Why Duck Sauce Is Different On The East And West Coast

American Chinese food seems to have appeared out of the ether. Writing for Today in 2008, Jennifer 8. Lee listed six items found in Chinese restaurants that are actually more American than Chinese. These included fortune cookies, which are Japanese but were deemed too American when a company tried to introduce them to China, General Tso's chicken, and duck sauce. The last of these did not receive an in-depth origin story like the others, but Lee did note that sometimes duck sauce is called plum sauce on the West Coast.

The main giveaway that American duck sauce is not actually Chinese is in its ingredient list. The major ingredient in duck sauce is Turkish apricots,  a fruit not found in China. In fact, Food52 offers an easy at-home duck sauce recipe. You just need some apricot jam and vinegar — either red wine or white will do. The recipe is just as complex as its ingredients (that is, not very). Take the jam and vinegar, place them into a bowl, and stir until they mix together. If the sauce is too chunky, it can be remedied with a blender. With the mystery of what duck sauce is out of the way, the remaining question is: Why do people call duck sauce "plum sauce" on the West Coast? After all, apricots are not plums.

Duck sauce is an East Coast phenomenon

The reason why people on the West Coast call duck sauce "plum sauce" may be because duck sauce did not spread so widely there. In a piece for Smithsonian Magazine, Laura Kinry asked David R. Chan, a Los Angeles native blogger whose blog Chandavkl's Blog covers Chinese restaurants, about duck sauce. Chan thought she meant hoisin sauce which happens to be served with duck. "Actually, in the old days I didn't see the packets [around the L.A. area] at all," he noted. "They seem to be a more recent development now, though still not that common."

Kinry speculated that since W.Y Industries and Yi Pin Food Products which make duck sauce are based in New York and New Jersey, they had difficulty in promoting their product on the other coast. She found one article from the 1980s in which another company had plans to promote their apricot sauce in the larger market — but evidently failed.

Perhaps the real confusion is why people on the East Coast insist on calling it duck sauce. Salon reported in 2021 that plum sauce is in fact the sauce to be served with Cantonese roast duck dishes. Moreover, Brian Buchalski, the vice president of operations W.Y. Industries, admitted that less than 5% of his duck sauce actually reaches any duck.