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Veganism has become an increasingly popular lifestyle choice over the last few years, but being a vegan isn’t just about diet. Every food decision has environmental, ethical and social considerations. Today, let’s explore the heated debate around one particular condiment: eel sauce. Is eel sauce vegan or not vegan? Let’s dive in and explore the facts!
Vegan or Not? Exploring Eel Sauce

1. The Debate Over Eel Sauce – Is It Vegan or Not?

The debate over eel sauce has been going on for decades with various opinions as to whether it is vegan or not. Some argue that eel sauce is indeed vegan due to the simple fact that it does not contain any eel or animal products whatsoever. The sauce is primarily comprised of soy sauce, mirin, and sake; all ingredients being derived from plant sources. Others oppose this opinion by stating that eel sauce is not vegan due to its name.

It is important to note both sides of the discourse and consider their legitimacy. On the one hand, traditionally the word ‘Eel’ has been used to refer to an animal product and to label a sauce with this name could be viewed as misleading or confusing. On the other hand, the sauce can hardly be viewed as containing anything animal-based and is instead made from all plant-based ingredients. With that being said, it is up to individual judgement as to whether eel sauce, despite its name, is vegan or not.

  • Soy sauce – derived from soybeans, water and salt
  • Mirin – a sweet rice wine
  • Sake – fermented rice wine

1. The Debate Over Eel Sauce – Is It Vegan or Not?

2. What are the Main Ingredients in Eel Sauce?

Eel sauce has been a staple of Asian cuisine for centuries. It’s a sweet, salty, and slightly spicy condiment that adds flavor to a variety of dishes. What makes it so special is the unique blend of ingredients that give it its distinct flavor. Here are the main components that make up eel sauce:

Soy Sauce: Soy sauce adds a salty, savory flavor to eel sauce. It also serves to balance out the sweetness of the other ingredients.

Rice Wine: Rice wine is a mild, slightly sweet alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. It contributes a subtle sweetness to the sauce and helps give it a unique flavor.

Sugar: To keep the flavor of the eel sauce balanced, sugar is added to give it a touch of sweetness. It helps to contrast the saltiness of the soy sauce and subtly enhance the flavor.

Vinegar: Vinegar adds a slight tartness and acidity to the sauce. It helps to balance out the sweetness and give it a more pronounced flavor.


  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Chili Flakes

These spices all contribute to the flavor of eel sauce and give it its spicy kick. They all work together to give the sauce complexity and depth of flavor.

3. Understanding the Origin Story of Eel Sauce

No two people are quite sure exactly when eel sauce first made its appearance, but many believe that its roots can be traced back to Japan and the significance of eel to the Japanese culture. Japanese five-spice powder and soy-based sauces, commonly used in many Japanese dishes, form the foundation of what is now known as eel sauce today.

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Consisting of sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sake, and a few secret ingredients, eel sauce is surprisingly a thin and light-tasting sauce. Its grassy and sweet flavor is often used as a finishing sauce for sushi and sashimi, dressing up the dish with a hint of sweetness. Some chefs even mix eel sauce with other sauces to create a unique flavor that’s perfect for dipping and pairing with deep-fried entrées.

  • Eel sauce is thought to originate from Japan where eel is a traditional part of their culture.
  • Eel sauce is made with sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sake, and a few secret ingredients.
  • The light and grassy taste makes it a great finishing sauce for sushi and sashimi dishes.
  • Eel sauce can also be used to create unique flavors when mixed with other sauces.

4. The Scientific Viewpoint on Eel Sauce’s Vegan Status

As with any other vegan-related question, the scientific opinion differs depending on who you ask. The major consensus is that most eel sauces do contain a few animal-derived ingredients, such as fish or squid extracts, which render them off-limits for vegan diets.

That being said, some studies have indicated that it’s possible to find vegan-friendly eel sauces. This is usually the case when the sauce contains soy or a vegan substitute plus natural flavour enhancers like seaweed and kombu. These varieties can make a great addition to bean dishes and legumes, adding non-dairy as well as non-vegetarian culinary pleasures.

  • Most eel sauces contain animal-derived ingredients
  • Vegan-friendly eel sauces are possible
  • Seaweed and kombu are common ingredients in vegan-friendly eel sauces

4. The Scientific Viewpoint on Eel Sauce's Vegan Status

5. Differentiating Between Types of Eel Sauce

Most people who have tried sushi already know all about eel sauce. But, did you know that there are actually two different types of eel sauce? If you have ever been curious about the difference between them, you’ve come to the right place.

The first type of eel sauce is unagi no tare, which is usually made from various kinds of eel broth, soy sauce, mirin, and other seasonings. This dark brownish sauce is the one that you usually find in Japanese sushi restaurants. It is a bit sweet and salty, with a strong umami flavor.

The other kind of eel sauce is sometimes referred to as eel glaze. It is usually made with kikkoman soy sauce, sugar, corn syrup, sake, and other variations of seasonings. This sauce is a bit saltier than unagi no tare, with a smoother and thicker consistency. It has a strong, sweet flavor that can be used as a topping for grilled eel or sushi.

  • Unagi no Tare: Made with eel broth, soy sauce, mirin, and other seasonings.
  • Eel Glaze: Made with soy sauce, sugar, corn syrup, sake, and other seasonings. Saltier, thicker consistency with a strong, sweet flavor.

6. Eel Sauce Through the Cultural Lens

Eel sauce is a popular sauce around the world, with its origin tracing back to its namesake, the eel. Its veritable sphere of influence has far outstretched that of its humble beginnings, however, with different cultures having their own interpretations and applications.

Like many food-based condiments, eel sauce can vary wildly depending on the geographical coordinates it finds itself in. In the United States, eel sauce often has a light and slightly sweet flavor, which can be ideal for a range of dishes including sushi. In Japan, eel sauce is known as unagi no tare, and is thicker and richer in flavor. In Korea and China, the flavor profile likewise yields to the individualistic tastes of the culture, with the most popular version in each country being soy-based.

  • United States: light and sweet
  • Japan: unagi no tare, thick and full-bodied
  • Korea: soy-based
  • China: soy-based
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No matter where it’s used, eel sauce can make for a delicious addition to a wide variety of dishes. From American sushi to a Korean fried rice, its flavor and versatility truly traverse culture lines and can make for a flavorful staple in your kitchen.

7. Traditional Eel Sauce Recipes and How To Make Them

Eel sauce, also called unagi no nitsume, is an exquisite, umami-rich condiment that can completely transform a dish. It’s traditionally used on sushi and yakitori, but it can be used to enhance any meal. Here are 7 traditional eel sauce recipes and instructions to help you make your own eel sauce.

  • The Basic Eel Sauce recipe is the foundation for many variations of eel sauce. It’s made with mirin, sake, soy sauce, and brown sugar, and is the perfect combination of sweet and savory. It only takes 10 minutes to make, and can be served warm or cold.
  • The Kabayaki Eel Sauce is a slightly more complex version, which can easily be made with a few extra ingredients. To make this variation, you’ll cook the basic eel sauce and add a bit of grated ginger and scallions. The flavor of this thicker variation is intensely savory, and it’s great for serving over thicker cuts of fish.
  • The Apple Eel Sauce is a sweeter take on traditional eel sauces. To make this one, or simply mix your basic eel sauce with a bit of apple juice. You can serve this sauce over just about any fish.
  • The Garlic Eel Sauce also adds an extra bit of complexity to the basic eel sauce. All you need to do is sauté a few cloves of garlic before adding in the basic eel sauce ingredients. This variation has an intense, garlicky flavor and pairs well with grilled shrimp.
  • The Ginger Soy Eel Sauce is a great middle-ground between the basic and kabayaki eel sauces. To make this variation, you’ll add some fresh grated ginger into the basic eel sauce without the addition of scallions. This gives the sauce a nice hint of ginger without too much additional savoriness.
  • The Spicy Eel Sauce is not for the faint of taste. To make this variation, you’ll need to add chili oil and a few sauces with garlic and ginger, as well as some sake and brown sugar. While this sauce is definitely spicy, its sweetness balances it perfectly.
  • The Sesame Eel Sauce is the perfect condiment for grilled poultry or pork. Instead of the basic eel sauce ingredients, use sesame oil, tofu, and a bit of sugar. This variation adds a unique nutty flavor and creamy texture to any dish.

8. Alternatives to Eel Sauce: A Vegan Menu

Are you looking for a vegan alternative to eel sauce? Whether you are eating out at a sushi restaurant or making your own rolls, vegan eel sauce can make a delicious final touch to a veggie-fuelled meal. Here are eight tasty alternatives for adding the perfect flavor to your rolls.

  • Tahini: Rich and creamy, tahini is a great topping for rolls. Simply mix a few tablespoons of tahini with some minced garlic and a dash of soy sauce for a savory, flavorful sauce.
  • Coconut Aminos: Similar to soy sauce, coconut aminos are a great alternative for vegan sushi. Made from the fermented sap of coconut palms, the savory, umami flavor pairs well with everything.

Not only are these alternative sauces delicious, they are also much healthier than traditional eel sauce. So next time you’re grabbing sushi with friends, skip the eel sauce and blend up your favorite vegan alternative.

9. A Review of Eel Sauce Substitutes

If you’re looking for an alternative to classic eel sauce, you should look no further than these substitutes. Here are some tasty alternatives to traditional eel sauce that will give your sushi, dim sum, and other dishes a unique flavor:

  • Tobiko Mayo: Made with a combination of tobiko, mayo, and soy sauce, this sauce packs a punch of flavor and packs a lot of oomph. Whether you’re making a sushi dish or topping off your dim sum, this sauce gives it an extra element of zesty flavor.
  • Citrus Ponzu: If you’re looking for something a little sweeter, citrus ponzu might be a great addition to your plate. This tangy and flavorful mixture of citrus juice, sugar, soy sauce, and mirin creates a unique flavor profile that will leave you wanting more.
  • Teriyaki: Teriyaki sauce creates a combination of salty, sweet, and savory flavors that can be used as an alternative to traditional eel sauce. This classic seasoning also has the potential to take your meals up a notch and provide extra depth of flavor.
  • Sake Tamari: This mixture of sake, mirin, and tamari is the perfect replacement for eel sauce and blends the traditional flavors of Japanese cuisine. Whether you’re making sushi or doing something creative with a stir-fry, this blend will kick up the flavor of your dish.
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These alternatives to eel sauce are sure to provide your dishes with the perfect extra touch of flavor. With a range of flavors like citrus, savory, and sweet, you can add an extra level of sophistication and depth to whatever you’re cooking up.

10. A Summary of “Vegan or Not? Exploring Eel Sauce

Eel sauce may be tasty, but is it vegan? That’s the big question. In this article, we explore the truth about this delectable condiment. To begin with, we find out what eel sauce is made of. Unsurprisingly, eel is the main ingredient. Soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar are also included. It’s not just the animal product that causes problems, though. We take a look at the rice vinegar and the sugar, and the potential ethical issues they could present.

It seems that the ethical status of eel sauce is still up for debate, but one thing is certain: regardless of your dietary preferences, you can still enjoy its deliciousness. There are plenty of substitutes that take the place of the animal product, like mushroom-soy sauce dishes and vegan-eel alternatives. No matter which option you decide to go with, eel sauce can still be enjoyed in a variety of ways. So, vegan or not? It’s up to you to decide!

Eel sauce is one of the most popular condiments used in Asian cuisine today and has caused fierce debates among vegan and non-vegan diners alike. With its various uses and suggested substitutes, it is a topic that won’t go away anytime soon. Whether you choose vegan or not, make sure to explore the full delight that eel sauce has to offer. Bon Appétit!