This healthy homemade Tonkatsu Sauce is made with real food ingredients and tastes just like store-bought Bulldog sauce! No one will guess that it’s Whole30, paleo, and gluten-free to boot!

A closeup shot of a small blue bowl filled with homemade Tonkatsu Sauce next to a fried Japanese pork cutlet and shaved cabbage.

What is tonkatsu sauce?

Tonkatsu Sauce is a Japanese condiment often served as a dipping sauce for fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu or pork katsu). The flavor is reminiscent of a sweeter and thicker Worcestershire sauce or a tangy and sweet barbecue sauce with notes of acid, umami, and fruit. If you’ve eaten okonomiyaki, Tonkatsu Sauce is very similar to okonomiyaki sauce.

Traditionally, the sauce is made by stewing vegetables and fruits (e.g., tomato, onion, carrot, apple, prune, and lemon) and then mixing in vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices. The final texture is thick enough to cling onto your favorite crispy foods without making them soggy. So yeah—it’s kind of the perfect dipping sauce for deep-fried dishes! Besides my tonkatsu, this katsu sauce also pairs perfectly with my chicken nuggets and Cracklin’ Chicken!

A hand is dipping a piece of pork katsu into a bowl filled with homemade Tonkatsu Sauce.

What is Bulldog tonkatsu sauce?

A hand is holding up a bottle of Bulldog Tonkatsu Sauce.

The most popular store-bought tonkatsu sauce is made by the Japanese brand Bull-Dog. Bull-Dog has created a wide variety of beloved condiments since 1902, and its orange labeled Vegetable & Fruit Sauce is the gold standard for Tonkatsu Sauce. Although the precise recipe hasn’t been revealed to the public, a quick glance at the ingredient label confirms that it’s not compatible with Whole30 or paleo eating plans because Bull-Dog’s sauce contains high fructose corn syrup, modified rice starch, and yeast extract derived from soy.

But because my whole family loves all the Bull-dog sauces and can’t imagine eating crispy fried foods without them, I decided to come up with a copycat Tonkatsu Sauce recipe!

A closeup of homemade Tonkatsu Sauce in a blue and white shallow bowl.

Why is this homemade Tonkatsu Sauce so great?

  • It’s made with easy-to-find, whole food ingredients! You can make this Tonkatsu Sauce without Worcestershire sauce!
  • It’s soy-free, refined sugar free, grain-free, alcohol-free (no mirin), and vegan-friendly!
  • You can make it in less than 10 minutes!
  • It actually tastes like Bulldog Tonkatsu Sauce! In fact, in a side-by-side comparison, my family chose my version over the Bulldog sauce! (Yes, I know they’re biased—but they’re also very picky and aren’t afraid to offer unfiltered constructive feedback.)

Ingredients

An overhead shot of the raw ingredients to make healthy homemade Tonkatsu Sauce.
  • Coconut aminos: This soy sauce substitute adds umami and a slight sweetness to the sauce.
  • Unsweetened applesauce: Rather than breaking out a big jar of the stuff, I just grab an applesauce pouch from the kids’ snack section in our pantry. My favorite apple puree brand is Go Go SqueeZ.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Adds the signature acidity to the sauce. Rice vinegar is a good substitute if you don’t have apple cider vinegar. Lemon juice works, too, but it’s not as acidic as vinegar.
  • Dried Medjool dates: Impart a subtle sweetness to the sauce without using any brown sugar or prune paste. If you have date paste, use two tablespoons.
  • Tomato paste: I always have a tube of tomato paste in my fridge and so should you. If you don’t have tomato paste, feel free to substitute a paleo-friendly ketchup.
  • Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Ground ginger
  • Fish sauce: You can leave out the fish sauce if you’re vegan, but otherwise, I recommend including it. It adds an indescribable yumminess to the sauce!

How to make tonkatsu sauce

In a small saucepan, combine the coconut aminos, applesauce, apple cider vinegar, chopped dates…

Four process shots that show an Asian woman adding ingredients for Tonkatsu Sauce into a blue saucepan.

…tomato paste, salt, spices, and fish sauce (if using).

A series of four shots that shows someone adding tomato paste, salt, spices, and fish sauce to a saucepan to make homemade Tonkatsu Sauce.

Bring the contents to a boil over medium heat and turn down the heat to maintain a simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

A smiling Asian woman is stirring homemade Tonkatsu Sauce simmering in a blue saucepan.

The resulting sauce should be reddish brown and as thick as ketchup. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed with extra vinegar or salt.

An overhead shot of a thick, simmering reddish brown sauce in a small saucepan.

If desired, blitz the sauce with an immersion blender or in a blender until smooth.

A smiling Asian woman is using an immersion blender to puree homemade Tonkatsu Sauce in a small blue saucepan.

Transfer to a small bowl and serve with my air fryer (or oven-baked) paleo tonkatsu!

An overhead shot of a plate with paleo tonkatsu next to a pile of shredded cabbage and a small dish of homemade Tonkatsu Sauce.

How to store homemade Tonkatsu Sauce

This easy Tonkatsu Sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator  for up to 4 days. You can also freeze it in an airtight container or an ice cube tray for up to 4 months. If the sauce separates when thawed, just whisk it back together!


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022).


 PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE CARD

Tonkatsu Sauce (Paleo, Whole30, Vegan)

4.75 from 4 votes
Prep Time3 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Servings 10 servings
This healthy homemade Tonkatsu Sauce is made with real food ingredients and  and tastes just like store-bought Bulldog sauce! No one will guess that it’s Whole30, paleo, and gluten-free to boot!

Ingredients  

  • ¼ cup coconut aminos
  • ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 large Medjool dates pitted and chopped into a paste (about 2 tablespoons date paste)
  • tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon Red Boat fish sauce (optional)

Instructions 

  • Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  • Then, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. The resulting sauce should be reddish brown and the flavors should meld.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed with extra vinegar or salt.
  • Blend until smooth with an immersion blender or in a blender.
  • Serve with tonkatsu, chicken nuggets, or Cracklin’ Chicken.

Video

Notes

  • Serving size is one tablespoon.
  • To make this sauce vegan, leave out the fish sauce.
  • This easy tonkatsu sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days. You can also freeze it in an airtight container or an ice cube mold for up to 4 months. If the sauce separates when thawed, just whisk it back together!

Nutrition

Calories: 25kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 0.2g | Fat: 0.03g | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Michelle Tam

Hello! My name is Michelle Tam, and I love to eat. I think about food all the time. It borders on obsession. I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the kitchen. My mother was (and is) an excellent cook, and as a kid, I was her little shadow as she prepared supper each night. From her, I gained a deep, abiding love for magically transforming pantry items into mouth-watering family meals.

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3 Comments

  1. I recently saw date syrup at Trader Joe’s. Would it be possible to make this with the date syrup instead of whole dates?