XO sauce is a spicy seafood sauce that is traditionally made from ground-up dried and fermented shellfish and spices. The sauce is spicy, salty, pungent with a hint of sweetness. It’s not for everyone but many people love it, especially in Cantonese-speaking China and Hong Kong.
Named after XO cognac, XO sauce is especially luxurious and expensive. Its history is unknown but it is thought to have appeared in the 1980s. The most expensive XO sauces are made by blending cognac and other spirits with dried seafood, nuts, and spices. Top-grade XOs can be aged for as long as 30 years or more before being sold at up to several hundred dollars a bottle.
Typical ingredients for XO sauce include conpoy (dried scallops), Jinhua ham, shallots, garlic, chili, and oil. Such a varied blend of fine ingredients all contribute to XO sauce’s mouthwatering depth of meaty richness, given by the cured ham and scallop ingredients. The sharpness of the shallots and pungency of the garlic and chili all contribute to the overall flavor but take a backseat to the powerful cured meat flavor.
Here are the best brands of XO sauce on supermarket shelves today:
9. Lee Kum Kee XO Sauce Original & Extra Hot Bundle
Lee Kum Kee XO sauce is made in Hong Kong. It’s the quintessential brand of XO sauce that you see everywhere, especially at Chinese restaurants and take-out joints. The original version is salty with a hint of sweetness while the extra hot version is more intense with a fiery kick.
The bottles are easy to use as the cap can be turned upside down for easy pouring and the ingredients don’t contain any preservatives or artificial flavorings. The sauce will keep indefinitely in your refrigerator for up to 2 years but it must be kept at room temperature for 30 minutes before use to allow the ingredients to come together.
8. Meal of Emperor XO Sauce
This is a brand of XO Sauce that is popular in Hong Kong. It’s spicy, salty, and mildly sweet but not overwhelmingly so. This makes it a good choice for seafood lovers who are looking for something with pungent flavors without too much sweetness or saltiness.
7. Mr. Spice – Organic Ginger Stir Fry Sauce
This XO sauce by Mr. Spice is a great go-to brand that will always deliver high-quality products at a budget-friendly price point. This product comes in an easy-to-use squeeze bottle for convenience. The sauce has a very thick consistency, and it is made from fresh ginger, dried shrimp, garlic, and other spices which makes it authentic in terms of taste.
6. Spring Moon XO Sauce
Made in Hong Kong, this XO sauce is made by the reputable brand of Spring Moon. It has a spicy taste with a strong fragrance. The product offers a good balance between saltiness and sweetness. It’s not too salty nor too sweet as most Asian condiments can be these days. Warning: this one is definitely priced on the higher end.
5. Nicole’s Kitchen XO Sauce
Nicole’s Kitchen XO Sauce is made with a combination of seafood, chili peppers, and salt. The sauce is commonly used in stews such as hot pot stew or clay pot fish soup. Nicole’s Kitchen XO Sauce is available at Asian supermarkets for around $260 (ouch) per jar.
4. Dashije XO Sauce
Dashije is a Chinese company based in Hong Kong. Their products sell well in mainland China, Vietnam, Singapore, and other Southeast Asian countries. The Dashije XO sauce has a mild scent of seafood with a thick consistency that coats the food very nicely when used as a dip or stir-fry sauce.
3. Devil Mum’s Kitchen XO Sauce
This is a mild XO sauce that’s delicious to eat with fried rice. The sauce is made from squid, shrimp, fish, and scallops. It has the right amount of sweetness and saltiness with just enough spiciness to it. A great all-purpose sauce, this is one of the best XO sauce brands that you can buy.
2. Yung Kee XO Sauce
This is one of the most popular brands of XO sauce. It is made from premium quality ingredients and has a full-bodied taste that’s not too salty, sweet, or spicy. The thick fermented seasoning sauce should be added to dishes during the last phase of cooking for best results. The sauce comes in a recyclable bottle with a convenient spout for easy pouring.
1. Chilli Fagara XO Sauce
This sauce is made by a company in Hong Kong which makes high-quality sauces. The Chilli Fagara XO Sauce is spicy and aromatic with the dried seafood giving it a unique taste that stands out from other brands on this list. It’s great for cooking stir-fries, noodles, and dipping dumplings, and spring rolls. An interesting XO sauce that tastes like it was made in an ancient stone mortar and pestle. The chili is cooked for hours, giving the sauce a numbing effect so you can easily eat this with your rice.
If you’re into expensive delicacies like caviar and truffles, XO sauce is for you. It’s not as pricey but it has an exotic taste that may go well with lobster, abalone, and other seafood dishes. It’s also great as a dip for bread and crackers.
The bottom line is that if you’re not into XO sauce, don’t force yourself to eat it because of its high price tag. It’s never too late to learn about this Chinese specialty.
Like other seafood sauces, XO sauce is also easy and cheap to make at home. What’s more, it can be kept for a long time if stored properly.
Don’t feel the need to dive straight into the high-end XO sauce; you can get a feel for it first by sticking to the supermarket shelf brands and see if it’s actually something worth investing in. If you’re a fan of that particular sweet, sour and spicy flavor that’s native to Szechuan dishes and Thai cuisine then XO sauce is a no-brainer for you.