Japanese cuisine beautifully combines all six flavors — salty, sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and umami — in such a way that leaves people craving more.
In a way, Japanese flavors are simple yet incredibly complex at the same time. There are many different elements that go into the region’s unique foods. If you’re new to Japanese cuisine, you may not have heard of katsu sauce, also called tonkatsu sauce. Or, maybe you’ve heard of it, but you’re not sure what it is or how to serve it. That’s why we created this post — so you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about one of the most essential condiments in Japan. Let’s dive in and get lost in the sauce.
What Is Katsu Sauce?
Short for tonkatsu, katsu sauce is essentially the Japanese equivalent of Western barbecue sauce. It’s sweet and tangy with an umami undertone that packs a flavorful punch.
You’ll usually find it served with pork tonkatsu, a popular dish of breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet with cabbage and rice. It’s also commonly served on katsu sando, which is a sandwich with a piece of pork tonkatsu as the filling. But it’s highly versatile for all sorts of fried foods, including chicken tenders, French fries, Japanese tempura and more.
While you can buy ready-made katsu sauce in the international aisle of your local grocery store, store-bought katsu sauce often contains high fructose corn syrup and harmful preservatives. Making your own simple katsu sauce at home allows you to control everything that goes into it — and you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry or fridge.
What Is Katsu Sauce Made Of?
Katsu sauce is made of surprisingly simple ingredients, most of which are probably already in your pantry:
- Ketchup or tomato sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Soy sauce or Tamari
- Sugar or brown sugar
Some recipes call for other ingredients, like garlic, ginger, onion powder, applesauce or mustard. You can also add chili paste or hot sauce for an extra kick.
What Does Katsu Sauce Taste Like?
Katsu sauce is easy to make in just a few minutes. Despite its simplicity, katsu sauce has a complex flavor profile that includes the following elements:
- Sweet: The sweet flavors come from the sugar.
- Savory: Savory elements come from the Worcestershire sauce.
- Tangy: The tomato sauce or ketchup gives katsu a tangy flavor.
- Salty: The saltiness comes from the soy sauce or Tamari.
You can easily customize your katsu recipe to fit your flavor preferences — for example, you might add a splash of sriracha if you like spicy food. Or you might sprinkle in some sesame seeds for an extra crunch.
What Do You Eat With Katsu Sauce?
Katsu sauce is extremely versatile and pairs well with a wide variety of foods. Some of the best dishes to eat with katsu sauce include fried foods like:
- Tonkatsu: Tonkatsu is thin pork cutlets coated in panko and deep-fried to crispy perfection. Usually, it’s served with katsu sauce drizzled on top. Just don’t confuse it with tonkotsu ramen, which is a hearty ramen made with creamy pork broth.
- Chicken katsu: Chicken katsu is similar to tonkatsu but with chicken cutlets instead of pork. Try this easy chicken katsu recipe, which adds furikake to the panko coating for a flavorful crunch.
- Takoyaki: Takoyaki is a savory, ball-shaped snack made from fried batter, chopped octopus, green onions and fresh ginger. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, this popular street food pairs beautifully with tangy katsu sauce.
- Okonomiyaki: This dish is a fried cabbage pancake, frequently served with pork and eggs. It’s often topped with bonito flakes, Japanese mayo and dried seaweed — the perfect partners for sweet and savory katsu sauce.
- Tempura: Tempura is seafood, meat or vegetables deep-fried in a light, fluffy batter. It’s easy to make at home. Typically, tempura is served with a dashi-based dipping sauce with grated daikon, but it also tastes delicious when dipped in katsu sauce.
- Croquettes: Croquettes are deep-fried rolls containing a savory mashed potato filling. A side of katsu sauce makes the perfect dipping sauce.
- Ebi fry: Ebi fry involves Japanese prawns coated in panko breadcrumbs and fried until golden and crunchy. Dipping them in katsu sauce adds a bright zing to the dish.
You can also use katsu sauce to dip Western foods like French fries, fried fish, chicken nuggets and any other savory foods. We encourage you to get creative — make a big batch of katsu sauce and experiment with your favorite dishes to find the winning combinations.
Are There Other Sauces Like Katsu Sauce?
Although katsu sauce is one of the most popular and well-known Japanese sauces, it’s far from the only one. Other popular sauces in Japanese cuisine include:
- Ponzu: Featuring a strong citrus flavor and a sweet undertone, ponzu is a thin sauce often made with rice vinegar, mirin, kombu and citrus juice.
- Teriyaki: In Japanese, “teri” means shine and “yaki” means grill — combined, they refer to a cooking technique that involves grilling an ingredient while basting it in a sweet sauce. Due to its high sugar content, the finished dish has a glossy appearance and a salty-sweet flavor.
- Goma: A savory sesame dressing made from toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil and rice vinegar. Adding miso and ponzu sauce transforms it into goma dare, which is often served with Japanese hot pot, or nabemono.
- Tare: Tare is a thick, mixed condiment used to flavor foods during cooking. Flavors tend to vary, but one of the most common combinations is a sweet and savory mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sake.
- Tsuyu: Tsuyu is a mixed condiment made with dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar. It’s commonly served as a dipping sauce for tempura. When it’s used for noodle dishes, it’s called “mentsuyu.”
- Sukiyaki: Sukiyaki is one of the most popular Japanese hot pot dishes. Sukiyaki sauce is technically more of a broth than a traditional sauce. It’s usually made from simple ingredients simmered together in a shallow pot, such as vegetables and meat.
Next time you make Japanese food or fried food, try mixing and matching your sauces with your dish. You never know what flavor combination will make your tastebuds sing.
Make Your Own Authentic Katsu Sauce With San-J Tamari Soy Sauce
After reading through this post, you’re probably itching to try Japanese food dipped in authentic katsu sauce. And because the basic katsu sauce recipe is so simple, you can make your own at home with items you already have in your kitchen.
The only thing that will make your sauce even better is using San-J Tamari Soy Sauce. Our sauces are certified vegan, kosher, Non-GMO and FODMAP friendly, so you know you’re cooking with quality ingredients. And because San-J Tamari is brewed with 100% soy and no wheat, it’s certified gluten-free backed by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.