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Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and sour sauce, another staple of Americanized Chinese cuisine, is ridiculously easy to make and goes with any mild-to-medium-flavored protein including chicken, pork, white fish, tofu, and prawns.

The recipe below will make a sauce that is balanced between sweet and sour. From there you can customize it to your own preferences: more sweet (add sugar), more sour (add vinegar), more tangy (add ketchup), thinner (less cornstarch), or even add additional flavors.

A typical sweet and sour dish includes a mix of protein, onion, green and/or red bell peppers, and often pineapple. There is no “right” way to cook chicken or pork for this dish: you can grill, stir-fry, batter and deep fry (or air-fry), or even roast and slice it. As is typical for stir-fry dishes, cook the protein and set it aside; then stir-fry the vegetables, add back in the cooked protein, pour in the sauce, mix to coat the protein and vegetables, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately.


  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. ketchup

In a saucepan, dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water. Add in the sugar, rice vinegar and ketchup and stir to mix. Before it cooks, it’s going to look all wrong: thin, vaguely whitish-pink with red blotches of ketchup. Have faith: it will look completely different when it’s done cooking.

Before cooking.

Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it thickens. Remove from heat. As soon as it starts to boil, it thickens up, clarifies, and all comes together beautifully.

After cooking.

Use immediately (it will thicken more as it cools).

Tips and suggestions:

  • This is a great recipe for making your own. You can make it sweeter by adding more sugar, sourer by adding more vinegar, or tangy-er by adding more ketchup (which will also make it redder). Start with small additions and iterate, keeping track of how much you add so that you can repeat it next time.
  • You can use pineapple juice instead of some or all of the water. Pineapple juice is nice for this recipe because it, like this sauce, is both sweet and sour. Be prepared to reduce the sugar and vinegar a bit.

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