Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe

Homemade sweet and sour sauce is quick, easy, and the perfect condiment for Chinese takeout or your own fried chicken.

A spoon being pulled out of a glass jar of sweet and sour sauce.

Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Why This Recipe Works

  • Pineapple juice furnishes the sauce's fruity flavor, while ketchup boosts its sweetness and provides the signature red color.
  • A slurry of cornstarch and water thickens the sauce to an appropriately viscous consistency.

High school was all about strip mall Chinese and large plates of sweet and sour chicken. I was so fond of the stuff, I scoured used book stores for any cookbook with a good looking sweet and sour sauce recipe. I wish I could find the one I finally decided on—it documents all my adjustments to the original recipe. But years later, I've settled on one that isn't too far off.

While sweet and sour can be found in diverse forms in China, the American version builds upon the simple mixture of sugar, vinegar, and spices with the addition of fruit juice—most commonly pineapple—and ketchup, giving the sauce both its red hue and uniquely Western flavor.

Sweet and sour sauce with a metal spoon and a white ceramic bowl.

Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Unlike my duck sauce, which felt like an improvement on the take-out version, this recipe is more or less what you'd expect from anything labeled "sweet and sour."

It has the fruity base with rice vinegar providing the sour, and brown sugar adding the sweet. It's thickened with a cornstarch slurry that brings the whole thing to the thick, gelatinous consistency that's a requirement in my mind.

Quick and easy to make, it's great tossed on standard fried chicken to create one of the best plates of sweet and sour chicken you'll eat, or as an accompaniment to some of our favorite DIY Chinese-takeout dishes. It brought me right back to those high school days.


Click Play to See This Sweet and Sour Sauce Come Together

This recipe was originally published as part of the column "Sauced."

January 2012

Recipe Details

Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe

Prep 5 mins
Cook 5 mins
Active 10 mins
Total 10 mins
Serves 8 servings
Makes 1 cup

Homemade sweet and sour sauce is quick, easy, and the perfect condiment for Chinese takeout or your own fried chicken.


  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (about 1/4 ounce; 7g)

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) water

  • 2/3 cup (160ml) pineapple juice

  • 1/3 cup (80ml) rice vinegar

  • 1/3 cup (74g) light brown sugar

  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) ketchup

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) soy sauce


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Set aside.

    Corn starch and water whisked together in a stainless steel bowl.

    Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

  2. In a medium saucepan, combine pineapple juice, rice vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

    A collage showing the sweet and sour sauce being made.

    Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Special Equipment

Medium saucier or saucepan

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
59 Calories
0g Fat
14g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 59
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 171mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 14g 5%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 12g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 9mg 47%
Calcium 13mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 66mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)