Friday, July 13, 2012

Asian Cooking Ingredients & Seasonings with No MSG, No Preservatives, No High Fructose Corn Syrup: Gracie's Pantry

I take great pains to find and use good ingredients in my cooking. Some of the most used seasonings in my pantry are sea salt, sesame oil, soy sauce (thin and thick), oyster sauce, fish sauce, ground white pepper, corn starch, garlic (fresh and powdered), five spice powder, cumene, coriander (fresh leaves and ground seed), fennel (ground seed), chilli paste.

It can be very difficult to find soy, oyster and fish sauces that do not contain MSG (monosodium glutamate) or preservatives (e.g., sodium benzoate, sodium bisulphite, potassium sorbate) and sometimes what is available can be pricey. Down at the Strip District in Pittsburgh I am limited in my choices, but still grateful that I can find many of the things I need and cheaply too. For those of you who can't get to the goodies at Asian grocer where you are, I have found the equivalent products (or better) on Amazon (see below right for Gracie's Amazon Picks). In most cases, buying online costs more than buying at the Asian grocer - I'll list the prices so you can compare.

Gracie's Strip District Picks!                                                                                                                            Gracie's Amazon Picks! 

Oriental Mascot Oyster
Sauce $2.29, 16 oz.

This Oriental Mascot Oyster Sauce is the only one I can find that doesn't contain added MSG or preservatives. Other brands eg Lee Kum Kee, all contain them. Oriental Mascot sauce may contain gluten though, as HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, this probably wheat) is one of the ingredients. I pay $2.29 for a 16 oz bottle (453 g or 420 ml). Ingredients: Water, sugar, salt, oyster extracts, corn starch, HVP and caramel. As this is made in Malaysia, the sugar is most likely cane sugar and not HFCS. However, I still use it sparingly in cooking my own food, because I avoid gluten as much as possible.

Argo Corn Starch
$2.48, 35 oz

I'm not too particular about the brand of cornstarch I get - most of the brands say 100% pure, and Clabber Girl adds "natural" to its label but that may not mean much. Only organic corn starch guarantees no GMO corn is used. I pick up Argo 35 oz for $2.48 at Sam's Club but smaller 16 oz packages are available in Walmart for $1.

Thai Kitchen Red Curry
Paste. $3.49, 4 oz

I have a hard time finding chili or curry pastes that don't contain onion or shallots (DH is intolerant to large amounts of onion in food), but found Thai Kitchen's Red Curry Paste to be okay. From current Amazon user reviews however, this product apparently sucks nowadays, so I've listed the Mae Ploy one for my Amazon pick instead.

Frontier Organic White
Pepper. $6, 1.98 oz
I like the Frontier brands of spices - these generally taste fresher, and the organic ones are of very good quality. For my catering events, I buy in bulk the 1 lb tins of pure white pepper powder ($7) at the Strip. I use white pepper in my Asian dishes and black pepper in Western-style dishes :) . I've listed the McCormick brand for my Amazon pick as it was more value for money.

Kwangtung Mijiu.
$1.70, 560 ml (18 oz)
Nothing beats the flavor and 'Ooomph' of home-made Chinese rice wine and I really should make a BIG batch soon! (and you can count on me posting my Grandma Popo's recipe too) In the meantime, I've been using a pretty good one from the Strip - Kwangtung Mijiu that contains 1.5% rice wine and salt. I tend to avoid Kikkoman Rice Wine and other brands that contain added sugar and HFCS. Properly fermented glutinous rice breaks down into sugar anyway, imparting a natural sweetness to the resulting wine.

San-J Organic Wheat Free
Tamari. $6, 20 oz (592 ml)
There's soy sauce, and there's soy sauce. Having grown up flavoring many of my meals with soy sauce, I am very particular with regard to the taste of my soy sauce. I'd rather have my food plain than allowing an inferior sauce pass my lips. And I disdain sugar in my soy sauce (no 'kecap manis' for me!). I guess I'm a bit of a soy sauce snob. :p So far I haven't found a thin or thick soy sauce that meets my criteria of (at least) 'all natural' that also tastes good. When all else fails, I guess it would have to be the San-J organic wheat free tamari. :)

Squid brand Fish Sauce.
$1.99, 24 oz (700 ml)
Made in Thailand, the Squid brand Fish Sauce is the best tasting I've come across. To the uninitiated palate, this stuff may be too malodorously pungent, so start off with small amounts in your cooking. Squid brand has no added preservatives, colors or MSG, and it's even halal! By the way, if you see stating 'no added ___ (fill in the blank)', it means there may be small amounts occurring in there. In fermentation of soy sauce for example, small amounts of glutamic acid (natural MSG) are produced.


Wang brand Sesame Oil.
$10.99, 1.6 L (54 fl oz)
I love the nuttiness and the depth of flavor that sesame oil imparts to food. Koreans seem to guzzle that stuff! I add a few dashes of the toasted oil to steamed fish, some noodle soups, and to my Fried Rice. Most any brand sesame oil will do. I haven't yet found a brand that states anything other than 'sesame' in their ingredient. For catering purposes, I just go for the largest bottle! I also keep a small bottle of organic sesame oil at hand just for myself.

I just popped into my pantry and realized that there are so many other seasonings and spices that I often use in my cooking! I'll cover more in my next post!

Stay tuned!


  1. Hi Gracie, I ran outta my Wang Sesame Oil and found you while trying to find it on Google, But I paid 9.99 in Flint at the Korean store and we have nothing where I live now. I see you found it for that price and I wonder where and can it be ordered? Also I have zuccini coming out my ears, so I am so glad I found this blog, cuz both of those recipes up there sound great. I made banchan with some and it was good, today I chopped up one and threw it into my spaghetti sauce and it's yummy also. My Facebook profile is Sue Strickland Akers if you'd like to contact me concerning the Wang. Ty

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for your comment and so glad you found some use for all that zucchini with my zucchini fries recipe! I find the wang sesame oil at the strip district in Pittsburgh. Other brands would probably work - kadoya is good too. Will find you on FB. :)

  2. Hi,
    about the Oriental Mascot Oyster Sauce... hydrolyzed vegetable protein contains glutamic acid, it's a source of free glutamate so it's not MSG free.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anonymous! You are right in that this oyster sauce isn't glutamate-free and individuals sensitive to MSG would need to avoid it too. However it is one of the few oyster sauces that don't contain added MSG or preservatives so it's still OK for me.

  3. Found your blog through your amazon post. Thank you for your suggestions above! Have you found any substitute for chili garlic sauce or sambal? I am willing to make my own. I am looking for a product or recipe that does not contain any seafood.

    1. Hi pgyx! Thanks for your question. I get Lingam's chili garlic sauce but not sure if available in your area. Fresh made at home is easy: fresh red chillies (half pound) deseeded, 4-8 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup vinegar or fresh lime juice, salt and sugar to taste. Blend and enjoy :)

  4. Thank you so much, Grace! Are thai chilies the only option or would other varieties work? Can't wait to try the recipe! Will look for the Lingam's to have as a backup during winter when I can't easily get fresh chilies.

    1. My pleasure. You can use a mix of chillies to get the amount of heat you prefer - for a milder chilli sauce use a red pepper in the mix. For a nice rich red colored sauce, obviously red colored chilies are ideal :)

  5. I read your article with interest. I really like San J Tamari and prefer it to other western brands, but there is an Asian super market in downtown Cleveland that stocks an amazing assortment of Chinese soy sauces. Kimlan is very good.

  6. Kimlan is pretty tasty! The San J Tamari sauces taste very different from what I grew up having, and took me a while to get used to.


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