I made a hot-and-sour soup based on an online recipe, omitting the pork, sugar and dried lilly buds.

The major flavoring components were:

  • 1tsp White pepper (I used a supermarket-grade pre-ground variety)
  • 2tblsp premium brand red wine vinegar
  • 1tblsp good soy sauce
  • 1tsp Sesame oil
  • 1tsp Salt
  • Small package (3oz) assorted dried and reconstituted wild mushrooms
  • 4c Chicken stock as the base

I also added a tablespoon of Asian chili-garlic paste for extra heat.

The color was pale clear, not the rich brown or reddish-orange I'm used to at Asian restaurants. It smelled terrible - a definite barnyard odor once the white pepper was added. The taste was off as well - instead of a pleasing tangy heat, it was vinegary in an unpleasant way without being tangy, and not particularly hot despite some extra white pepper and chili-garlic paste.

While I can fix the heat (more chili paste!), I'm not certain how to fix the sour, the color or the aroma.

(Note: I cannot add sugar or solid meat to this dish for medical reasons. Sugar substitute should be OK, if that will really fix it.)

  • 1
    It's technically not vegetarian if you're using chicken stock. Maybe "meatless" or "pork-free" would be better terms? Sep 27, 2013 at 14:25
  • 2
    Red wine vinegar? In Hot and Sour? EWWWWW. They might as well have called for Parmesan cheese....
    – Jolenealaska
    Sep 27, 2013 at 15:21
  • @Jolenealaska - A couple of recipes claimed red wine vinegar was an acceptable sub for red rice vinegar, as does foodsubs.com. Would mirin vinegar be a better sub? Sep 27, 2013 at 15:27
  • I can't imagine any vinegar but regular rice vinegar in Hot n Sour, but that's probably a prejudice that stems from my Frugal Gourmet days. I followed his recipe severl times, it was great, but it was a long time ago.
    – Jolenealaska
    Sep 27, 2013 at 16:29
  • @RISwampYankee, Have you done a free 14 day trial of America's Test Kitchen? They do Hot n Sour, I'm going to look at the video and recipe now to maybe help with your question.
    – Jolenealaska
    Sep 27, 2013 at 16:32

2 Answers 2


For heat, I recommend chili oil as opposed to a paste. That and white pepper should give you a pretty solid heat component. Even though the thought initially made me go EEEEEEW, ATK does recommend a a 50/50 combination of Balsamic and red wine vinegars as a replacement for the ideal Black Chinese Vinegar, which is probably what great Chinese restaurants use. Do you eat eggs? If so, I'd certainly use one. Here's the technique, again from ATK " Without stirring soup, use soupspoon to slowly drizzle very thin streams of egg mixture (1/2 tsp corntarch, 1 tsp water beaten with 1 egg) into pot in circular motion. Let soup sit 1 minute, then return saucepan to medium-high heat. Bring soup to gentle boil, then immediately remove from heat. Gently stir soup once to evenly distribute egg."

You probably should considerably up your soy sauce. Consider too your mushrooms. "Assorted" can mean just about anything. Some mushrooms are very strongly flavored in a way that just plain clashes with Chinese Hot and Sour. That could very well account for the barnyard odor you describe. I'd recommend sticking to shiitake/oyster/woodear if you can.

  • I believe you are correct - the mushrooms had a very strong odor, and combined with the white pepper, it became unpleasant. The color can be corrected by using a chili-oil (which I can't use, so I'll live with the pale color), and the sour note was spoiled by not using a basalmic vinegar in conjunction with the red to add a sweetness and body. Oct 11, 2013 at 15:00

Well, you've added a great deal of vinegar without any sweetener to balance it out, you need to reduce the vinegar and/or add some sweetener of some kind. Red wine vinegar is not a like for like substitute for red rice vinegar, it's stronger and has a different flavor. You could certainly get the right ingredient from an asian supermarket or online. If you do stick with red wine vinegar reduce it by half. You could try doing half rice wine vinegar and half red wine vinegar as well, regular rice wine vinegar is easier to come by.

Whether or not you can emulate hot and sour soup without adding meat is debatable, but you may get something close, or different but good. My approach with this would be to start smaller scale, do one cup of chicken stock and experiment until you get a good result. Try adding half of the other ingredients and work your way up until you find a balance that is good.

Another thing is use good chicken stock, preferably concentrated real stock, rather than cubes. Chicken stock is the main ingredient in your soup, so if it isn't quality the soup won't be. If you have to use cubes use good cubes, and reduce the soy content as stock cubes try to make up for stock quality by tasting salty. You could also use low salt soy.

Lastly would be to add little msg - Gasp! I know it has a bad reputation, however it's reputation is not deserved and in moderation it's a great flavor enhancer.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.