There is something very special about Chinese Spare Ribs. Their vibrant red color, sweet and smoky flavor, and of course, the melt-in-the-mouth pork. But what sauce is used on them? What gives them this finish and taste profile? Well, here is everything you are going to want to know.
So, what is the red sauce on Chinese Spare Ribs? The red sauce on Chinese Spare Ribs is Char Sui. It is typically red in color due to the addition of a red food coloring, although traditional recipes use a fermented bean curd cheese called Nanru; which is made red via red wine yeast used to create the curd.
So it depends if you’re going the authentic route.
And, this explains why Chinese Spare ribs can boast slightly different red colors and hues.
In fact, they can be made more vibrant with more food coloring, or it can wear a different shade depending on the Nanru used.
That’s probably why you have noticed a slight difference depending on where you eat, or where they are made.
Nevertheless, let us look at what Char Sui is typically made of before turning to where you can get some!
What Is The Red Sauce On Chinese Ribs Made Of?
The red sauce on Chinese Spare Ribs (Char Sui) is typically made of hoisin sauce, five-spice powder (star anise, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, and Sichuan peppercorn), and honey. Red coloring or Nanru provides the red color.
Some recipes also call for wine, such as Shaoxing or Sherry.
Others may also include soy sauce too.
But that’s for traditional recipes.
You can actually purchase Char Sui pre-made.
And if we take a look at some of the branded options, you’ll see there can be a subtle difference in ingredients.
Here is the full ingredient list of the ever-popular Lee Kum Kee brand:
Sugar, Water, Salt, Honey 6%, Fermented Soybean Paste (Water, Salt, Soybeans, Wheat Flour), Soy Sauce (Water, Salt, Soybeans, Wheat Flour), Modified Corn Starch, Dehydrated Garlic, Spices, Acid E260.
And then let’s compare that to the NOH brand:
Sugar, Powdered Soy Sauce (Soy Beans, Starch, Caramel Color, Salt), Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Spices, Red No. 3.
So quite similar; but you’ll see the additional inclusions of onion and garlic powder, too.
And you’ll also notice the food colorings in them.
How Do You Make Red Sauce For Chinese Spare Ribs
To make red sauce (Char Sui) for Chinese spare ribs all you need to do is add and mix all the ingredients below in a large bowl. Then cover and add to the fridge for 1 hour to enable the flavors to infuse.
- ½ cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons white wine
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ½ teaspoon red food coloring
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
From there you can add your spare ribs and leave to marinate for a further 1-2 hours (in the fridge).
Then you would just cook up the ribs in the oven, in a large roasting pan at 160 degrees F (70 degrees C) for around 30 minutes.
Hoisin sauce is not the same as Char Siu sauce. While Char Siu sauce contains Hoisin sauce, it also is much sweeter in consistency as it contains honey (or a sugar substitute too). It also typically contains wine and red food coloring giving it a vibrant red color, compared to the dark color of Hoisin.
The red stuff on ribs is either red food coloring or Nanru. It depends on the recipe used and whether you are consuming a traditional recipe, or not.
Hi there. I’m Jeremy – a passionate food technologist with several decades in the food industry. With a love for sauces, food, and nutrition, I decided to create WeWantTheSauce. Here I share my experience, knowledge, and recommendations; from ingredients and recipes to storage all the way through to nutrition for every sauce imaginable.