Is XO Sauce Gluten Free? The Full Guide

XO sauce is a popular condiment in Chinese cuisine, known for its rich umami flavor and luxurious reputation. But for those with gluten sensitivities, the question remains: is XO sauce gluten free?

The answer is yes – with a few caveats. Traditional XO sauce recipes often contain wheat-based ingredients like soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine. However, there are now gluten-free versions available that use alternative ingredients like tamari and sherry.

In this article, we’ll explore the origins of XO sauce, its key ingredients, and how to enjoy it in gluten-free dishes. So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and let’s dive into the world of XO sauce!

Is XO Sauce Gluten Free?

As mentioned above, XO sauce can be gluten free if made with alternative ingredients. Lee Kum Kee, a popular brand of XO sauce, offers a gluten-free version that uses dried scallops, dried shrimp, chili peppers, and spices. This all-purpose condiment is handmade in Melbourne and contains no preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, artificial colors, or flavors.

It’s important to note that not all XO sauces are gluten free. If you’re purchasing XO sauce from a restaurant or specialty store, be sure to check the ingredients list or ask the staff about any potential allergens.

What Is XO Sauce?

XO sauce is a gourmet condiment that originated from Hong Kong. It is traditionally made with dried seafood, such as scallops and shrimp, as well as chili peppers and aromatics like garlic, ginger, and onion. XO sauce is known for its deep umami flavor and balance between sweet, salty, spicy, and savory. It’s often compared to chili oil, but the addition of dried seafood sets it apart.

XO sauce is a versatile condiment that can be used as a dipping sauce, marinade, or flavor enhancer in various dishes. It pairs well with seafood, vegetables, and meats like beef and pork. While some XO sauces contain soy sauce or Chinese cooking wine, which are wheat-based and not gluten-free, alternative ingredients like gluten-free soy sauce or tamari and sherry can be used to make a gluten-free version. Additionally, some XO sauces may contain other allergens like peanuts or tree nuts, so it’s important to check the ingredients list before consuming.

The History Of XO Sauce

XO sauce is a relatively new creation in the world of Chinese cuisine, having been invented in the 1980s at the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel. Despite its short history, it has become a staple in southern Chinese cooking, particularly in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong.

The name “XO” is a nod to the “extra old” denotation used for cognac, although there is no cognac used in the making of the sauce. Instead, it usually contains various dried goods such as shrimp, shrimp roe, scallop, ham, and fish, along with aromatics such as garlic and onion. The result is a complex and savory flavor profile that is both umami-rich and spicy.

Traditionally, XO sauce was made with soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine, both of which contain wheat and are therefore not gluten-free. However, modern adaptations of the sauce use alternative ingredients such as gluten-free soy sauce or tamari and sherry. Additionally, while most XO sauces contain seafood such as dried scallops and shrimp, some recipes use bacon and mushrooms instead to achieve a similar depth of flavor.

Traditional Ingredients In XO Sauce

XO sauce is traditionally made with dried seafood, such as scallops and shrimp, as well as chili peppers, shallots, and garlic. Oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar are also commonly used to add depth and sweetness to the sauce. Additionally, some recipes may call for ham or bacon to enhance the umami flavor.

The dried seafood used in XO sauce is typically rehydrated before being added to the sauce. This process helps to tenderize the seafood and infuse it with more flavor. The chili peppers provide the signature heat that XO sauce is known for, while the shallots and garlic add a savory complexity.

Oyster sauce and soy sauce are often used as a base for XO sauce, but they can contain wheat-based ingredients that make them unsuitable for those with gluten sensitivities. To make a gluten-free version of XO sauce, alternative ingredients such as gluten-free soy sauce or tamari and sherry can be used instead.

Gluten-free Alternatives In XO Sauce

Traditional XO sauce often contains soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine, both of which are wheat-based and contain gluten. However, there are gluten-free alternatives that can be used to make XO sauce. For example, instead of using regular soy sauce, gluten-free soy sauce or tamari can be used as a substitute. Similarly, sherry can be used in place of Chinese cooking wine.

When making homemade XO sauce, it’s important to carefully select ingredients that are free from gluten. Some common ingredients in XO sauce include chili peppers, onion, sugar, salt, oyster sauce, star anise, dried scallops, dried shrimps, vegetable oil, cooking wine, ginger, garlic, and dried shallots. By choosing gluten-free versions of these ingredients or finding suitable substitutes, it’s possible to create a delicious XO sauce that is safe for those with gluten sensitivities to enjoy.

For those who are sensitive to the taste or smell of fish sauce, there are also alternatives that can be used in XO sauce recipes. Some options include using vegetarian oyster sauce or omitting the fish sauce altogether and adding more salt or soy sauce to taste.

How To Enjoy XO Sauce In Gluten-free Dishes

XO sauce is a versatile condiment that can add depth and complexity to a range of gluten-free dishes. Here are some ideas on how to incorporate XO sauce into your gluten-free cooking:

1. Stir-fries: XO sauce is a great addition to stir-fries, whether you’re using beef, chicken, seafood, or vegetables. Simply stir in a spoonful of XO sauce towards the end of cooking to add a savory umami flavor.

2. Noodles: Mix XO sauce into cooked noodles for a quick and easy meal. You can also use it as a topping for cold noodle salads or as a dip for steamed dumplings.

3. Rice dishes: Add XO sauce to fried rice or steamed rice for an extra burst of flavor. You can also use it as a condiment for rice bowls topped with vegetables and protein.

4. Seafood: XO sauce is traditionally made with dried scallops and shrimp, but if you’re looking for a vegetarian or vegan option, try using it with mushrooms or tofu instead. It pairs well with grilled or pan-fried seafood like tiger prawns or salmon.

5. Appetizers: Use XO sauce as a dip for gluten-free crackers or vegetable crudités. You can also mix it with cream cheese or sour cream to make a flavorful dip for chips or nachos.

When using XO sauce in your gluten-free cooking, be sure to check the label or recipe to ensure that all ingredients are gluten-free. If you’re making your own XO sauce, substitute wheat-based ingredients like soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine with gluten-free alternatives like tamari and sherry. With its rich, complex flavor, XO sauce is sure to become a staple in your gluten-free pantry.

XO Sauce Recipe (gluten-free Version)

If you’re looking to make your own gluten-free version of XO sauce, here’s a recipe with a twist:


– 10 slices of bacon

– 1 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes

– 1 cup of gluten-free soy sauce or tamari

– 1 cup of sherry

– 1/2 cup of dried chili flakes (adjust to your preferred level of spiciness)

– 1/4 cup of brown sugar

– 1/4 cup of vegetable oil


1. In a food processor, pulse the soaked shiitake mushrooms until finely chopped.

2. In a large pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove from pan and chop into small pieces.

3. In the same pan, add the chopped mushrooms and cook for a few minutes until slightly browned.

4. Add the cooked bacon back into the pan with the mushrooms.

5. Pour in the gluten-free soy sauce or tamari, sherry, chili flakes, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Stir well to combine.

6. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the flavors have melded together.

7. Remove from heat and let cool before transferring to a jar or container.

This recipe yields about 2 cups of XO sauce and can be stored in the fridge for up to a month. Use it to add a rich umami flavor to rice dishes, noodles, stir-fries, and more. Enjoy!