Spoon filled with brown sauce over white bowl of same sauce.
Recipes,  Sauces

Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe

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Who likes mystery orange sauce packets? Not me! This Sweet and Sour Sauce has been a family favorite for decades because it’s so easy and delicious. It comes straight from my grandpa’s kitchen, where the best smells and tastiest meals came from.

Spoon filled with brown sauce over white bowl with filled with the same sauce.

This recipe is super easy, with just a few ingredients and a short cooking time. The hardest part was finely chopping the green pepper. Just put everything in the pot and stir for a delicious homemade sauce that you can eat with any homemade meal or takeout food.

Ingredients You Will Need

Ingredients for sweet and sour sauce in bowls on wooden board.

Brown sugar: adds sweetness and helps thicken the sauce slightly as it cooks down.

Cornstarch: acts as a thickening agent.

Red wine vinegar: provides the “sour” element in the sweet and sour sauce. It also adds a touch of acidity.

Chicken broth: adds depth and richness to the sauce. It complements the other flavors and provides a base for the sauce.

Green pepper: adds a fresh element and a bit of crunch to the sauce (depending on how finely chopped it is).

Soy sauce: adds a savory and brothy taste to the sauce. It also contributes a bit of saltiness.

Garlic powder: adds a garlicky flavor without the hassle of chopping fresh garlic.

Ground ginger: adds a warming spice element and a touch of sweetness to the sauce.

Why You’ll Love Making Sweet and Sour Sauce

Freshness and Control: Homemade sauce offers freshness you just can’t get from store-bought. You control the quality of ingredients and the level of sodium or sugar.

Simple Ingredients: This recipe uses common pantry staples, making it accessible to almost any home cook. No need for a trip to the store for strange ingredients.

Sense of Accomplishment: There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from making your own sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

My sauce is too thick/thin:

  • Thick: If your sauce is too thick, simply whisk in a little more chicken broth until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • Thin: Make a cornstarch slurry by mixing a teaspoon of cornstarch with a tablespoon of water. Add it to the simmering sauce, whisking constantly, until thickened. You can repeat this process if needed.

How long will the sauce last? Store leftover sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Can I make the sauce ahead of time? Yes, the sauce can be made ahead of time and reheated when needed. Just store it in the refrigerator and reheat gently on the stovetop.

Does the sauce need red food coloring? No, the red color in restaurant-style sweet and sour sauce often comes from food coloring. This recipe relies on the natural color from the soy sauce and a touch of sweetness from the brown sugar for a more amber hue.

Does the sauce taste like the takeout version? This homemade sauce will have a fresher, slightly less sweet flavor than the typical takeout version. You can adjust the sugar and soy sauce content to get closer to your takeout preference.

Brown sauce in white bowl on wooden board.

Substitutions and Variations

Brown Sugar: Substitute with granulated sugar, honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar. Adjust the amount based on the sweetness of your chosen substitute.

Red Wine Vinegar: Swap with white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or rice vinegar. Each offers a slightly different tang:

  • White vinegar – sharpest flavor
  • Apple cider vinegar – fruity notes
  • Rice vinegar – milder and slightly sweet

Cornstarch: Substitute with an equal amount of arrowroot powder, potato starch, or tapioca starch. These offer similar thickening properties. Flour can be used in a pinch, but you might need a bit more to achieve the desired consistency.

Green Pepper: Get creative with other chopped vegetables like:

  • Bell peppers (red, yellow, orange) for added color
  • Carrots for sweetness and crunch
  • Onions for savory depth
  • Pineapple chunks for a more classic sweet and sour flavor profile

Chicken Broth: Substitute with vegetable broth for a vegetarian option. You can also use low-sodium broth to control the salt content.

Spices: Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, Sriracha, or a chopped fresh chili pepper for a spicy kick.

Fruity Twist: Add a spoonful of apricot jam or orange marmalade for a subtle fruity sweetness.

Sesame Oil: A drizzle of toasted sesame oil adds a nutty depth of flavor.

What to Serve with Sweet and Sour Sauce

Protein: This sauce is typically served with protein like chicken, pork, or tofu.

  • Chicken: Deep-fried, stir-fried, or baked chicken pieces are popular choices.
  • Pork: Breaded and fried pork tenderloin or meatballs work well.
  • Tofu: Cubed, pan-fried tofu can absorb the sauce flavors beautifully.

Rice: Steamed white rice is the traditional base to soak up the delicious sauce. Brown rice or quinoa offer a more whole-grain option.

Stir-Fried Vegetables: A colorful mix of stir-fried vegetables like broccoli, carrots, snow peas, and bell peppers complements the sweet and sour flavors.

Chow Mein: For a heartier option, serve the sauce over chow mein noodles.

Spring Rolls: Drizzle some sauce over your favorite spring rolls for a dipping sauce or flavor boost. These Air Fryer Spring Rolls would be great with this sauce.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

If you like this Sweet and Sour Sauce, you might also like my Barbecue Sauce or my Tartar Sauce. This Orange Sauce is also delicious.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you pair it with, Sweet and Sour Sauce will enhance the dish. It has been a family favorite for decades for a reason. Sauce packets cannot even begin to compare to homemade sauce. Once you make your own, you’ll never go back.

Spoon filled with brown sauce over white bowl of same sauce.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Heidi Bruaw
This simple homemade sweet and sour sauce skips the bottled stuff for a fresher, brighter flavor. Packed with brown sugar, red wine vinegar, and a hint of ginger, it comes together in just 10 minutes for a delicious accompaniment to your favorite stir-fry.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Sauce
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 1.5 Cups


  • ½ Cup Brown Sugar packed
  • 1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
  • ½ Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • ½ Cup Chicken Broth
  • ¼ Cup Green Pepper finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • ¼ teaspoon Ground Ginger


  • In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar and the cornstarch.
  • Stir in the rest of the ingredients.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and bubbly (approximately 10 minutes).
  • Serve warm.
Keyword Sweet and Sour Sauce
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