With its addictive combination of vinegar, sugar, ketchup and soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce has become synonymous with Chinese food around the world. In China itself, however, there are many regional variations in the way the sauce is used. In this blog, we look at its origins as well as some of the most popular sweet and sour dishes.

The origins of sweet and sour sauce

It is claimed that the original sweet and sour sauce came from the Chinese province of Hunan, involving a mixture of light vinegar and sugar. Meanwhile, the version found in the West derives from the United States during the early 1900s, when Chinese restaurants were opening up from coast to coast to meet growing demand from customers of all ethnicities.

As their chefs had to give up their time-consuming cooking techniques and expensive and difficult-to-find spices, they looked for ways to create dishes quickly and full of taste. Knowing that Americans enjoyed the sweetened acidity of tomato-based sauces, these chefs began to develop a stronger version of the sweet and sour sauce found in China, using ketchup, canned pineapple and white vinegar. Poignantly, this Americanised recipe eventually found its way to Asia.

Famous sweet and sour dishes

In North East China, deep-fried slices of pork coated in potato starch are served with a sauce made from freshly prepared syrup and rice vinegar, which is flavoured with ginger and garlic.

In Jiangsu Province, the mandarin fish, also known as Chinese perch, is served with sweet and sour sauce poured over it, along with a garnish of shrimp meat and dried bamboo shoots.

A speciality in Shandong Province, sweet and sour sauce is drizzled over Yellow River carp, which has been coated in corn flour and deep-fried.

Sweet and sour spare ribs are a popular dish in Shanghai cuisine. Meanwhile, the original Cantonese sweet and sour pork dish is made with vinegar, preserved plums and candied hawthorn, giving it an almost scarlet colour and tangy taste.

In Western countries, many Chinese restaurants serve pork, as well as chicken and prawn, which has been battered and deep-fried, with a sauce cooked with sliced green peppers, onions and pineapple.

In the UK, Thai-style sweet chilli dipping sauce is increasingly more popular than Chinese-inspired sweet and sour sauce and served with various dishes including fishcakes, calamari and king prawns.

Why not turn your next meal into a celebration?

Have we whet your appetite with this blog? If so, why not head to the kitchen and create your own Chinese-inspired dish? Before you do, check out the Sing Kee Foods website for all your ingredients.

We are confident that you will be both amazed and inspired by our fantastic selection of products from across the Far East, including ready-made sauces, pastes, dressings and dips from the Lee Kum Kee and Asian Home Gourmet ranges.