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Sweet, savory, and dark brown in color, any sushi lover would say that the eel sauce, known as the unagi no tare in Japanese is to die for. It’s that irresistible thing sushi chefs often drizzle over your sushi rolls so that it tastes heavenly.
But wait…the name says eel sauce and eel is actually a freshwater fish that has a narrow and long body like a snake. So, does that mean they have eel extracts in the sauce?
Is eel vegan? The answer is both Yes and No, because the original eel sauce does not contain any extracts of the fish. It is only made of sake, sugar, mirin, and soy sauce. However, there are certain brands that may use eel extracts (bones) or dashi (fish stock) to enhance the flavor.
So, why is it called eel sauce in the first place? Well, this is because this thickened sauce was traditionally used to brush on grilled eels. Today, there are many commercial brands that sell eel sauce but I prefer and recommend to make it at home so that you can adjust the taste as per your liking.
It takes just a few minutes to prepare the rich and umami-filled eel sauce at home. However, if you are too busy, you may consider buying it from the grocery store near you. While most of them are vegan, I would still suggest you check the ingredients to be doubly sure. In some brands, they may use eel extracts to enhance the taste.
Making Purely Vegan Eel Sauce At Home
Besides the one benefit of making vegan eel sauce I mentioned above, you can also ensure that there are no harmful additives added to the condiment.
What you will need:
• 1/2 cup mirin
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 2 Tbsp sake
• 3 Tbsp sugar
Take a small saucepan and add sake, mirin. and sugar. Put it on medium heat and stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves.
Now add the soya sauce and bring the mixture to boil. When it starts boiling, reduce the mixture to low heat and let it simmer for at least 20 minutes. You will see more bubbles forming towards the end.
Now, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely. As it cools, the sauce will caramelize and thicken in consistency.
Transfer the content to an airtight container and store inside the refrigerator. The homemade sauce can stay good for up to 2 weeks when refrigerated.
Evidence That Prove Eel Sauce Is Vegan
There were some confusions and concerns regarding the store bought eel sauce. Certain ingredients do not look familiar and buyers usually have no clue as to whether they are animal-derived or plant-derived.
For example, let’s take a popular brand Kikkoman Unagi Sushi that most people would blindly pick from the stores considering it to be vegan. However, the ingredients list has two items that are unclear to laymen – Disodium Guanylate and Disodium Inosinate.
Some people had raised a concern that these two ingredients could possibly be sourced from animals. However, these rumors were put to rest when the Vegetarian Resource Group tested sample from three different brands and verified in all 3 cases that these ingredients were actually plant-sourced.
Take a look at the report published by VRG and it clearly mentions that there is no need for vegans to be wary of Disodium Guanylate and Disodium Inosinate.
Whenever in doubt regarding the ingredients listed in a brand selling eel sauce or any other vegan-friendly sauce, you can directly approach the company representative with questions.
7 Common Variations Of Eel Sauce
1. Eel Sauce With A Hint Of Heat (vegan)
For this recipe, you will need ¼ cup of mirin, ½ cup of soya sauce, ½ cup teaspoon of finely minced garlic, 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Bring this mixture to boil in medium heat and simmer until it thickens.
2. Organic eel sauce (vegan)
Mix together ¼ cup of organic soy sauce, ¼ cup of organic mirin, ¼ cup of organic brown rice syrup, 2 teaspoons organic maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon barley malt. Heat over low heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the syrup thickens.
3. Eel Sauce Recipe With Dashi Stock (not vegan)
In some restaurants, they may add dashi (a type of Japanese fish stock) to the mix of soy sauce, mirin, and sake to further enhance the flavor.
4. Eel Sauce Recipe Using Real Eel Bones (not vegan)
I know this may sound eerie to some, but it’s just the eel stock that is used to enhance the flavor of the sauce. The eel bones are first grilled and then boiled with rice wine until the juice is reduced. You must now add the soy sauce and white sugar.
5. Gluten-free Eel sauce (vegan)
If you are on a celiac diet or have a gluten intolerance, make sure you add tamari, the gluten-free version of soya sauce in the sauce blend. Avoid adding any extra flavorings.
6. Thicker Eel sauce (vegan)
If you would like your eel sauce to be really thick and gluttony then I would recommend that you add one tablespoon of cornstarch to the recipe. When the solution comes to a boiling point, simmer and cook until the sauce achieves the desired consistency.
7. Mirin-free Eel sauce
If you are not a fan of mirin, you may try this variation by mixing half a cup of soy sauce, half a cup of rice vinegar, and a quarter cup of white or brown sugar. Bring the mixture to boil and then simmer until the right consistency is reached.
Different Uses of Eel Sauce
Apart from using it in sushi rolls and other unagi delicacies, the eel sauce may also be used on different types of barbeque dishes such as grilled fish, grilled meat, grilled mushrooms, grilled tofu, and grilled rice balls.
You don’t need to add a lot of eel sauce to the dishes. Just drizzle a little bit on the top or use a light brush to heighten the flavors of your sushi dishes. You may also use this sauce as a delicious marinade for meat or as a dressing for freshly prepared noodles. As it has a strong flavor, just a little is enough.
Top 5 Vegan Sauces You May Try
Turning vegan certainly does not mean giving up all the exciting flavors for bland food. Just like the vegan eel sauce, there are many other flavorful vegan condiments that are free of animal sources. I have listed a few to help those who are beginners in the world of vegan diet.
1. Barbeque Sauce
If you miss that amazing barbecue flavor that you enjoyed before opting for a vegan diet, here’s the chance to relish that taste while staying vegan. Just be careful to pick only the vegan BBQ sauce and watch out for honey, a common non-vegan ingredient that often goes unseen.
You may use this sauce to make delicious barbeque vegetable skewers that can be an amazing filling or topping for your sushi meal.
Many sushi recipes may have mayonnaise listed as one of the main ingredients responsible to bring out the authentic flavor. As the traditional mayonnaise recipe contains eggs, people on a vegan diet had to forgo this creamy pleasure but not anymore.
Check out some of the specialty brands that offer vegan mayonnaise online. You may also make your own vegan mayo at home, using the 4 main ingredients – plant-based milk (soy milk), plant-based oil, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and sea salt.
3. Sriracha sauce
Just like most hot sauces you know, the Sriracha sauce(see Amazon) is completely vegan. This spicy sauce is so extremely versatile that you may use it in various dishes to enhance the flavor. To avoid any risk, you may make your own Sriracha sauce by blending red peppers, spices, and vinegar.
The homemade Sriracha sauce needs to be fermented to ensure that the mixture settles down and achieves the peak flavor. If you can’t wait that long, just grab a bottle of the sauce from a store near you.
4. Vegan Teriyaki Sauce
If you wish to make vegan sushi at home, the vegan teriyaki sauce comes handy to add exotic flavors to your Japanese meal. Most the brands out there offer vegan teriyaki sauce, however, you must watch out for honey (non-vegan ingredient) that made be included in the recipe.
5. Tabasco Hot Sauce
This is another vegan hot sauce that can add a zing to dishes. You can find the Tabasco sauce (see Amazon) in several restaurants and grocery stores. I prefer the green jalapeno brand as it has a mild favor yet packs a powerful spicy punch. All types of Tabasco hot sauces are vegan.
Related Article: Are California Rolls Vegan?
Why is it called eel sauce?
This Japanese condiment is called eel sauce because it is often used as a marinade to grill or cook saltwater eel (anago) and freshwater eel (unagi)
What is eel sauce called in Japan?
In Japan, eel sauce is called unagi no tare, which means sauce for eel. If a person is already eating eel, then he would say only tare.
Does eel sauce taste fishy?
Not at all, because it has no fish related content unless you use eel bones for making stock. In general, it would taste more like a thickened and caramelized soy sauce.
How long does eel sauce last?
Once opened, the flavor of eel sauce starts deteriorating slowly. If you keep the cap tightly closed and store the sauce inside the refrigerator, it can stay good for up to 6 months. I would suggest that you use the sauce within 3-6 months after opening.