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Oyster Sauce

From Stir-Fry 101

How we tested

Comparing Two Types of Oyster Sauce

There are actually two types of oyster sauce. The first is bottled oyster sauce—called oyster-flavored sauce. The second is a cooked sauce that contains oyster-flavored sauce—think, for example, about ordering a dish such as "broccoli with oyster sauce" in a Chinese restaurant.

Bottled oyster-flavored sauce is a rich, concentrated mixture of oyster extractives, soy sauce, brine and assorted seasonings. The brown sauce is thick, salty, and strong. It is used sparingly to enhance the flavor of many dishes that have a long list of additional wet and aromatic ingredients.

Cooked oyster sauce is a mixture of various ingredients such as chicken broth, soy sauce, sake, rice wine, sherry, sesame oil, and sugar in addition to prepared oyster-flavored sauce. It is often thickened with cornstarch and tossed with a wide range of vegetables, beef, chicken, and seafood stir-fries.

Despite the fact that bottled oyster-flavored sauce is too strong to be a condiment, we thought it important to take note of each its raw, unadulterated flavor before we used it to make a cooked oyster sauce.

Tasting Bottled Oyster-Flavored Sauce

The potent sauce received the same standard comments—"salty," "biting," and "fishy." When we mixed the bottled oyster-flavored sauces with sherry, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and freshly ground pepper and made simple stir-fries, the tasters were able to detect more flavors—perhaps a result of the bottled oyster-flavored sauces, but more likely in response to the cocktail of ingredients.

The Best Cooked Oyster Sauce

The most authentic cooked oyster sauce of the group was undoubtedly that which contained our winner. Admittedly intense and somewhat fishy, it was the only sauce with true depth of flavor. Its saltiness was balanced by sweet caramel undertones and the oyster flavor was strong. This sauce, however, is not for the faint of heart. One taster proclaimed, "My American taste buds can't take it." The other bottled oyster sauce didn't seem to add much to the cooked sauces. As one taster put it, the rest "may have well been soy sauce."

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*