This popular restaurant condiment may have once been a Cantonese luxury, but it's now a household staple. Australian chefs have long-held a fascination for XO, but now that obsession has boiled over with home cooks and food fanatics turning to the flavour-packed condiment on a weekly (even daily) basis.
But really, what is XO sauce? It is a coarse, oily chilli sauce, enriched and textured by shredded dried seafood. Dried scallops are the constant in Cantonese recipes for Chinese XO sauce, and often with dry-cured ham and dried shrimp for an added umami hit. But in Australia today, XO sauce ingredients go beyond the confines of the Cantonese classic to make Italian-inspired versions, vegan options and more.
With so much choice out there, we thought it was time to put them to the test. From a vegan XO sauce made with a spicy mushroom base (and an affordable price tag) to a more classic XO sauce that's deeply savoury, these five best XO sauce brands are the ones to add to your pantry.
Or make your own with our how to make XO sauce recipe.
Best XO sauces to buy
Lagoon Dining XO
Most good restaurants do a house-made XO, and Lagoon Dining lets you take home a jar of its secret sauce to recreate some of the Carlton diner's greatest hits. Serve with steamed veggies or drizzle over grilled fish for an easy upgrade to your weeknight dinner.
$18 for 240gm, lagoondining.com
Rockman XO sauce
Big notes of scallop and crustaceans jump forward in this pungent XO making it ideal to spoon into a crab stir-fry or fried rice. With a crunchy bite and solid whack of chilli and garlic, this flavour bomb should be used sparingly.
$12.30 for 180gm, asiangroceronline.com.au
Hotluck Club XO
This deeply savoury mushroom XO uses the caramelised sweetness of black garlic to offset ginger, chilli and shallots. Made in Sydney by chef Gaspar Tse (who rightly claims to be an "umami instructor") this edition can be used to top anything from oysters to scrambled eggs, or stirred through pasta.
$17 for 190gm, hotluck.club
Baishanzu XO Mushroom Sauce Five Spices
With an array of different flavours – from garlic to Sichuan pepper – this vegan iteration offers a heady spiced sauce that packs a flavour punch, alongside shiitake mushrooms and soybean paste. Ideal for stir-fries, this aromatic condiment is a one-stop flavour shop.
$4 for 210gm, coles.com.au
Up The Hill Ciao! XO
Say hello to this punchy Italian take on XO from the Adelaide Hills, which uses eggplant and parmesan to up the umami, while salted cod and pancetta add XO's seafood-meets-meat taste. Try cooked down with vongole or over oxheart tomatoes on toasted ciabatta.
$15 for 270ml, drnks.com