Polynesian sauces have been around since at least the mid-1800s.
These sauces contain an array of spices and herbs that make them unique to each region of Asia.
The word “Polynesia” means many islands, which makes sense because these sauces were originally created on multiple island groups in the South Pacific.
Today, most people associate Polynesian sauces with Hawaii, where they’re commonly served as sambals (a type of condiment).
What Is The Main Ingredient In A Polynesian Sauce?
Although there are hundreds of different types of Polynesian sauces, one common ingredient is kokum.
This fruit has a deep red color and a strong flavor similar to rhubarb.
It can be found fresh, dried, canned, or frozen.
A little bit goes a long way when it comes to this flavorful ingredient.
Kokum was traditionally added to the base ingredients like coconut milk, sugar, chiles, onion, garlic, lime juice, tamarind paste, and salt before cooking.
Some recipes call for adding more than just kokum, such as turmeric, starfruit, lemongrass, mangoes, or papaya.
In addition to kokum, some sauces include other tropical fruits, including banana, passion fruit, guava, and lychee.
Other ingredients may include green onions, hot peppers, chili powder, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seed, allspice, nutmeg, curry leaves, black pepper, mace, mustard seeds, cardamom pods, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
Soy sauce is another popular ingredient in Polynesian sauces, although it isn’t always present.
The sauce may also contain tomato paste, honey, vinegar, palm sugar, brown sugar, tamari, miso, cornstarch, and rice wine.
A variety of meats are often cooked in these sauces, but not exclusively so.
Fish, poultry, beef, pork, lamb, goat, game birds, shellfish, and seafood are among the options.
If you choose to use meat, the sauce should still be thick enough to coat every piece evenly.
You might even want to add additional fat if needed.
How Is Polynesian Sauce Typically Used?
Sambal sauces originated from Southeast Asian cuisine, but are now common all over the world.
They usually consist of chiles, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, lime juice, sugar, salt, tamarind paste, and coconut milk, among others.
Because Sambal is so different than traditional Western sauces, it can be hard to decide how best to use it.
That said, there are some general guidelines you should follow when preparing and using Sambals.
For example, Sambals tend to be quite spicy, so don’t add too much if you want your dish not to be overly hot.
Also, Sambals are meant to complement rather than compete with the foods you put them on.
As such, try adding Sambals to dishes like stir fries, salads, soups, and curries.
For more information about polynesian sauces, check out our article on recipes for kimchi jjigae!
What Other Ingredients Are Often Used In Polynesian Sauce?
Most popular Polynesian sauces include a combination of fresh fruits like pineapple, kiwi, mango, papaya, and banana.
They also feature hot peppers, garlic, onion, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, coriander, curry leaves, turmeric, basil, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, saffron, and vanilla.
Sometimes you may find tamarind paste added to the mix as well.
However, there are numerous variations depending on what part of Polynesia it originated from.
Other common ingredients found in Polynesian sauces include salt, sugar, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, molasses, tomato puree, coconut milk, and even butter!
One ingredient that’s almost always present in a Polynesian sauce is pineapple.
Pineapples grow naturally all over Polynesia, but they’re especially abundant in Hawaii, where they’ve become one of the state’s main exports.
Some restaurants serve their own brand of Hawaiian-style Polynesian sauces, and some even use canned pineapple juice instead of freshly squeezed pineapple.
Even though pineapple isn’t native to Polynesia, it was introduced by Europeans during colonization.
Before then, Polynesians didn’t eat fruit.
Instead, they ate plants—specifically taro root, breadfruit, and bananas.
This doesn’t mean they never tasted any kind of meat before European colonizers arrived.
In fact, early Polynesians had a variety of seafood dishes, including eel, octopus, squid, shrimp, crab, sea urchin, turtle, and shark.
Kiwis aren’t actually related to pineapples, but they do taste similar.
Kiwis are tropical fruits that grow wild throughout New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia.
They look like small green apples and are slightly smaller than regular grapes.
Like pineapples, kiwis were brought to Hawaii by Europeans during colonialism.
Unlike pineapples, however, kiwis weren’t initially cultivated there.
Rather, Hawaiians discovered them growing wild after first arriving from China.
While not a traditional Polynesian ingredient per se, mangos are incredibly important when it comes to making a proper Polynesian sauce.
Mango trees grow all over the world, including India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar.
Because of this, it’s possible to find both dried slices of mango and fresh ones in grocery stores worldwide.
But in order to create a true Polynesian sauce, fresh mangoes must be used.
When buying mangoes, choose soft, ripe specimens without obvious signs of bruising or decay.
Avoid picking out spots on your mangoes to ensure they’ll remain intact once cooked.
In addition to being delicious on its own, adding sliced bananas into Polynesian sauces creates a creamier texture.
Bananas tend to get mushy quickly if left alone, so slicing and layering them between layers of other ingredients ensures they stay nice and firm.
Another ingredient that’s often included in Polynesian sauces is tofu or tempeh.
Both of these foods are fermented soy products that come in different varieties and thicknesses.
Tofu is usually sold in blocks while tempeh is available in crumbles or strips.
When choosing tempeh or tofu, opt for organic versions that haven’t been treated with pesticides.
Tempeh and tofu should be stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To prep either item, place it on a plate and cover it with paper towels.
Let it sit for five minutes, then pat dry with another layer of paper towels.
You can store it in plastic wrap or vacuum sealable bags for up to four days.
A lot of modern Polynesian sauces call for kelp powder.
Kelp is a species of seaweed that grows abundantly off the coast of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and southeast Asia.
It has a strong flavor and is high in iodine, vitamins B1, C, E, K, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper, zinc, sulfur, and riboflavin.
To prepare kelp, rinse it under cold water to remove excess sand and dirt.
Then chop it finely using scissors or kitchen shears.
Store it in airtight containers in the fridge until needed.
How Can Polynesian Sauce Be Made More Or Less Spicy?
If you want to modify this recipe so it has a different flavor profile, all you need to do is adjust your spice levels.
If you like things hot, include more chili flakes, cayenne pepper, or black peppercorns into the mix.
You may also add some minced fresh chiles if you prefer your dishes hotter than mild.
If you don’t feel like adding any additional heat, then simply leave out the peppers altogether.
Some chefs will choose to use turmeric instead of ground red pepper to get a similar effect, but I find it unnecessary.
Another option would be to decrease the amount of soy sauce that you cook down in step one by half, or even double it up.
Just remember, when making a spicy dish, always start with low heat and increase gradually.
As long as you stick to the basic formula, there should not be any issues adjusting the spiciness level of this recipe.
What Is The Origin Of Polynesian Sauce?
Although there are a few different theories about how Polynesian sauce came into existence, it was likely invented by Chinese immigrants living in Hawaii, according to the Hawaiiana Cookbook.
In the 1800s, when Chinese laborers first arrived in Hawaii to work on sugar plantations, they brought their own cooking techniques with them from China.
One of the most popular dishes among plantation workers was chow fun, which consisted of stir fry vegetables like bean sprouts, eggplant, and red pepper mixed with rice wine and meat.
These ingredients would then be cooked together in a wok until everything became tender.
Afterward, the dish would be topped off with a thickened mixture of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar.
Soon after, Hawaiian cooks began adding other ingredients such as chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and even dried shrimp paste.
By combining all of this stuff, they could create new recipes that combined sweet and sour flavors with heat and spice.
Since then, countless variations of Polynesian sauce have emerged, but some of the most common include tamarind, hoisin, plum, and mango.
How Long Does Polynesian Sauce Last In The Fridge?
Polynesian sauce can keep in your refrigerator for up to a year if it’s stored properly.
However, you should always use fresh ingredients whenever possible.
For example, store coconut milk refrigerated and open cans of pineapple juice within two weeks of opening.
If you don’t like how the flavor changes over time, you can add more chili flakes every few months until you reach your desired taste.
You could also freeze some of this sauce after it has cooled down completely so that you can thaw out just enough to dress pasta later.
You might want to try making several different types of Polynesian sauces before deciding what works best for you.
There are countless recipes available online, but here’s one way to start:
- Combine 2 cups water, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, and 2 teaspoons white pepper in a small bowl.
- Add 1/4 of a medium onion, sliced into rings, then boil it down for 5 minutes.
- Stir in 3 ounces of finely chopped mushrooms, 3 ounces of finely chopped green bell peppers, and 1 ounce of finely chopped jalapenos.
- Cook everything together for about 10 minutes, stirring often so that the vegetables soften without getting mushy.
- Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 pound of shredded carrots, and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Once cooled, transfer all the mixture to a blender and pulse until well combined.
- Add more liquid if necessary to achieve a smooth consistency.
- Store the sauce in a glass jar in the fridge.
Can Polynesian Sauce Be Frozen?
While you can certainly freeze any kind of food, it’s best not to freeze a polynesian sauce, especially if it contains fresh ingredients like lemongrass leaves.
Leeks, garlic chives, mint, cilantro, basil, and other fresh foods will continue to lose their flavor after being frozen, so this isn’t something you want to do often.
If you absolutely must freeze your sauce, keep it separate from anything else until defrosted — then shake off excess water before using.
Why freezing may affect your sauce’s flavor
One reason why you shouldn’t freeze your Polynesian sauce is due to its high acidity level.
Acidity levels help preserve food by preventing bacteria growth, but when you freeze acidic food, the ice crystals form too quickly, creating tiny air pockets within the liquid.
When thawed out, these small bubbles burst and release CO2 gas, which causes the sauce to taste flat and unappealing.
Another problem is that frozen liquids expand more than solid ones.
As the sauce expands, the temperature drops, causing the sugar content to drop even further.
In addition, the sauce becomes less viscous.
All of this contributes to the sauce tasting bland once it has thawed.
What Are Some Popular Dishes That Use Polynesian Sauce?
There are several different types of Polynesian sauces, but one common flavor profile is a combination of sweet and salty.
You can serve this sauce over meat or vegetables, like grilled salmon, roasted potatoes, or eggplant parmesan.
It also pairs well with seafood, such as shrimp cocktail and crab cakes.
You might find a few varieties of Polynesian sauces sold separately from other Asian products.
They often come in jars, cans, or bottles, and are typically found next to dried chiles and rice vinegar.
Look for brands like Kikkoman, Doenjang, and Kimchee King.
One thing you should know about Polynesian sauces is that they aren’t always thick and creamy.
Some versions are thin and watery, while others are thicker and more like gravy.
That said, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy this tasty condiment!
What Are Some Tips For Making The Perfect Polynesian Sauce?
You may be surprised by how easy it is to make a delicious sauce using fresh ingredients.
If you want to impress your guests, try out this quick and simple recipe that uses only three main ingredients: pineapple juice, soy sauce, and ginger!
- 1 cup of water
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- ½ teaspoon of sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon of ground pepper
- 3 teaspoons of cornstarch mixed together with 1 tablespoon of cold water
- ½ cup of pineapple juice
- 4 teaspoons of soy sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1″ piece of peeled fresh ginger grated
- 5 drops of liquid lemongrass extract (optional)
- Pinch of cayenne powder (or more if desired)
To prepare, place all the dry ingredients into a bowl along with the pineapple juice, soy sauce, and garlic.
Whisk well until everything is combined.
Add the pinch of cayenne, then whisk again.
Finally, add the water mixture slowly while continuing to whisk until there are no lumps left.
Once the sauce has thickened up, transfer it to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat.
When hot enough, remove from the stovetop and stir in the ginger.
Serve immediately on top of any meat dish, or store in the refrigerator overnight.
How Can I Find A Great Recipe
If you want to try your hand at cooking one of these delicious dishes yourself, there are plenty of online resources available.
You should start by looking up recipes from reputable sources such as Google Images or Pinterest, then narrow down your search based on what ingredients you like best.
Once you know what kind of cuisine you prefer, look through various websites to see if anyone has posted their own version.
If you don’t already know how to cook, check out our guide on how to learn basic kitchen skills so that you can get started!
Ginger, garlic, shrimp, and scallions: A classic combination
One of the first things you’ll notice when trying this dish is its strong flavor.
It doesn’t take much spice to make it taste good — just use fresh peppers instead of dried ones, and add more if necessary.
To avoid burning the skin, keep your heat low while stirring.
Shrimp is usually used as a protein source in Polynesian sauces, but you could also use chicken breasts or beef strips.
The key ingredient here is scallion — it adds both color and flavor without overpowering everything else.
When all of your ingredients are ready, put them into a blender together with 1/4 cup water.
Blend until smooth, then pour the mixture back into the pan to simmer for about five minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste before serving, and serve hot over rice.
Tuna and coconut milk
For something a bit lighter, substitute tuna with salmon or mackerel.
If you don’t want to spend extra money on seafood, you can still enjoy a healthy meal using canned tuna.
Just be sure not to boil the cans right away, otherwise the liquid will separate and turn sour quickly.
To increase the health benefits, swap regular light cream for full fat coconut milk.
This works especially well when paired with vegetables, like broccoli florets, green beans, carrots, or zucchini slices.
You can always add other seasonings to give your dish more variety.
For example, you can mix in Thai basil leaves, red chili flakes, chopped chives, or cilantro.
Other common options include crushed red pepper, ground coriander, curry powder, onion powder, paprika, and turmeric.
- 1 Bowl
- 1/2 cup Catalina dressing
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Apple cider vinegar
- 3 1/2 Tablespoons Honey
- Ingredients should be added to a mixing dish and whisked until smooth and properly combined.
- For 1-2 weeks, store in a mason jar in the refrigerator.