Oyster Sauce: Is it bad for you?
Oyster sauce is a guaranteed find in every Chinese kitchen. Its thick, dark and savory flavor makes its way to all sorts of Asian stir-fry, stew, hotplate grill and even barbeque. Vegetable stir-fried in oyster sauce is a common favorite in Asian cuisine; while vegetables serve a healthy dose of essential minerals like vitamin c, folic acid, fibre and beta-cartone, oyster sauce adds flavor. Unfortunately, that is about all it does.
Hardly Any Oysters
If you’re thinking a bottle packed with ocean fresh succulent morsels concocted into a savory sauce, forget it! Despite its name, oyster sauce barely contains any oyster. It should be called ‘oyster extract sauce’ instead. Most oysters for oyster sauce are cultivated in Hong Kong and nearby areas raised primarily for pearls; not sauce. Once pearls are harvested, the empty oysters are washed, salted and boiled in water to make oyster broth. After, the broth goes through a process of condensation and reduced to become viscous and dark brown in color.
Nothing But A Whole Lotta Salt
Oysters are packed with protein. Not oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is packed with sodium instead. For optimum health, our bodies need sodium to keep our kidneys in a natural state of balance. But too much of a good thing (in this case, sodium) is not good either. One plate of stir-fry vegetables with oyster sauce can contain 400mg of sodium. As a guide, a healthy adult requires 2,000mg of sodium a day – equivalent to a teaspoon of salt. Also nutritionally, oyster sauce comes up short. Let’s take the famous Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce for example; its ingredients include water, sugar, flavor enhancer, oyster extract (9%), salt, modified corn starch, wheat flour and coloring. Nothing bad and nothing great either.
So, What’s the Verdict?
There is a lot of talk that oyster sauce is bad for health and several families I know have taken the drastic change to eliminate this sauce from their kitchens. Personally, I do not think I can live without oyster sauce – especially Lee Kum Kee signature oyster sauce label displaying two kids rowing a boat filled with mega-sized oysters.
While it has zero health benefits, oyster sauce is the secret used in sumptuous Chinese cooking. It makes cooked vegetables and meat dishes more appetizing. For instance, I can never graze on a plate of boiled green kai-lan, aka Chinese broccoli. But pour a little oyster sauce on it and I can effortlessly finish the whole lot! So, answer to the question “is oyster sauce bad?” is: Not really. I believe the key is to use oyster sauce sparingly.