While I can usually reproduce a dish off taste alone – intuitively – sometimes it’s fun to have to reverse engineer something. A good example of this was my homemade wine slush mix. For that, I took clues from the ingredient list and nutritional information on the existing package, and used it as the base for my formulation. For instance, vitamin C amount per serving helped me ballpark the proper amount of citric acid to use, after figuring out a few conversions.
This sort of problem solving comes in handy for today’s blog.
The other day, one of my tweeps – a fellow Canadian – brought up honey garlic sauce. It’s a popular sauce back home, made by VH. Super cheap, available everywhere… SO not healthy, but SO tasty. Yum. It’s not available here, so I end up missing it.
Where my last taste of it was around 5 years ago, it makes it a bit harder for me to replicate on taste. Memories get fuzzy over time, and specific flavor profiles melt into general feelings about the taste. I could take a wild stab at it and come up with something that tastes great, but it may not be super close to the original. Without the source material on hand – or at least cataloged in RECENT memory – all I can do is “inspired by”.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I can’t use science, math, and logic to ensure a good step in the right direction!
A quick search online turns up a few key bits of information: nutritional info, and the actual ingredients list. Between tidbits such as calories, sodium, and sugars per the specified serving size, knowing what the commercial version had in it – and in order of quantity – and a good memory of the appearance and approximate viscosity… I’ve got a good set of base parameters to start with!
Here’s the concrete information that I am starting with:
Per 85 ml (1/3 cup): 260 calories, 540 mg sodium, 64 g carb, 55 g sugars
Ingredients: Sugar, Water, Honey, Molasses, Dehydrated Garlic, Salt, Caramel, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Corn Syrup, Glucose-Fructose, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate
So here’s how I break it down:
1. Figure out what each ingredient contributes to. This is not only in nutritional terms – say, carbs – but also function:
Sugar: Volume, carbs, sugars, flavor, viscosity
Honey: Volume, carbs, sugars, flavor, viscosity
Molasses: Volume, carbs, sugars, flavor, viscosity, color, slightly to sodium
Salt: Flavor, sodium
Hydrolyzed Soy Protein: Emulsification / thickening
Corn Syrup: Carbs, sugars
Glucose-Fructose: This is what “high fructose corn syrup” is called in Canada. Carbs, sugars.
Citric Acid: Flavor
Sodium Benzoate: Preservative, to impede microorganisms
2. Knowing all of that, I need to narrow the ingredients down for home use.
What we’ll be keeping: Sugar, water, honey, molasses, garlic, salt
What we’ll be ditching:
- Caramel: It’s unneccesary
- Hydrolyzed soy protein: Not accessible for home use
- Corn syrup: Unneccesary – was used as cheap alternative to honey
- Glucose-Fructose: Comparable to honey in many technical ways, it’s used as a cheap way to “stretch” honey out in commercial use.
- Citric Acid: There are more accessible alternatives
- Sodium Benzoate
What functionality we need to replace:
- Hydrolyzed soy protein: Emulsificiation
- Citric acid: Flavor
3. Figure out the base of the recipe, volumetricly
Canadian food labelling law requires that all ingredients be listed in “descending order of proportion by weight”. Knowing that, I can look at the list and figure out where the cutoff would be for ingredients contributing significantly to the volume of the sauce.
Knowing from experience that there is a fair amount of garlic in the sauce, I would normally consider that the “final” ingredient in our initial problem solving. However, since it contributes only to flavor, I’m going to ignore it for now. That means that for the volumetric base of our recipe, we are focussing on sugar, water, honey, and molasses.
4. Figure out weights and measures
A quick search online reveals that 1 cup of sugar is generally understood to weigh 7 oz, or 200g. One cup of water weighs about 8.3 oz, or 237 grams. One cup of honey weighs about 12 oz, or 340 g.
For the sake of ease, I’ll convert the nutrition facts to reflect 1 cup of sauce: 780 calories, 1620 mg sodium, 192 g carb, 165 g sugars
Make some rough guesses as to quantities
I’ll be honest here – I once failed an algebra test. I’m not even talking an honorable fail, I mean an epic fail – I got 26% on it! It’s not that I don’t understand the problems, it’s that I couldn’t work the problems out on paper. To this day, I don’t get the whole tables thing – it’s easier to just work it out in my head. I can tell you how old Jenny is if she’s twice Bob’s age and 1/3 of what Doug’s age was 4 years ago, blah blah.. but don’t expect me to tell you how I figured it out!
While name/age is fairly straightforward and linear, figuring things out like ingredient proportions in this recipe is a bit more complex. Where a name will be linked to one quality (age), we have to figure out more of a matrix of qualities here – say, volume, sugar, and sodium. For something like this, I like to make a fairly good guesstimate on proportions, and work the math out to tweak it from there.
Knowing what I do from past experience with the sauce, I can tell you that the volume of molasses in the sauce is far less than the other three primary ingredients.
If we were to use equal quantities of sugar, honey, and water as a starting point, the nutritional info for one cup of it would be:
158 g carbs
147 g sugars
Not bad, but off by a little. I suspect the proportions for the actual product would look a little more like:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp molasses
… which adds up to 1.3 cups. If I add up the calories, etc, and then divide down to find the per-cup information on this mixture, we have ROUGHLY:
… which is close enough for me to get to the kitchen and start tinkering around. Well, after we figure out the sodium, anyway!
Looking at the sodium (1620mg per cup in the source material):
The base ingredients don’t contribute significantly to sodium content – about 13 mg total – so this will pretty much be coming straight from the salt we’ll be adding. The container of salt I’ll be using indicates that it contains 590 mg of sodium per 1/4 tsp. Due to the commercial nature of the source material, I’ll be aiming low – 1/4 tsp, or 1180 mg – and will add extra salt only if needed.
As it turns out, I was pretty much bang-on for those proportions, and the recipe turned out amazing*!
On first taste, it hit my memory *just* right, and I was transported back to my apartment, circa my early 20s. To quick stir fry meals thrown together cheaply and easily, when I bothered to take the time. I was SO busy back then, I’d sew for 16+ hours in a day, skipping meals often. Convenience foods like these bottled sauces were go-to meals, as I had NO time to “properly” cook.
This is not high cuisine, and I have NO idea how it would fit on the American palate – us Canadians tend to have a ridiculous sweet tooth! Maybe there’s a reason it’s not available here? Who knows! For an Ex-pat Canadian, though… the nostalia that this food evokes brings it to “comfort food” levels, even as a condiment. Isn’t taste-memory a funny thing?
Now that you’ve read through all of that, let me present you with the SUPER simple recipe that resulted. This sauce is great as a stir fry sauce, or to cook meatballs or spare ribs in.. yum! For our first use of it, we simply browned some pork chops, added sliced peppers to the pan, and cooked it for a few minutes. Then we added about 3/4 cup of the sauce and let it cook a few more minutes, and served over rice. Fabulous!
Honey Garlic Cooking Sauce
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup honey
4 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
8-10 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1 tsp corn starch
Combine sugar, 1/3 cup of water, honey, molasses salt, lemon juice, and garlic in a saucepan. Heat to a boil, stirring well to dissolve and combine ingredients. Once mixture boils, turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes.
Whisk corn starch into remaining 1/3 cup of water, add to saucepan. Stir until well incorporated and mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
At this point, you can use the sauce right away, or put it in the fridge for use within a couple of days. Strain out the garlic, or don’t – it’s up to you!
*… although, at $1-something a bottle, I suppose that bribing someone to mail me some could have been an option. Where’s the fun in that, though?