Chinese Sweet and Sour Sauce Just Like Imperial Palace

Don’t buy sweet and sour sauce in the jar, make your own! This Chinese red dipping sauce is great for wonton strips and egg rolls. You can also use it to make sweet and sour chicken, pork, and shrimp.

sweet and sour chicken and a bowl of homemade sweet and sour sauce

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Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce

Don’t you hate it when you take out Chinese food, and they don’t give you enough sweet and sour sauce?  Well, now you can make your own and you will never have to run out.

Who doesn’t love sweet and sour chicken or shrimp? These staple dishes show up on just about every Chinese restaurant in the US, but don’t ask for them in China because you won’t find them there. Believe it or not, Chinese sweet and sour sauce is as American as NYC-style pizza.

While many authentic Chinese dishes have sweet and sour components, the bright red Chinese sauce we all know and love isn’t in those recipes. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty!

Many Chinese sweet and sour sauce recipes are floating around the internet, but the one below does a pretty great job at recreating the taste of the kind that comes in those little plastic packets.

If you want to try your hand at cooking Chinese-American classic takeout dishes at home, skip the bottle of sweet and sour sauces packed with red dye and high fructose corn syrup, and whip up a batch on your own.

Is Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce as Good as Restaurant Sweet and Sour Sauce? 

The truth is that this sweet and sour sauce recipe tastes better, and it is better for you than what you get in most restaurants. Many commercial sweet and sour sauces have artificial flavors, colors, and other additives you probably shouldn’t be eating.

In addition to the health benefits, making this recipe for sweet and sour sauce at home allows you to tweak the sauce to match your preferences.

Do you like your food on the spicy side? Just increase the amount of Tabasco sauce you use. Or you can reduce the cornstarch for a thinner sauce that won’t overwhelm the other ingredients in your dish. 

Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe Ingredients

Luckily, you probably already have most of the ingredients in this recipe in your pantry at home. The one exception may be MSG.

MSG or Monosodium Glutamate has gotten a pretty bad reputation, and lots of people get nervous using it for cooking. You shouldn’t be. While some people can have adverse reactions after eating food with MSG, it is not as common as you may think.

Of course, one of the benefits of making your own sauce is controlling the ingredients. So, don’t skip trying this recipe if you are not into the whole MSG thing; leave it out. Add a couple of extra drops of Worcestershire sauce, and you may not even notice.

Worcestershire sauce may be tough to say, but it is a powerhouse when it comes to umami. Umami is often considered the fifth category of taste, along with sweet, sour, salt, and bitter.

That bottle of Worcestershire sauce on your shelf has everything from cured anchovies to fermented veggies inside, and it brings a lot of savory goodness to any recipe. Just be sure to measure it out carefully.

Ketchup isn’t very Chinese (at least the tomato-based version), true, but remember that this style of sweet and sour sauce was born in the US, where ketchup is the third best-selling condiment (after mayonnaise and salsa).

To get the most flavor from this recipe, look for ketchup that is not overly sweet. Remember, you will be adding plenty of sugar.

What is Chinese sweet and sour sauce made of?

Sweet and sour sauce is made with simple ingredients you may already have in your pantry. Here’s a list of what you need:

  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • MSG
  • Tabasco
  • Cornstarch
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • White Pepper
  • Ketchup
Chinese Imperial Palace sweet and sour sauce ingredients

How to Make Sweet and Sour Sauce

It’s easy to make sweet and sour sauce. Here are recipe steps:

  1. In a medium saucepan, add white vinegar, water, sugar, salt, MSG, and Tabasco.
  2. Cook over medium heat until heated through.
  3. Mix cornstarch with water and add the mixture to the saucepan while stirring constantly.
  4. Add Worcestershire sauce and a dash of white pepper. Stir to combine.
  5. Cook until it is bubbly and thick.
    homemade Chinese Imperial Palace sweet and sour sauce in a pan
  6. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the ketchup.
a plate of sweet and sour chicken with homemade sauce

Tips for Making and Using Chinese Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • Don’t expect your sauce to turn out bright red. The source of the color of the Chinese red sauce is a dye. There is just no getting around that fact. Sure, you can use more natural dyes such as grenadine, but a less vibrant color will not affect the taste.
  • Be careful while cooking. Keep control of the temperature of the sauce as it simmers. Not only can sugar burn easily, but it can give you a nasty burn if it gets on your skin. Also, avoid smelling the vinegar fumes, which can cause coughing fits.
  • Store covered in the fridge. The sweet and sour sauce will stay fresh for around a week in the fridge. Give it a good stir to combine before using.

What to Serve Chinese Sweet and Sour Sauce With

Sweet and Sour Chicken and Sweet and Sour Shrimp are two classic American-style Chinese take-out dishes that immediately come to mind, but there are many others.

Many people like to use the sauce for dipping. Eggrolls, dumplings, fried wontons, chicken nuggets, and even samosas taste better when dunked in sweet and sour sauce.

For a deliciously crispy and healthy side dish that even your kids will love, try lightly coating broccoli or cauliflower with sweet and sour sauce and then cooking in the air fryer at 400 degrees for 8 to 9 minutes. 

How to Store Sweet and Sour Sauce

Keep sweet and sour sauce in an airtight container in the fridge.

How Long Does Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce Last? 

This recipe for sweet and sour sauce doesn’t contain any preservatives like store-bought sauces but will still last up to two weeks in the fridge when stored properly. 

Sweet and Sour Sauce FAQs

Is Sweet and Sour Sauce Made With Ketchup?

Yes, recipes for modern sweet and sour sauce have tomato ketchup. The ketchup gives the sauce its red color and improves its flavor and consistency. 

What Is a Substitute for Sweet and Sour Sauce?

If you run out of sweet and sour sauce, but don’t have time to make this recipe, don’t worry. You can try adding a splash of vinegar to duck sauce to help balance its sweetness and then use it as a one-to-one substitute for sweet and sour sauce. 

What Is the Sour in Sweet and Sour?

It is a thickened sauce made from both sweet and sour ingredients. In most modern Chinese sweet and sour sauce recipes, the sweetness comes from white sugar, and the sourness comes from vinegar. Some older recipes used pineapple or citrus juices for both the sweet and sour components of the sauce.

Is Duck Sauce the Same as Sweet and Sour?

No, it is not the same. Duck sauce is much sweeter as it has an apricot base with less vinegar and spices than sweet and sour sauce.

How Do I Thicken Sweet and Sour Sauce?

There are two ways to thicken the sauce. 

The first way is by increasing the amount of cornstarch in the sweet and sour sauce recipe. Don’t add too much, or you could quickly end up with a thick paste. Start with an extra teaspoon, and go from there. 

The other way to thicken the sauce is to cook it longer. Using this method will thicken the sauce and concentrate the flavors as well. It is an excellent way to make a glaze, but sauce may wind up a bit overpowering if used for dipping. 

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bowl of homemade Chinese Imperial Palace sweet and sour sauce

Love Chinese food? Try these easy recipes!

For more great Chinese restaurant recipes check out The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller.

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sweet and sour chicken and a bowl of homemade sweet and sour sauce

Chinese Sweet and Sour Sauce

You can make classic Chinese red sweet and sour sauce for chicken, pork, shrimp, and dipping wontons.
4.84 from 12 votes
Print Pin Rate Add to Collection
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Sweet and Sour Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 10
Calories: 59kcal


  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon MSG
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • dash of white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup


  • In a medium saucepan add white vinegar, water, sugar, salt, MSG, and Tabasco. Cook over medium heat until heated through. 
  • Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water, and add the mixture to the saucepan while stirring constantly.   
  • Add Worcestershire sauce and a dash of white pepper. Stir to combine.
  • Cook until it is bubbly and thick.
  • Remove sauce from the stove and add 2 tablespoons of ketchup.


This will stay good in the refrigerator for about a week.


Calories: 59kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 0g | Fat: 0g | Saturated Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0mg | Sodium: 92mg | Potassium: 9mg | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 15IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of's Dining Out in the Home, and's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions



    I was wondering if you have ever canned this sauce?
    If so what the shelf life would be and also the process and time for pints or quarts tyvm

  2. Jane

    5 stars
    I picked up some Chinese appetizers for dinner tonight not realizing that the sauce wasn’t included. Came across this recipe and since I had the ingredients I gave it a try. I needed to pretty much double the cornstarch and ketchup but it was very good! Saved my dinner tonight lol

  3. Winniebear

    5 stars
    Thank you, Stephanie! I just figured out how to cook Pagoda Chicken egg rolls in my air fryer and was super disappointed in the sauce I picked up in the grocery store. I always have these ingredients on hand and can whip up this sauce in a jiffy!

    • Paula Bucher

      I worked in a Chinese restaurant and the red color came from smoked paprika. No ketchup was used, or harmed in this preparation.

  4. hillary

    I made this sauce with just the sugar, water, corn starch and ketchup. I did add an extra tablespoon of corn starch and some grenadine for color and flavor. And it turned out amazing!

    • stephaniemanley

      It is a flavor enhancer that you can buy. Some people are allergic to it, you may want to leave it out.

      • stephaniemanley

        Well ketchup gets its coloring from tomatoes which some think is preferable to red dye.

    • Monkeyb00y

      Actually it’s the ketchup. The last instruction is to remove from the heat & add 2 tbsp ketchup. I added more but it did turn a nice red color. Perfect 🙂

    • Sharon Kay Mikesell

      My recipe calls for maraschino cherry juice…ABSOLUTELY NO ketchup!! Just store the jarred cherries in the fridge. Or I suppose you can cut them in half & use whatever amount in any entree of your choosing! Sounds pretty good in sweet & sour chicken. At any rate…the color of gorgeous jeweled red is the outcome, it as well as the taste of this sauce REALLY pop! I believe many accomplished/beginning chinese chefs cringe upon hearing about the addition of ketchup!!! Save the ketchup for your fries. Hope this helps…

      • stephaniemanley

        Great suggestion on the cherry liquid. There is a restaurant near me that makes a sauce using the juice from the cherries, I think they call it cherry chicken or something, its delicious.

  5. Rich G

    Is the reference to the Imperial Palace (General Tso’s Chicken) the same as the one in Las Vegas?

    No, it isn’t that one, and I have even stayed there before too! I was referring to a restaurant in the Houston area that had closed several years ago. ~Stephanie

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