back into the pot, and add the ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium, and add the sugar. Continue stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Taste the sauce and add more sugar if you want a sweeter sauce.
Give the pineapple juice slurry a mix to redistribute the cornstarch, and add the mixture to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the sauce to a gentle boil while stirring.
Once the sauce boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer while stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sweet and sour sauce to cool. It will thicken more as it cools.
Store the sweet and sour sauce in an airtight container the refrigerator and use within a week, or freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw frozen sauce in the fridge overnight. It may separate after freezing. Just stir it up until it is smooth once again.
Sweet and Sour Cherry Sauce
- Combine the pineapple juice with the corn starch to make a slurry, and set aside (this will be used to thicken the sauce later).
- Stem, pit and slice the cherries in half. Extract the cherry juice by combining the prepared cherries with 3 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan.
- Simmer over low heat until the fruit softens. Gently mash the cherries with a potato masher, and continue simmering until the juices are released.
- Strain and discard the solids. Measure out 1/8 cup of cherry juice (add more water if needed).
- Add the cherry juice, ketchup, vinegar, and soy sauce to the saucepan. Heat and stir over medium heat until combined.
- Add the sugar and continue simmering over medium heat while stirring. Taste and add more sugar if you want a sweeter flavor.
- Once the sugar is dissolved, stir the pineapple juice slurry, and add it to the saucepan.
- While stirring, bring the saucepan to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sweet and sour sauce to cool. Makes about 2 cups.
- Use immediately, or store the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze for up to 4 months.
You May Also Like:
- Stir-Fried Beef and String Beans
- Orange Sweet and Sour Meatballs
- Chicken Stir-Fry with Sweet and Sour Sauce
10 Cookie Mix in a Jar Recipes eBook
Homemade gifts are always appreciated because they come from the heart. Even if you are not crafty, you can give DIY gifts to your family and friends with these easy recipes for making cookie mix in a reusable jar.