Homemade Vegan XO Sauce

Oooooh yes. If you’ve never heard of “XO Sauce,” it is basically the world’s most powerful ingredient. If condiments are like ammunition, XO is the nuclear bomb. Seriously, I have never in my life tasted anything that packs more flavor in each drop than this XO sauce. There is just no way to describe the complexity and power that this sauce brings to the table. Now, for basically the first time ever, we have a vegan version.

XO Sauce’s fabled history starts in Hong Kong in the 1980’s where it was developed to add an extra punch to Cantonese cuisine. Ever since, the fascination with this “caviar of the east” has continued to spread. Traditionally, the ultra-pricey XO is made with dried scallops and Yunnan ham. But given that this is a vegan blog and Yunnan hams are particularly difficult to acquire in California, let’s make a few substitutions, shall we?

Vegan XO

Makes about 1/2 cup


  • 1 1/2 cups shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 dried chilis
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 tablespoons nori (or any seaweed)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise

Vegan XO Fork

Clearly, this product is extremely difficult to make and will most certainly require many hours of toiling in the kitchen. Except… not at all. In fact, with all the ingredients on hand, you can whip up a week’s supply in under 20 minutes. Here’s how:

Step One

In a large saucepan (or, preferably, a wok), heat the canola oil and soy sauce over medium-low heat while you gather and prepare all the other ingredients: thinly slice the shiitakes, mince the garlic and scallion, slice the nori into thin strips, and break the chilis into small pieces while removing the seeds.

Note: I used dried chile de árbol but you can likely use any dried or fresh chilis you have on hand.

Step Two

With the oil and soy sauce warm (but not scalding) throw in the minced garlic and shallot and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes by themselves, then, add everything else to the party – mushrooms, chilis, nori, a grating of fresh ginger, a piece of cinnamon, and a star anise. If you don’t have whole cinnamon sticks, use just 2-3 pinches of ground cinnamon.

Step Three

Allow this to reduce for a few minutes and then remove the cinnamon and star anise – they don’t take long to impart their flavors. Then continue cooking for about 10-12 minutes until the mushrooms have reduced and the mixture is considerably thicker than when you started.

Step Four

The final sauce should be quite chunky, but it does need some final polishing from this stage. For that, transfer to a blender or food processor and simply pulse a few times until the mushrooms are broken into smaller pieces and the whole sauce has a more integrated feel (but not fully pureed). Store this for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions

Now, armed with an entire bottle of XO, what ever would you do with such a condiment? Basically, you can use it as a garnish that will add a kick anywhere you would normally use hot sauce. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Use as a marinade and/or garnish for fried tofu and tempeh.
  • Add to noodle dishes, like chow mein or my Asian Stir Fry
  • Mix into some plain ol’ brown rice to create a much more complex rice dish in minutes.
  • However, the most common and classical implementation of XO sauce is… well, I can’t tell you. For that, you’ll have to wait until my next recipe on Saturday. I’ll give you a hint, though: it starts with fried and ends with rice and has a certain white cruciferous vegetable in the middle. 🙂 See you Saturday.

    Update: here’s that cauliflower fried rice recipe »

    Vegan XO Sauce


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    • Haha, because it’s a Chinese ingredient so I wanted something in the background to match the theme! 🙂 I have no idea what the title says… but it looks like they’re picking tea in the picture?

      • I can only read a few characters, says fear to be poisoned…first… Anyways, important thing is you got another vegan dish delicious I can try over the weekend 🙂

      • And maybe a china spoon will look more Chinese than fork on newspaper;) it reminds me of fish and chips in England

  1. This look so delicious! I’m definitely in need of something to give depth to simple dishes – I usually just make a chutney or so but I can just imagine all these divine flavours combined. Nom!

    • That’s a good question because a traditional XO sauce would have dried scallops so I assume dried mushrooms would work at least as well here, though I used fresh (it’s all I could find). Give it a shot and let us know if anything interesting happens! 🙂

  2. I am going to try this used dried, will let you know may even instragram it, I don’t use canola with any food will use grapeseed…heres to it and thank you, ps made your garlic and rosemary pizza last weekend, the Hubster said it was the best pizza I have done!

  3. This sauce looks great! I am always looking for something different than a variation of miso gravy whenever I have veg and rice (which is pretty much almost every day). I’m looking forward to hearing about the dried mushrooms too! Can’t wait for tomorrows post… I happen to have one of those big white veggies in the fridge.

    • Thanks, Christine! 🙂 I’ve never made miso gravy but it sounds so good… I’ll have to experiment with that soon.

    • Hi Citra! Well, the star anise does have a purpose, but it’s not totally necessary. If you omitted it altogether, the end result would just have a less intense flavor. If you want to substitute it, a small amount of ground fennel could work.

  4. For the love of mushrooms!! This looks amazing and I am going to the market tomorrow so I can make this ASAP! What a powerful punch of B’s to add to my raw cauliflower rice… thanks for the inspiration… I’m also inspired to try a raw version (will let you know how it goes)..Oh, and I love your philosophy… It mirrors my own that food, as anything, is always more nourishing and nurturing in it’s natural state.

    • Thanks so much Nichole! 🙂 I love the idea of making the raw cauliflower rice… I’ll have to try that!

  5. I have struggled to find multi-dimensional Asian sauce recipes, but now I finally have a keeper! I don’t know who decided that all home-prepared Asian food should taste either like soy sauce or soy sauce + ginger + sugar, but I can’t stand either of those options. I’ve been searching for something spicy and savory, and this sauce is a great option. True, it does have ginger, cinnamon, and star anise, but they don’t read as “sweet” in this recipe and they don’t overpower the other ingredients. Every ingredient makes an appearance, but nothing crowds out anything else.

    The only change I made is that I ran the mushrooms through the food processor prior to adding them to the sauce since it seemed less messy that way. I will probably double the recipe next time in order to freeze some for a night when I’m crunched for time. Thanks for a great recipe!

    • That’s awesome, Miss B! It made my day to see this comment and hear how much you liked the sauce 🙂 Thank you!

  6. Hi Andrew. In the list of ingredients, this recipe calls for a shallot, while the scallion mentioned in the steps isn’t listed. Could you clear this up for me?

    • Whoops! Sorry about that. The steps should have mentioned shallot not scallion. It’s been updated, thanks for pointing this out. 🙂

  7. Hi Andrew, this is brilliant!!! It tasted even better than XO sauce found in supermarkets. I have just finished my first jar and about to prepare my seconds.

    Thanks a mill….

    • Awesome, Kate! I’m so glad you like it… it’s been MONTHS since I’ve made this… you just reminded me to whip up a new batch 😉

  8. Andrew, my friend, you failed to praise this sauce enough. OMG!!!! freakin AMAZING!!!!!
    Having said that I had to make a minor substitution, I couldn’t get the fresh shitakes your recipe called for so I used one pack of Trader Joes dried mushrooms. I reconstituted them and of course saved the hot water. As I was cooking the mixture I lamented what to use that liquid for because I didn’t have another recipe I was making right then. But inspiration struck, I put that yummy umani-full liquid into the skillet and just simmered at a low temperature. Ultimately I think it was more loose than what your recipe called for but I briefly used my stick blender and the consistency is just right. And delicious. Did I forget to say? DELICIOUS!!!!
    Not sure I want to share any of this first batch, I ate a few spoonfuls shortly after making it. I am currently enjoying some with my szechuan green beans a la Robin Robertson w/some chunks of fried tofu and brown jasmine rice. YUM YUM YUM !!!!
    Thanks Andrew!!!!

    • Cooool!! 😀 Yes, dried shiitakes are great. For some reason, they’re much cheaper and work well in sauces like this. Thanks for reporting back – I’m glad to hear that you liked it so much, Carmen!

    • Ah, that’s a tough question. You might be able to get away with substituting a little extra mushrooms instead of the seaweed.

  9. this looks delicious!! i was looking for a vegan XO recipe after i saw a recipe that called for XO sauce. will have to try this as it seems i can’t buy a vegan version anywhere. has anybody made it? (i can’t see any comments though the blog entry states there are 27 comments?!)

    • Hi L, I hope you like the XO sauce. Hmm, I was having a bug with the comments not always showing but I thought I had fixed it last week… they are showing for me now. Are they still missing?

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