What is Okonomi Sauce?

Okonomiyaki with sauce

You've heard about it, seen it - maybe even tasted it. Offer your friends a dollop of "okonomi sauce" or "okonomiyaki sauce" on their pizza or burger and you're bound to get more than a few confused looks. Most people outside of Japan haven't heard of the delicious condiment, though they're unlikely to forget it once they've tasted it. Just what exactly is this mysterious brown sauce?

Okonomi Sauce: A Sweet Story

black and white photo of sauce bottle

Okonomi sauce is a descendant of Worcestershire sauce, but it is far sweeter and less salty than its British ancestor. This is because Worcestershire's main ingredient and the source of its powerful umami flavor is anchovies, while okonomi sauce's main ingredient is dates. Worcestershire sauce also uses tamarind, which has a taste that is both sweet and sour, while okonomi sauce uses raisins for a milder flavor. And as we mentioned above, it's much thicker than traditional Worcestershire sauce.

OtaJoy's label lists sugar, white vinegar, molasses, salt, tomato paste, apple, carrot, peach, dates, onions, raisins, mushrooms, garlic, kelp and spices (you didn't think we were going to give away our secrets, now did you?) among other ingredients.

Rooted In History

black and white photo of scientists

Post-WWII was a time of societal and cultural change in Japan. During the war, rationing, hoarding, and less production in general had led to severe rice and food shortages throughout Japan. After the victory of the Allies, U.S. forces remained in Japan while governmental and economic reform took place and the U.S. government provided wheat flour and lard as a relief measure. People began making cakes out of the flour and whatever ingredients they had at the time.

As the Japanese economy recovered, the cakes continued to be popular and newly available ingredients were added, such as pork belly. The cakes became known as okonomiyaki, or "whatever you like, grilled". Worcestershire sauce, which had been introduced to Japan in the 1800s, was a popular topping because of its savory, umami taste.

Otafuku founder Seiichi Sasaki predicted that western-style food, or yoshoku, would continue to be popular after the war. In 1950, he introduced "Otafuku Worcestershire Sauce" as a topping for okonomiyaki. However, after listening to okonomiyaki vendors complain that Worcestershire sauce was too thin and runny for okonomiyaki, Seiichi began experimenting with a thicker sauce. In 1952, he produced a new product called "Otafuku Okonomi Sauce", specifically for okonomiyaki. Other brands followed suit, including competitor Bull-Dog Sauce, which created its own version of "Vegetable Fruit Sauce" in 1966.

How Do You Use Okonomi Sauce?

okonomiyaki pizza

Okonomi sauce goes great on everything! Not just limited to okonomiyaki, okonomi sauce is great on burgers and steak, as a dip for veggies and meats, in soups and as a marinade or stir-fry. Just like BBQ sauce, its sweet, smoky flavor adds an extra element to just about any food you're enjoying. We have several recipes that you can use for inspiration, but don't stop there! Feel free to experiment and come up with your own recipes using OtaJoy okonomi sauce for flavor. See our okonomi sauce recipes here.

Got an idea for a recipe using OtaJoy okonomi sauce? Share it in the comments below!